Just like Jay Niswonger at Valley View, this was the high school football program that Bob Gregg built. A wiry figure with a stinging - and colorful - bark, Gregg already had established himself at Jefferson, initiating the Broncos’ 49-game win streak from 1970-75. He would continue that domination at Centerville for 26 seasons and 301 career wins.
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The Elks’ transformation wasn’t immediate, but almost. Centerville won every Western Ohio League football title from 1975-86. Seven of Gregg’s teams were 10-0 in the regular season and the 1991 Elks were the D-I state runner-ups (12-2). Lopsided scores were the norm. So was admiring scorn from opposing coaches and fans.
»ST. HENRY: Top 7 all-time players
Locked into a nine-game league schedule, Centerville regularly played Princeton, Moeller and even Northmont (when Ned Booher was coach) in hopes of landing a signature season-opening win that would catapult the Elks into the seriously under-teamed playoffs.
»VALLEY VIEW: Top 7 all-time players
In that span Centerville established itself as the face of big-school area football and continues to share that mystique despite being overtaken by rival Wayne.
An assistant coach since 1977, Ron Ullery was promoted and succeeded Gregg as head coach from 2000-13. Rodney Roberts led the Elks from 2014-16 and was succeeded by Brent Ullery, Ron’s son, earlier this year.
»WAYNE: Top 7 all-time players
Known for its veer option offense and shutdown defense, Centerville has produced an abundance of high-profile collegiate and NFL players over the years. Its defining legacy is a long-established tribute: teams make their seasons by beating Centerville.
Here’s who we consider the all-time seven best football players at Centerville High School in a continuing series. Have something to say about this alphabetical list? Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Location: Centerville, Montgomery County, Washington Township.
Affiliation: Greater Western Ohio Conference, National East.
Division: D-I, Region 3.
1. Michael Bennett, OL/DL, 2011: Then Elks-coach Ron Ullery labeled Bennett the quickest first-step lineman he’d ever seen. Six feet 2 and a speedy 270 pounds. Switched to defensive line at Ohio State University (2011-14), starting his final two seasons, including the 2014 national championship team. Has been plagued with injuries since signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars and missed all of last season with a calf injury. Won the D-I state shot put and was second in the discus as a senior at Centerville.
2. Matt Bradley, DL, 1984: Among the most celebrated national recruits in area football history. Unblockable, recorded a program-best 19 sacks as a senior. Elks were 27-3 in his three seasons, including 10-0 as a senior, but couldn’t break through Moeller or Princeton to qualify for the D-I playoffs. Signed with UCLA and transferred to Pitt, switching to outside linebacker.
3. A.J. Hawk, RB/LB, 2002: A rare four-year starter at linebacker for the Elks, was an immediate big hit and was named All-Ohio as a sophomore and junior. Credited with 31 tackles in three different games, including a 49-43 showdown loss in his third start to Ohio Mr. Football Ryan Brewer at Troy in 1998. Owns the most career tackles (583). All those numbers would have been greater had he not missed most of his senior season with a knee injury. That 3-7 team was the only losing season since Gregg’s 1974 squad on the eve of the Elks’ invincible WOL era.
Just as successful at OSU (2002-05). Starter on 2002 national championship team as a freshman, a unanimous first-team All-American and Lombardi Award winner as a senior. Fifth overall draft choice by Green Bay, led Packers in tackles five times from 2006-14. Won the 2011 Super Bowl, beating the Steelers 31-25. Spent final two NFL seasons with Falcons and Bengals. Runs The HawkCast, his own podcast that features successful and inspiring people and their stories.
4. Ryan Hawk, QB, 2000: A.J.’s older brother and another rare four-year starter. Excelled as a passer in the Elks’ veer offense with a career-best 5,013 passing yards and 41 TDs. Elks were 9-2 and 11-1 in his junior and senior seasons. Couldn’t unseat Ben Roethlisberger at Miami and finished collegiate career at Ohio. Played in the Arena Football League and for the Hamilton Tigercats in the CFL. Vice president of sales at Elsevier Clinical Solutions in Dayton after being an executive at LexisNexis. Scored another hit with The Learning Leader Show, an entrepreneurship-focused podcast.
