Justin Golson and Jazz Keys had more in common than being swift and sure-handed receivers. They both were hot underclassmen and targeted as key upcoming players in what appeared to be a resurgence of Northmont High School football.
Then, both were blindsided with season-ending injuries. That was two years ago, and neither played a down that 2017 season. Instead, they wondered what might have been and hoped to bunch two seasons of breakout fun into their junior years.
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“We talked about coming back and shining on the field,” Golson recalled during Friday’s first preseason scrimmage against visiting Hilliard Bradley. “We had been waiting since our freshman year. It was just crazy.”
Northmont has vaulted to the top of an abbreviated Greater Western Ohio Conference lineup and is coming off the best season of the 10 returning GWOC members. The following is what to know about GWOC football for the upcoming season.
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Preseason football practice continues this week. Most teams will play Week 1 games on Friday, Aug. 30.
Now seniors, Golson broke a wrist and Keys endured a hip labral tear, forcing each to miss their promising sophomore seasons. Golson’s wrist healed and Keys underwent surgery. That delayed what Northmont football had been waiting for to last season.
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As juniors, with since-graduated quarterback and GWOC passing leader Miles Johnson (now playing at Urbana University) targeting them often, Northmont’s spread offense shredded defenses. Golson, 5 feet 9, 160 pounds, had five games of 100-plus receiving yards and led the GWOC with 54 catches for 966 yards (17.9 average) and 14 touchdowns.
Keys, a 5-10, 150 speedster, had 56 catches for 747 yards (13.3) and five scores.
Combined with a stingy defense and returning senior running back Michael Franklin (1,092 yards rushing; 15 TDs), it’s why the Thunderbolts were 10-2, won a GWOC National South title and sent two defenders to the Big Ten in Gabe Newburg (University of Michigan) and Jestin Jacobs (Iowa).
Northmont will send at least one more grad to the Big Ten next season following senior defensive end Jaiden Cameron’s verbal commitment to Northwestern.
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All that adds up to more great expectations for coach Tony Broering’s Thunderbolts.
“With (Golson) being one of my closest friends, it was fun being able to come back and show it on the field,” said Keys, who’s been timed at 4.30 in the 40-yard dash and unloaded a 10.80 in the 100 meters in his first season of track and field last spring. “It was exciting. Sometimes it was frustrating, but we pushed through it and made things happen.”
Keys has offers from Tiffin, Alderson Broaddus (W.Va.) and Notre Dame College (Ohio).
It’s on Northmont senior QB Keaton Kesling to make more good things happen for that dynamic Northmont offense. He likely would have been a three-year starter had Johnson not transferred from Fairmont to Northmont.
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“Keaton can get it there, that’s for sure,” said Golson, who has offers from Urbana, Tiffin and North Carolina Central.
Northmont hosts Dublin Coffman in Week 1.
New GWOC alignment: There's been a seismic shift in every area affiliation, none more impactful than the GWOC.
Gone are form GWOC American Conference members Butler, Fairborn, Greenville, Piqua, Sidney, Stebbins, Tippecanoe, Troy, West Carrollton and Xenia. Those 10 schools have reformed the Miami Valley League, which begins this fall.
The GWOC will continue as a 10-team, two division alignment. Beavercreek (Nic Black head coach), Centerville (Brent Ullery), Fairmont (Dave Miller), Springfield (Maurice Douglass) and Wayne (Roosevelt Mukes) are lumped in the American Conference. Lebanon (Matt Hopkins), Miamisburg (Lance Schneider), Northmont (Broering), Springboro (Ryan Wilhite) and Trotwood-Madison (Jeff Graham) form the National Conference. But not for long.
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Lebanon will jump to the Eastern Cincinnati Conference after this school year. Trotwood had its GWOC membership revoked after the 2019-20 school year and likely will be an independent.
Playoffs: Of the seven teams that qualified for the postseason in 2018, five return to the GWOC: Fairmont (7-4), Northmont (10-2) Springfield (9-3), Trotwood (6-5) and Wayne (7-4). All but Trotwood (Division III, Region 12) are in D-I, Region 3.
All should be considered playoff contenders heading into the season. Hoping to rebound and once again extend their seasons are Miamisburg (7-3), Springboro (5-5) and Centerville (2-8).
New coaches: Two high-profile veterans are out, each succeeded by other well-established figures.
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Mukes takes over for Jay Minton at Wayne. Under Minton the Warriors played – and lost – in four D-I state championships, including three from 2010-15. Mukes has been a player or assistant coach at Wayne for 29 seasons.
“Tradition doesn’t graduate,” he said after being introduced at a Huber Heights City Schools board of education meeting this summer.
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Out at Miamisburg is Steve Channell after seven mostly successful seasons that saw the Vikings transform into a run-heavy playoff participant. In his place is a familiar name, Schneider.
Previously Northmont’s head coach, Schneider is a third-generation Vikings head coach, following his father Mike Schneider (1976-80) and grandfather Hank Schneider (1952-60).
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• Another significant coaching change is well-traveled Tom Adams leaving as Northmont’s offensive coordinator to be in the same role at Springboro. Adams also was the offensive coordinator at Centerville with then-head coach Rodney Roberts and previously was a head coach at Springfield South and Cincinnati Sycamore.
The players: Springboro senior Landon Palmer is the most productive returning QB, with 1,732 passing yards and 19 touchdowns last season. As good as that is, all QB attention is on Centerville sophomore Chase Harrison.
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The younger brother to former Elks record-setting QB Jacob Harrison, Chase took over for good midway through last season and finished with most of his 1,446 yards passing and nine TDs. He has offers from Louisville and Toledo and will field many more.
Another underclass returning QB to watch is Trotwood junior Cooper Stewart. The transfer from Miamisburg started every game last season (856 yards passing, eight TDs).
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• Fairmont senior Trey Baker is a 6-foot, 225-pound hammer at linebacker. He’s also a much-decorated four-year starter and will reset most Firebirds defensive single-season and career records.
Other returning defensive standouts are Fairmont senior defensive lineman Garrett Baker (Trey’s cousin) and Trotwood senior cornerback Sammy Anderson. Ranked No. 15 in Ohio by Scout.com, Anderson has offers from Michigan State, Cincinnati and Pitt. Springfield senior defensive back Dayveon Bates has offers from Kentucky and UC.
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• Wayne senior Jacob Padilla (6-2, 275) gets a special shout-out. He’s a rare four-year Warriors starter on the offensive line and capped an unbeaten season by winning the D-I heavyweight state wrestling championship last March.
Springfield senior receiver/linebacker Larry Stephens also is committed to Toledo.
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The games: Fairmont hosts Alter in its traditional opener on Thursday, Aug. 29, and Beavercreek is at Xenia also that night. The other Week 1 games on Friday, Aug. 30 are Kings at Lebanon, Walnut Hills at Miamisburg, Colerain at Wayne, Centerville at Fairfield, Springfield at Hilliard Bradley, Springboro at Mason, Winton Woods at Trotwood and Dublin Coffman at Northmont.
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• Also noteworthy, Northmont is at Trotwood in Week 5. Located just five miles apart, the teams haven’t played since 2007.