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GWOC American South football: Defending state champ Rams seek repeat

It’s probably too much to ask for a repeat Division III state championship by Trotwood-Madison this high school football season, but that’s the Rams’ goal.

Trotwood (15-0) never had a letup and scored 42 or more points in eight of 10 regular-season games. Trotwood dodged Tri-Valley 27-19 at the new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton for the program’s second championship. The title wasn’t secured until then-junior Jay Nelloms returned a goal-line interception to midfield in the final seconds.

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But graduated from that team are quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers (2,438 passing yards, 36 TDs, 4 INTs), running back Ra’veion Hargrove (7,365 career rushing yards and 100 touchdowns), key linemen and most linebackers.

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Still, Trotwood has played in the last two D-III state title games, made eight straight state semifinal appearances and has elevated Greater Western Ohio Conference football to the highest level.

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The following are five things to know about GWOC American South football.

Teams/coaches: Fairborn (4-6, 3-1; D-II, Region 8), Chris Roark (third season); Stebbins (1-9, 1-3; D-II, Region 8), Greg Bonifay (second season); Trotwood-Madison (15-0, 4-0; D-III, Region 12), Jeff Graham (fifth season); West Carrollton (1-9, 0-4; D-III, Region 12), Derek Hauk (second season); Xenia (2-8, 2-2; D-II, Region 8), Trace Smitherman (second season).

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What to know: Trotwood is well established as a mid-sized state power, but the rest of the GWOC American South suffered mightily last season. All four other members had losing records and Stebbins and West Carrollton combined for two wins. Fairborn had four wins and Xenia two.

Trotwood still managed a No. 1 playoff seed last season, but only because the Rams beat Troy (8-2) in the opener, eventual D-I state champ Pickerington Central (9-1) in Week 3 and Wayne (7-3) in Week 10. West Carrollton has two playoff appearances, the last in 2009. Fairborn, Stebbins and Xenia have yet to advance to the postseason.

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• Despite similar divisional status, Trotwood was always a misfit in the GWOC American South. Especially in football and basketball, but no more. The other four teams will leave the GWOC following this season and join the current entire six-team GWOC American North in revising the Miami Valley League in 2019. Trotwood will remain in the GWOC.

Both the GWOC and MVL will have 10 teams and likely will continue to play inter-conference games for ease of scheduling. But that will change when contracts expire, especially for current Trotwood opponents.

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• Rick Robertson and Joel Householder left a successful run at Belmont to join Hauk’s coaching staff at West Carrollton. Robertson, formerly the head coach at Oakwood, Fairmont and Springfield North, is the offensive coordinator and Householder takes the linebackers. Both bring more than 60 combined years of coaching experience, which should eventually help the struggling Pirates.

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• Stebbins gets the early Week 1 spotlight by hosting neighboring rival Carroll on Thursday, Aug. 23. That’s one of three games involving area teams that will open early.

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• Quarterback Ryan Minor and Chaminade Julienne were cleared by the Ohio High School Athletic Association of not violating any bylaws after Minor transferred from Stebbins to CJ. He’ll be a junior.

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Key returning offensive players

• Tristan Dillon, sr., QB, West Carrollton: 1,767 career passing yards, 18 career TD passes.

• Dylan Long, sr., WR, Stebbins: 14 catches, 141 yards (10.1), 1 TD.

• Shaunn Monroe, sr., WR, Fairborn: 11 catches, 183 yards (36.6), 3 TDs.

• Justin Stephens, sr., TE, Trotwood: 12 catches, 184 yards (15.3), 3 TDs, multiple offers.

• Sincere Wells, sr., RB, Xenia: 1,350 yards rushing, 15 TDs.

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Key returning defensive players

• Tommar Coles, sr., DB, West Carrollton: Three-year starter in secondary, GWOC 100 track champ.

• Devin Hasty, sr., DB, Stebbins: 81 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries.

• Jay Nelloms, sr., LB, Trotwood: 115 tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery.

• Hunter Warner, so., LB, Fairborn: 96 tackles, 1 fumble recovery.

• Nick Willis, sr., LB, Xenia: 88 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries.

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Week 1 games: All at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24, unless otherwise noted.

• Carroll at Stebbins, Thu., Aug. 23.

• Fairborn at Tecumseh.

• Little Miami at West Carrollton.

• Trotwood at Cin. Winton Woods.

• Xenia at Beavercreek.

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Bonus fun fact: Fairborn, Stebbins and Xenia will maintain their league kinship next season in the MVL, but their alliance can be traced back to charter status of the Western Ohio League in 1964. All three schools have been in multiple other leagues since then.

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