5. Kirk Herbstreit, QB, 1987: A gifted runner, guided the Elks’ best shot – until then – at an elusive state championship as a senior. The Gatorade player of the year that season and 10-0 Centerville was declared its only Associated Press state poll (Class AAA) championship. Upset 19-14 by Dunbar in the first round of the playoffs. Also outstanding in baseball. Followed his father Jim Herbstreit in signing at OSU as then-Buckeyes coach John Cooper’s first verbal commit. Lettered from 1989-93 and started most of his senior season. Only father/son Buckeyes to serve as team captains. A popular color analyst on ESPN’s College GameDay, along with Chris Fowler and Lee Corso. Relocated his family from Columbus to Franklin, Tennessee, after fans turned on him for perceived criticism of OSU football.
6. Mike Nugent, QB/K: 2001: Mostly is known as an outstanding kicker, first at OSU (2001-04), then in the NFL (2005-16), including the last seven seasons with the Bengals. But his main role as a senior for the Elks was a QB. Hit five field goals in the 2000 season of 50 yards or longer and twice had field goals of 55 yards. Continued that success at OSU, finishing with 22 school kicking records that he reset or tied and scoring most career points (356). Unanimous first-team All-American in 2002 and ’04. MVP of the 2002 national championship Buckeyes. Second-round draft pick by the Jets.
7. Tommy Tamaska, RB, 2005: Otherwise known as “Touchdown Tommy,” he was a first, second and third option, run-away tank up the middle. A bruising 5-11 and 205 pounds, as a senior on an 11-1 team he rushed for a school-record 2,011 yards and 39 TDs, was All-Ohio first team and third in Ohio Mr. Football voting. Most recently was the head professional groundskeeper for the Carpenter Complex at Clearwater, Florida, home to the Gulf Coast League Phillies and Philadelphia’s spring training facility.
Andy Harmon, DL, 1987: Didn’t play football until then-coach Bob Gregg talked him into trying the sport as a junior. Signed with Kent State and had an outstanding senior season with 94 tackles, including 19 for loss, and nine sacks. The MAC defensive player of the year, that landed him on the NFL draft radar. A sixth-round pick by Philadelphia, he rewarded the Eagles from 1991-97 as part of a dominating Gang Green defensive front that included Reggie White, Clyde Simmons and Jerome Brown. An undersized defensive end, shifted to tackle after Brown’s death and was All-Pro in 1995. Still holds the Eagles’ all-time sack record for defensive tackles with 40. Knee injury forced him to retire. “There just wasn’t anything that was repairable,” he said in a Where Are They Now? Eagles website feature in 2015. An assistant Elks coach when Ron Ullery was in place. Founded the Andy Harmon and Associates Allstate Insurance Agency.
Dave Preston, RB: Played at Centerville from 1969-71, but graduated from Defiance in 1973. Elected to BGSU hall of fame in 1982. Played for Denver Broncos from 1978-83.
Honorable mention: Jeremy Adkins, RB, 1994; Gary Alders, QB, 1981; Terry Bach, DL, 1977; Bill Becker, DL, 1977; Keith Bertram, LB, 1985; Dave Brown, DL, 1973; Matt Cravens, OL, 1992; Zac Elcess, OL, 2000; David George, RB, 1996; Andy Harmon, DE, 1987; Jacob Harrison, QB, 2016; Ray Huston, RB, 2000; Will Johnson, FB/LB, 2007; J.D. Kennard, WR, 2000; Evan Lisle, OL, 2013; Benny McGowan, OL, 2012; Dave Morrill, DL, 1981; Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, 2012; Brad Otten, OL, 1972; Bruce Otten, OL, 1977; Adam Replogle, DL, 2009, Tyler Replogle, LB, 2007; Kyle Rose, DL, 2011; Pat Thomas, DL, 1985.