High School football: Top storylines to watch this season

A year after a modified six-game regular season ended in postseason invitations to all schools statewide, Ohio’s 2021 high school football season kicks off this week with a hint of normalcy.

Slated for 10-games, the upcoming season will end again with a playoff twist.

For the first time since 1999, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has expanded the postseason. Sixteen teams per region, instead of eight, will make the playoffs, doubling the amount of teams from 224 to 448. Sixteen games, instead of 15, are now required to win a state title.

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Last year there were 709 schools in Ohio that played 11-man football, which remains the only OHSAA sport where not every team automatically enters the postseason.

There are no changes to teams regarding playoff division. Fearing unreliable enrollment data (EMIS) from the Ohio Department of Education for use creating postseason classifications the OHSAA will utilize last year’s alignments again.

The season starts Thursday with 30 games statewide, including Alter at Fairmont, Eaton at Greenville, Thurgood Marshall at Withrow and Stebbins at Northwestern.

Here are some storylines to watch this season:

Can Wayne win the Greater Western Ohio Conference?

Returning nine All-GWOC players, including the reigning offensive (Te’Sean Smoot) and defensive (Delian Bradley) players of the year, Springfield enters the favorite to win a third GWOC title in four years. Wayne counters with the area’s most dominant offensive line. The Warriors feature two of the state’s top 10 senior prospects in tackle Aamil Wagner (undecided) and tight end Elijah Brown (Alabama commit) and two of the state’s top 20 junior prospects in interior linemen Joshua Padilla and Evan Tengesdahl. Seniors Jordan Ward, Tyler Dorsey and Ray Greene return after producing 1,188 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior linebacker Adam Trick (Miami) is one of the state’s top 75 prospects.

How good will Alter’s defense be?

The Knights have to replace 11 first team All-Greater Catholic League Co-Ed players, but returning linebacker and league defensive player of the year C.J. Hicks is a good start. Hicks, an Ohio State commit, is the state’s top senior prospect. Also back are a trio of senior All-GCL players in defensive tackle Derrick Shepard (Cincinnati) and defensive backs Chase Stone and Mike Lantz. Alter’s defensive play will be vital early. Offensively, the Knights must replace their leading passer, rusher and receiver.

How good will Miamisburg be?

The Vikings are coming off a 2-7 season, but there is a lot to like about head coach Lance Schneider’s club. The Vikings feature two of the state’s top 20 junior prospects in running back Christian Davis (1,119 yards and 12 touchdowns in two years) and offensive tackle A.J. Salley. Burg also returns senior All-GWOC players in linebacker Luke Myers, offensive lineman De’arius Williams and defensive back Corwyn Hurt. Other key returning seniors are quarterback Justin Barry and receiver Jackson MaGohan. The Vikings had 10 freshmen letter each of the last two years.

How good will Chaminade Julienne’s offense be?

The Eagles return seven All-GCL players, including receiver and offensive player of the year Kenyon Owens (receiver) and quarterback Luke Chandler. Both are seniors. Those two finished second in the GCL in receiving and passing yards, respectively, and scored 13 of the team’s 19 touchdowns last year. Juniors Ethan Teague (offensive line) and Jonathan Peltier (receiver) also return after earning league honors.

Will West Carrollton end with a winning season?

The Pirates were 2-6 last season, but nine all Miami Valley League players return, including seniors Tyron Darby (running back), Kamaury Cleveland (quarterback) and Jordan Berry (receiver). West Carrollton returns all five players that accounted for the teams 31 touchdowns last season. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since the 2009 team finished 8-3 and qualified for the D-II playoffs.

How will a condensed Southwestern Buckeye League play out?

For the first time since 2000, the Southwestern Buckeye League is a 10-team affiliation. Defending champions Bellbrook (Southwest) and Waynesville (Buckeye) join Franklin, Monroe and Oakwood in the new East Division. Brookville, Carlisle, Eaton, Madison and Valley View make up the West. The realignment marks the first time since 1975 that Bellbrook will not compete against Valley View or Brookville for the league title. Bellbrook, which has had two undefeated regular seasons in three years, returns seven All-SWBL players, led by offensive player of the year Seth Borondy (senior running back). Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive linemen Ken Moyer enters his first season as head coach at Valley View. He was previously at Dayton Christian.

Who will win the first conference title?

The Western Ohio Athletic Conference and Three Rivers Conference will crown their first champions during their inaugural seasons. The WOAC includes Ansonia, Arcanum, Bradford, Dixie, Mississinawa Valley, National Trail, Preble Shawnee, Tri-County North, Twin Valley South and Tri-Village. Bethel, Covington, Lehman Catholic, Miami East, Milton-Union, Northridge, Riverside and Troy Christian make up the TRC.

Odd team out?

With realignment, Fort Loramie, a Shelby County Athletic League member in all other sports, was left without a football affiliation. The Redskins are an independent this season and have road games scheduled against Newark Catholic , Lucas, Edon, Columbus Academy and Lima Central Catholic. Loramie will host Dunbar and Thurgood Marshall.

Keep an eye on?

Centerville returns its leading passer, receiver and rusher in seniors Chase Harrison (Marshall), Cam Smith and Bryant Callahan, respectively…Xenia has a pair of standout juniors in quarterback Tremell Wright and running back Ramon Browder (1,062 yards and seven touchdowns). The Buccaneers lost five games last year by a touchdown or less…Fairmont returns its top four rushers in seniors Tank Gant, Male’k Hillon and Keon Wright and junior Drew Baker (the GWOC’s leading rusher with 818 yards).

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