A trio of teams from Fulton County were tabbed to finish atop the Northwest Ohio Athletic League by their peers at the annual preseason football coaches meeting held at Evergreen High School Sunday evening.
Wauseon was picked to finish first in the league, followed by Archbold and Delta. Liberty Center was picked fourth, Bryan and Patrick Henry tied for fifth, Evergreen was seventh and Swanton eighth.
For Wauseon, they will be looking for the program’s first league title since 2015. They have a full roster to help them do that, with 71 kids on the team.
But head coach Shawn Moore let the other league coaches know his team is far from perfect heading into the 2021 campaign. Although yes they do return six starters on defense, they have only three back on offense. Of their 71 kids, 10 are seniors — a number less than a season ago.
“Having to replace quarterback, running back and all five offensive linemen is gonna be a challenge, obviously,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lot of kids on the team, we just don’t have the experience of playing on Friday nights.”
Defensive line will be a strength for the Indians. Finding the right spots will be key for the offensive line.
Archbold is looking to make it a third straight league title and fourth in five years this fall.
However, the Blue Streaks will look somewhat different from a year ago. They lose 15 starters from 2020 but like Wauseon, have 10 returning.
A strength for Archbold is the return of senior and three-year starting quarterback DJ Newman, who was referred to as the best athlete in northwest Ohio at the meeting by Liberty Center coach Casey Mohler.
The Streaks also have a bevy of skill players back for Newman to get the ball to.
Offensive line and defensive back — where they lost three starters from each unit — were labeled weak spots by Archbold coach David Dominique.
A consensus among the coaches has Archbold as a clear contender for the title. Dominique views Wauseon, Liberty Center and Delta as their main competition, and would not be surprised to see more than one champion when it’s all said and done.
Delta coach Nate Ruple is thrilled to have 47 kids out for football this year. He is encouraged by his team’s chemistry, and their strength lies within the senior leadership.
The Panthers’ main weakness is on the defensive line, having to replace five seniors from that unit. They are also still fitting in pieces along the offensive line.
Ruple cites Archbold and Wauseon as his top two teams in the league race because of the number of athletes they have. After those two it’s going to be a “dog fight,” says Ruple.
“I have a lot of respect for this league. I played football in this league as a high school player. Coached in this league for a long time. It’s always a lot of fun to see you guys on a Friday night. It’s always gonna be competitive,” the Panther coach said.
Evergreen is low in numbers at 32. However, coach Aaron Schmidt says they do have a solid core of returning starters.
He has been encouraged by the level of physicality his team has shown, including at Friday’s scrimmage.
Swanton coach Denton Saunders has noticed improvement from his Bulldogs.
“We did lose a lot of experience and seniors, but we do gain a lot more positive attitude and good leadership,” he said.
“We’ll be young but our kids have worked hard all summer long. I know they’ll play hard and give us everything they have. I’m excited to see what this group will do this season.”
The Bulldogs have 44 kids on the roster. That number includes 14 returning letter winners; however, approximately half of those letters were earned on special teams.
Strength is in the trenches for Swanton. “I would say our offensive and defensive line is the biggest and most physical that I’ve had since I’ve been at Swanton. I’m not saying they are great world-beaters, but they are the best that I’ve had,” Saunders said.
Weaknesses are depth and experience. The Dogs only have five seniors, and that number is likely down to four as Hunter Gowing recently suffered a knee injury likely to sideline him for the season.
Teams will finish up their scrimmages this week and open up the season on Friday, Aug. 20. The regular season begins a week earlier this year in light of expanded playoffs.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.