High School Football: Greater Catholic League Co-Ed football now one division

Like the Greater Western Ohio Conference that has undergone major a transition, so too has the Greater Catholic League Co-Ed.

There will be a new six-team GCL Co-Ed lineup this high school football season. Gone to the Cincinnati-based Miami Valley Conference are Cincinnati Purcell Marian and Roger Bacon, although those two will remain in the GCL Co-Ed for all other sports.

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Gone also are the GCL North and Central divisions. Instead, there is one division of Alter, Carroll, Chaminade Julienne, Fenwick, Hamilton Badin and Cincinnati McNicholas. That means five league games, five non-league games and a lot of scheduling hurdles to clear.

“That’s a challenge,” admitted Alter head coach Ed Domsitz.

Five of the six GCL Co-Ed teams are lumped in Division III, Region 12. Here’s what else to know about GCL Co-Ed football.

Alter (13-2 last season): Long the dominant mid-sized area program, the Knights overcame a rash of injuries to key starters last season. That caught up to Alter in the Division III state championship with a crushing 42-6 loss to Chagrin Falls Kenston. Until then, Alter had won 13 straight games after falling in a second consecutive opener at rival Fairmont.

That was the 24th playoff appearance for the Knights - 18th straight - and the fifth time they played for a state title. Coordinating all that success has been Domsitz, who enters his 44th season as a head coach and 28th year at Alter.

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“We’ve had maybe four groups in the 27 years I’ve been here that have been great over-achievers and last year was certainly one of those considering the injuries,” he said. “Consequently, we have a number of kids who did get experience last year because of those injuries.”

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None were more impactful than junior running back Branden McDonald. Ticketed to be a blocking back for John Bivens, McDonald became the Knights’ go-to back due to Bivens missing the entire season with a leg and knee injury. A bruising 6 feet 1 and 224 pounds with a blend of power and speed, McDonald answered with more than 1,600 yards rushing, 17 touchdowns and newfound recruit interest.

Senior linebacker Mason Henry was second on the team in tackles last year (102) and senior defensive end Matt Schimpf is the best returning down lineman. Sophomore C.J. Hicks, 6-4, 190, played enough as a freshman to land four NCAA D-I offers, including the University of Cincinnati, and be listed among Ohio’s best for the Class of 2022 by 247sports.com.

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It’s on senior Kale Steneman to succeed graduate Connor Bazelak (Missouri) as the Knights’ quarterback.

Belfry, Ky., replaces Centerville in Week 3 on Alter’s schedule. Alter is at Columbus DeSales in Week 4 (rather than playing Roger Bacon) and swapped Purcell Marian for Ponitz in Week 5.

“It’s been good,” Domsitz said. “I’ve enjoyed it. As long as I enjoy it and stay healthy and they want me around here I’ll probably hang around at least for a few more years.”

Chaminade Julienne (7-4): The Ohio High School Athletic Association's new transfer rule that went into effect last season and hit the Eagles hard. Then-junior QB Ryan Minor and junior running back Marquis Henry and his defensive lineman brother Marquel Henry all played just the first five games. That was enough to CJ to go 5-0 and be ranked No. 1 in the state (D-III).

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Minor was exceptional, throwing for more than 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns and completing 74 percent of his passes. Those three return, as does senior running back Quincy Johnson (1,030 yards rushing, 15 TDs), along with high hopes to rekindle the overall success that eluded the Eagles and head coach Marcus Colvin last season.

CJ is at Columbus Bishop Hartley in Week 4 and hosts Columbus Watterson in Week 5. CJ also hosts Alter in the regular-season Week 10 finale.

Carroll (6-4): Cody Byrd was promoted to succeed Ben Rulli as the Patriots' head coach. Besides a program reboot, Carroll also will play at a refurbished Spoerl-Bartlett Field that features the popular artificial FieldTurf.

That was the most wins since 2010 for the Patriots, who were in playoff contention until three straight midseason setbacks to CJ, Badin and Alter.

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Senior Carroll QB Trent Fox threw for 15 touchdowns as a junior and senior linebacker Jon Lajeunesse, 6-1, 220, was first team All-GCL Co-Ed.

Early season matchups against Stebbins and Beavercreek have ended. Carroll will open against Columbus St. Francis DeSales in the Backyard Blitz at Wayne on Saturday, Aug. 31.

Fenwick (9-3): Dan Haverkamp had an exceptional program debut as head coach last season, eliminating CJ in a first-round playoff matchup. That was the Falcons' first postseason appearance since 2015 and the second most season wins since 1988.

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Logan Miller, a junior defensive back, had 119 tackles and four interceptions. Other key returners are seniors Jordan Rucker (receiver/defensive back), Eric Hendrix (lineman), Jake Berning (WR/DB) and John Stevenson (RB/LB).

Fenwick lost only to Clinton-Massie, Alter and Wapakoneta last season. Those were all deep playoff teams and combined for 34 wins.

• Badin (8-4) and McNicholas (1-9) are GCL Central holdovers. Badin, led by third-year head coach Nick Yordy, defeated Butler in a playoff opener.

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Rams senior linebacker Evan Schlensker was the GCL Co-Ed defensive player of the year as a junior. Badin running back Alex Delong and defensive back Marshal Flaig, both seniors, are other key returners. Badin also returns seven starters on defense.

• The GCL Co-Ed – including Purcell Marian and Roger Bacon - has sued the OHSAA, targeting the competitive balance bylaw as “harmful” and unfair. In July, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the year-old case could proceed in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas.

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That apparently will not affect this fall’s seasons, including football. The OHSAA has responded by saying all 800-plus member high schools, plus as many more middle schools, could be impacted.

“We look forward to restoring fairness and common sense to competition in Ohio high school sports,” said GCL Co-Ed commissioner Tom Donnelly in a release.

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• Alter opens the season at Fairmont on Thursday, Aug. 29. The Friday, Aug. 30 GCL Co-Ed openers are CJ at Piqua, Fenwick at Anna, Ross at Badin and McNicholas at Goshen. Carroll plays DeSales on Saturday, Aug. 31.

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