High School Football: Young Trotwood-Madison ready for second season

Rams, who won four of last five to make playoffs, travel to Bellbrook on Friday night

Flashback to earlier this season: Jeff Graham stops to tell a story of Trotwood-Madison football glory. He wants to his young team to know what it means to be a Ram, to wear the red and white, to be a state champion.

Now he laughs when he thinks about it because he came to realize that those stories might not be relevant. He’s trying to motivate his large group of sophomores and freshmen who are playing key roles as first-year varsity players.

“They were in the sixth grade,” he said. “They know of those guys, but they don’t know those guys. They’re trying to bring in their own identity. They can build their own legacy.”

ExploreStatewide first-round playoff pairings

The Rams – two seasons removed from a second state championship in three seasons – began this season with two returning starters on defense and none on offense. They started the season with four losses but won four of their last five to earn the No. 14 seed in the Division III, Region 12 playoffs.

The Rams, Chaminade-Julienne and Alter – perennial Division III playoff programs – are getting a second chance, if you will, in the playoffs that were expanded from eight to 16 teams per region. On Friday, the Rams (4-5) go to No. 3 Bellbrook (8-2), No. 13 CJ (3-5) visits No. 4 Hamilton Ross (7-2) and No. 15 Alter (5-5) is at No. 2 Monroe (8-2). Playing these traditional Dayton powers is never comfortable regardless of the seeds.

“It’s a good situation for such a young ballclub that we have,” Graham said. “We can’t look at what the past has been. We’ve just got to look at what’s going on now and be able to see what we can do to continue our season.”

Finding five losses on another team’s schedule to match Trotwood’s would be difficult. They lost to Division I Fairmont (6-4), a No. 9 seed, and Division II playoff teams Cincinnati Winton Woods (7-3, 7th seed), Harrison (4-5, 11th seed), Cincinnati Withrow (8-1, 8th seed) and Cincinnati La Salle (5-5, 6th seed).

“We did play a bigger schedule, and I’m not using that for an excuse, I’m using it for an advantage because our kids had to meet the challenge,” Graham said. “It’s a rebuilding season, and we’ve got a lot of young guys playing, so it gives them the experience and the understanding. Hopefully from this season they can be seasoned players.”

Sophomore quarterback Timothy Carpenter has had to grow up as much as anyone. Graham is pleased with Carpenter’s progress as a player, competitor and leader. The learning curve was steep, so Graham hasn’t asked him to carry the team.

“When I was 15 was I starting quarterback in high school? No,” said Graham, who played wide receiver at Ohio State and 11 seasons in the NFL. “You don’t think about it when mistakes are made. You’re like, ‘Come on.’ Think about it. He’s 15.”

Also leading the youth movement are sophomore Michael Smith, a cornerback last year who has added running back to his duties, and freshman guard Zion Warren.

Graham does rely on some seniors like two-way lineman Antwan Blackshear, linebacker and tight end Tyreik Gooch and wide receiver and defensive back Dylan Heflin. Gooch has been the most vocal of the leaders.

“He’s been a vocal leader getting these guys going even when things didn’t look well for us at times,” Graham said. “He was able to get guys out here to want to practice. This is his senior year and he scratched and clawed to get in the playoffs because he knows what can happen. Anything is possible.”

Graham expects Bellbrook to be physical and well-coached He hopes his young team won’t flinch in the moment because playoff atmosphere is more pressure packed.

“You’re going to be excited, you’re going to be pumped up and you’ve got to be able to maintain that for 48 minutes because that’s what you’re going to get in the playoffs,” Graham said. “You’re going to get team’s best efforts.”

Other playoff games to watch:

Division I, Region 2

No. 12 Springboro (5-4) at No. 5 Centerville (7-3): Centerville beat Springboro 45-26 in September with a fast start that included a defensive touchdown. Springboro beat Fairmont, played Wayne close and finished with a convincing win over Miamisburg.

No. 9 Fairmont (6-4) at No. 8 Perrysburg (7-3): Fairmont’s record is deceiving. The Firebirds lost to Springboro by one, Wayne by two and to Centerville in overtime.

Division II, Region 8

No. 12 Sidney (5-5) at No. 5 Edgewood (7-2): Sidney finished strong with three wins in its last four games.

No. 9 Troy (6-3) at No. 8 Cincinnati Withrow (8-1): Troy won six of its final seven after a competitive loss to Piqua on a rain-soaked field.

Division III, Region 12

No. 10 Cincinnati Mount Healthy (6-4) at No. 7 Tippecanoe (8-2): Tipp has been a physical team and the second-best team in the Miami Valley League behind unbeaten and Division II top seed Piqua.

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