As Lebanon’s new head football coach, it was on Matt Hopkins to ramp up on Greater Western Ohio Conference National West football as quickly as possible. As the area’s only Division I, Region 4 high school team, that meant he also took a crash course on Cincinnati-based programs.
“We play a lot of Dayton teams we won’t see in the playoffs,” said Hopkins, who left Preble Shawnee of the Southwestern Buckeye League after a record-setting 8-2 season to succeed Shawn Lamb.
“There’s a difference between Dayton and Cincinnati football. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but there’s a definite different feel to it. Trying to get your guys ready for that kind of football while playing a different style and brand of football, it’s challenging but that’s what you sign up for.”
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Hopkins joins John Puckett of Butler as new GWOC coaches. That continues a turnover trend for the area’s largest conference, which has had nine head coaching changes since 2016.
The following are five things to know about GWOC National West football.
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Teams/coaches: Lebanon (3-7, 0-3; D-I, Region 4), Matt Hopkins (first season); Miamisburg (4-6, 1-2; D-I, Region 3), Steve Channell (seventh season); Northmont (8-3, 3-0; D-I, Region 3), Tony Broering (fourth season); Springboro (5-5, 2-1; D-I, Region 3), Ryan Wilhite (13th season).
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What to know: The roles of the GWOC’s smallest (team-wise) division reversed last season. In 2016, Lebanon, Miamisburg and Springboro all advanced to the D-I playoffs. Last season, only Northmont qualified, falling at eventual D-I state champ Pickerington Central, 41-21.
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• It’s not official, but if the GWOC stays in two divisions next season look for Trotwood-Madison to be added to these four teams. The 20-team, mega-conference will split after this season. The 10 current GWOC American North and South teams – except for Trotwood - will leave to revise the Miami Valley League in 2019. The GWOC will retain its name.
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• Lebanon applied for but was turned down admission to the Eastern Cincinnati Conference last spring. The Warren County school has strong ties to many ECC teams from previous league affiliations. Its first three games are against ECC members Kings, Loveland and West Clermont.
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• Northmont appears to have its strongest team yet under Broering. Both lines are big and experienced. Senior quarterback Miles Johnson was third in GWOC passing (2,249 yards, 23 touchdowns) and has fleet receivers in Drake Hickman and Jazz Keys. The defense is anchored by linebacker Jestin Jacobs (verbally committed to Iowa) and defensive end Gabe Newburg (Michigan), both three-year starting seniors.
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• Steve Channell quickly rebooted Miamisburg with a powerful run game and stingy defense. But after a 3-0 start, the Vikings’ run of four straight playoff seasons ended abruptly last year with a 1-6 finish.
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• Like Miamisburg, Springboro also had its streak of five straight playoff seasons snapped last year and is lacking an abundance of experienced players.
With Lamb’s retirement, Wilhite is the longest-serving GWOC National West coach, although Channell trumps that with his time at Edgewood. Broering also was head coach at Springfield South.
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• Northmont’s Week 4 GWOC crossover game at Butler will be televised live by ABC 22/FOX 45 as part of its Thursday Night Lights at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 13.
Key returning offensive players
• Miles Johnson, sr., QB, Northmont: 2,249 yards passing, 23 TDs.
• Luke Lane, sr., OL, Lebanon: 6-4, 285, All-GWOC National West first tea.
• Alex Miller, sr., OL, Springboro: first team All-GWOC National West.
• Tate Vongsy, sr., QB, Miamisburg: 1,439 yards passing, 14 TDs.
• Willieon Yates, sr., RB/WR, Springboro: 178 yards rushing, 25 catches for 237 yards (9.5), 4 TDs.
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Key returning defensive players
• Jestin Jacobs, sr., LB, Northmont: 74 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 INT, committed to Iowa.
• Gabe Newburg, sr., DE, Northmont: 59 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, committed to Michigan.
• Cael Parkhurst, sr., LB, Miamisburg: 68 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries.
• Nick Straw, sr., LB, Lebanon: 35 tackles, 1 forced fumble.
• Lincoln Troxell, sr., LB, Springboro: 30 tackles.
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Week 1 games: All at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24.
• Lebanon at Kings.
• Miamisburg at Cin. Northwest.
• Northmont at Lima Senior.
• Springboro at Mason.
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Bonus fun facts: Northmont’s GWOC National West title last season was its first since tying Beavercreek for the GWOC Central championship in 2012. No GWOC crossover games count toward divisional standings, which means the National West is limited to three games and none earlier than Week 6.