Trotwood-Madison sr. Ra’veion Hargrove reflects on winning D-III state football championship following a 27-19 defeat of Dresden Tri-Valley at Canton on Sat., Dec. 2, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Defending state champ Trotwood-Madison looking for the next “you”

Before Trotwood-Madison embarks on the follow-up journey in defense of its 2017 high school football state title the Rams face another mighty challenge: Replacing a superior senior class that featured All-World running back Ra’veion Hargrove.

Hargrove, the pint-sized hammer with a super-charged motor, put up all-time best single-season and career marks for the Rams over the last three seasons. He was a big reason why Trotwood capped a 15-0 season by winning the Division III state title last December at Canton.

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Filling those graduated roles is the immediate task.

Trotwood teammates pile on Jayvanare Nelloms after his game-saving interception. Trotwood-Madison defeated Dresden Tri-Valley 27-19 to win a D-III state football title at Canton on Sat., Dec. 2, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

“We tell our players we’re not looking for the next Ra’veion,” Rams coach Jeff Graham said. “We’re looking for the next you. Whoever you are, we want you to have your own identity. That’s what we’re going to feed off to make us a great team.”

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That quest begins with Friday’s season opener at Cincinnati Winton Woods. Marion Local (D-VI) and Minster (D-VII) of the Midwest Athletic Conference also are defending state champions.

There are three games that involve area teams on Thursday: Alter at Fairmont, Carroll at Stebbins and Thurgood Marshall at Cincinnati Taft. Most area teams open on Friday. On Saturday, new Dunbar coach Corey Freed makes his debut against Columbus St. Francis DeSales at Wayne.

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The Trotwood/Winton Woods game is among the state’s best openers. Part of the mega-game Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown, Trotwood brings a 15-game win streak into the contest.

Trotwood celebrates. Trotwood-Madison defeated Dresden Tri-Valley 27-19 to win a D-III state football title at Canton on Sat., Dec. 2, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Winton Woods (13-2) appeared on its way to a D-II state title last season after beating three-time defending state champ Cincinnati LaSalle in the regular season and playoffs. Instead, Akron Hoban rocked Winton Woods in the title game.

Trotwood and Winton Woods last met in the second round of the D-II playoffs in 2012, a 27-20 Rams overtime win. Trotwood lost to Toledo Central Catholic in the state championship that season.

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Trotwood’s two-year Week 1 contract with Troy ended last season, as did Winton Woods’ two-season commitment with Northmont. Crosstown creator Tom Gamble enticed both Trotwood and Winton Woods into a two-year, home-and-home series.

“We want to play some of the best teams in Ohio we can play,” Graham said. “It’ll help us prepare. It’s a big challenge for us.”

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Trotwood also was 15-0 and won a D-II state title in 2011. The Rams opened the next season by losing handily to University School (Fla.) in an ESPN-televised national matchup.

Trotwood’s Jayvanare Nelloms (bottom) and the Rams celebrate his goal-line, title-clinching INT in the final seconds. Trotwood-Madison defeated Dresden Tri-Valley 27-19 to win a D-III high school football state title at Canton on Sat., Dec. 2, 2017. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Graham credited much of the Rams’ recent success to postseason practice. Trotwood has played in eight consecutive state semifinals, which means at least four extra weeks of practice every season during that run. That’s an invaluable advantage, he said, compared to teams that don’t qualify to the postseason.

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“We get that extra time to spend with them and develop those (backup) guys,” he said. “That’s the blessing you have when you have a great group of guys who buy into your system and believe they can make things happen.”

• Fairmont (7-4) mounted one of the greatest turnarounds in area football history last season after going from 1-9 in 2016 – head coach Dave Miller’s first season – to qualifying for the D-I postseason for only the second time. Fairmont needed a 7-3 Week 10 defeat of Springfield to do so, which also knocked the Wildcats out of the postseason.

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Fairmont jump-started last season with a 13-12 defeat of non-league nemesis Alter. That snapped the Firebirds’ 13-game losing skid to the Knights in what has become a traditional opener for the neighboring rivals.

• Marion Local (15-0) brings a 27-game win streak into its opener at Woodlan (Ind.) on Friday. The Flyers haven’t lost since falling 17-14 at Coldwater in Week 3 of 2016.

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• Northmont (8-3), the area’s top-ranked D-I team, opens at Lima Senior (5-5) on Friday. Other area No. 1 matchups are Troy (D-II) against visiting Belmont, Clinton-Massie (D-IV) at East Clinton, Middletown Madison (D-V) at Franklin and Minster (D-VII) at Fort Loramie.

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• Schools are reminded to send game results by email only to as soon as possible. Include the final score, where the game was held, significant stats, notable plays and team records.

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