High School Football: Top 8 players in Valley View history

Although Valley View hired then-Carlisle assistant coach Jay Niswonger to lead its football program in 1984, it was a bus ride six years later that forged the empire. Despite five winning seasons in six, Niswonger concluded in 1990 on a Week 10 trip home from Portsmouth that paradigms were about to shift.

“I made the decision then, that night, that we were going to go two-platoon and run the run-n-shoot all the time,” Niswonger said. “The other coaches thought I was nuts.”

Sprinkle in a little tempo and offseason weightlifting and Valley View reached historical heights. With just 38 players on the roster, the Spartans went 8-2 in 1991. In 1992 Valley View went 12-1 and won its first regional title. Two years later the Spartans were undefeated state champs.

Niswonger directed Valley View to a record of 243-78-1 in 28 years. His teams made 16 state playoff appearances (including 12 straight), won seven regional titles and claimed state championships in 1994, ‘96 and ‘97.

From 1991-99, Valley View won 73 straight regular season games. From 1996-98 it won 39 straight games period. From 1992-2003, Niswonger’s teams scored at least 463 points per season. Fourteen of his Spartans played at the Division I level and two played in the National Football League – Shane Hannah and Brock Bolen.

Formerly Barker Field, Valley View’s home turf has been renamed Niswonger Field.

Last season, with many of the same surnames from the Spartans’ heyday making an impact, Valley View claimed its first regional title in 20 years. The program currently owns 23 playoff berths and a 41-20 postseason record.

This is the third in a season-long series of the top high school football players in Dayton area history. The Dayton Daily News received recommendations and nominations from athletic directors and readers to help compile our list.

Brock Bolen, RB, 2004

Broke numerous rushing and scoring records at Valley View after transferring from Fenwick. Ran for 2,287 yards and 43 touchdowns as a junior and 2,087 yards and 40 TDs as a senior. Named D-III All-Ohio after both seasons. Finished with 6,099 career rushing yards. His 728 career points rank sixth in state history.

Went to Illinois before transferring to Louisville. Appeared in 20 games in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-12), including a career-high 13 in 2011.

Tim Curtis, RB, 1989

Big reason newly minted head coach Jay Niswonger had success pre-run-n-shoot. If any questions loomed about his talent due to running behind a line with another all-time great (Hannah), those queries were answered when he went to Ohio University and was a four-year letter winner, three-time All-MAC selection (two-time first team) and graduated with a then-school record 2,995 career rushing yards. That tally currently ranks fifth. His four rushing TDs against Kent State in 1991 is still tied for best in school history.

Aaron Focht, RB/WR, 1996

The spark that ignited the dynasty. The most explosive player in program history and one of the Miami Valley’s top offensive players. His career numbers include 294 carries for 3,376 yards rushing and 52 TDs, 76 receptions for 1,040 yards and 23 TDs, 23 kickoff returns for 845 yards and four TDs and 27 punt returns for 613 yards and four touchdowns. Was a three-time All-Ohio selection, a two-time Southwest District offensive player of the year and the state’s D-IV offensive player of the year as a senior. Played in the Big-33 Ohio-Pennsylvania All-Star Game.

Went to Stanford where he saw limited duty as a reserve wide receiver first two years. Made transition to defense in 1998 and shined as a strong safety. Started double-digit games for the Cardinal as a junior and senior. Returned a fumble 37-yards for a TD against Notre Dame in 1999 that helped cement the Irish’s first losing season since 1986. Had six career interceptions.

Shane Hannah, OL, 1990

Mammoth specimen (listed 6-foot-6, 290 pounds in high school) was a first team All-Ohio selection at defensive line and the state’s D-III lineman of the year as a senior. Shined on the offensive line at Michigan State. Became Spartans starter at left tackle in the second game of his redshirt freshman season against Notre Dame and would never relinquish the position. Did not allow a sack during junior season. A four-year starter, he tied the MSU record for most starts (44) by an offensive lineman and was named All-Big Ten as a junior and senior.

Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys (63rd overall) in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft. Knee injury in first preseason game derailed career.

Thomas Howard, QB/DB, 1983

One of the area’s top athletes shined in football (league champion), basketball (All-Ohio), baseball (All-Ohio) and track (long jumped 23-7 and high jumped 6-8).

Went to Ball State where he played baseball and football. Was named the inaugural Mid-American Conference Baseball Player of the Year in 1986 after leading the conference with a .448 batting average and 23 home runs. Also became the first Ball State athlete ever selected in the first round of a major sports draft when the Padres took him 11th in the 1986 MLB Draft. Played 11 seasons (1990-2000) in the majors for six teams, including the Cleveland Indians (1992-1993) and the Cincinnati Reds (1993-1996). Was a career .264 hitter with 44 homers 264 RBI.

Andy Keating, QB, 1997

Dual sport star (All-Ohio in football and basketball) led the program to undefeated season (14-0) and 1996 D-IV state title (beat previously Bellaire 37-12). Big 33 selection (threw 56-yard TD to Ohio State recruit Derek Combs).

Played football at West Virginia before transferring to Sinclair (basketball). Finished collegiate career playing basketball at Morehead State (2000-2002).

David Riley, QB, 1986

Another standout that excelled in three sports: football, basketball and baseball. Held most of the program’s passing records (since broken) when he graduated. His 409 yards in a game is still the mark.

As a senior at Ball State in 1989 he was named MAC offensive player of the year and MVP after leading the Cardinals to their first conference title since 1978 and their first-ever bowl game (California Bowl – lost 27-6 to Fresno State). Went 17-8-2 as a starter. Played in the Arena Football League for two seasons (Cincinnati Rockers and Milwaukee Mustangs).

Wes Root, DL, 1994

Program’s first two-time All-Ohio selection (1992 and 1993) and a key piece of the Spartans’ first two playoff and regional title teams. Another three-sport star (football, basketball and baseball). Played at Columbia. Passed away at age 29 in 2006.

Special Mention

Jared Fore, DB, 2000

Member of the Spartans state title teams in 1996 and 1997. First team All-Ohio in 1998 and 1999.

Shane Hannah Jr., LB, 2014

Two-time team captain was first team All-Ohio and SWBL Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. Wrapped career as program’s all-time leading tackler (455). Also tied program record for tackles in a game with 26. Played at Dayton.

Dustin Strayer, QB, 2001

Two-time first team All-Ohio, two-time Southwest District offensive player of the year and the 2000 state D-IV offensive player of the year. Played at Wilmington College.

Honorable Mention: Shane Brewer, LB, 1993; Ben Buehner, WR, 2001; Teddy Buehner, QB, 2004; Tim Bush, WR, 1996; Jake Clark, RB, 2022; Cade Cradlebaugh, QB, 2020; Stone Day, DL, 2018; Gavin Degroat, LB, 2022; Chad Depew, OL, 1999; Collin Genslinger, RB, 2018; Delmer Harrison, DL, 1998; Bobby Johnson, DL, 1998; Doug Long, WR, 1967; Steve Moyer, LB, 1974; Kyle Pohl, QB, 2011; Jason Reed, LB, 1996; Jordan Rieger, DB, 1998; Josh Sears, LB, 1998; Trevin Sears, QB, 1995; Danny Smith, QB, 1993; Austin Stidham, DB, 2022; Butch Stidham, DB, 1995; Joe Swanson, LB, 2003; Adam Valenti, OL, 2018; Mike Wafzig, WR, 1999.

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