Stebbins football has made continual improvement under coach Trace Smitherman and is coming off a breakout 7-3 high school season. But duplicating that success after leaving the Central Buckeye Conference for the Greater Western Ohio Conference is an equal challenge.
Stebbins joins Tippecanoe as having left the CBC for the expanded 20-team GWOC. Stebbins landed in the GWOC American South Division and Tipp in the GWOC American North.
It’s a homecoming for Stebbins, which was a charter member of the now-defunct Western Ohio League from 1964-89. The WOL and former Greater Miami Valley Conference merged to create the GWOC in 2001.
“We’ve been blessed to step up to the high ranks of the GWOC, which is nice,” Smitherman said during last week’s 7-on-7 passing tournament at Fairmont’s Roush Stadium. “The school is excited and our kids are excited to get the opportunity to play against them.”
Stebbins left the WOL for the Southwestern Rivers Conference (1989-97), then Mid-Miami League (1997-2006) and finally the CBC. Except for a celebrated run fueled by future NFL running back Jamal Robertson during its SRC days, Indians football has mostly provided unchallenged wins for opponents.
That started to change after Smitherman took over eight seasons ago. The turnaround has been gradual but effective. Stebbins had its best shot at its first playoff appearance last season since Robertson was running wild. The Indians were one of three teams — joining Harrison and Edgewood — that were 7-3 yet failed to make the playoff cut in the super competitive Division II, Region 6 field that produced eventual two-time state champ Cincinnati LaSalle.
Stebbins mounted a perfect 5-0 start last season but struggled in the second-half CBC Kenton Trace portion, losing to Bellefontaine, Tipp and finally Springfield Shawnee in the regular-season finale.
Graduated is top running back Mason Dyer (1,588 yards rushing; 18 touchdowns), but dual threat quarterback David Hickey returns. A senior, Hickey was third overall in the CBC last season with 1,140 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. He also completed 17 of 44 passes for 450 yards, five scores and was intercepted twice.
Stebbins renews a rivalry with neighboring Carroll to open the season Aug. 26. Many of Carroll’s athletes are from the Riverside and Beavercreek areas. Stebbins and Carroll haven’t played since both were in the MML. Stebbins plays Urbana and Northeastern in Weeks 2-3 and makes it GWOC debut in a Week 4 crossover game against visiting Greenville.
“Right now, we want to continue to try and get better,” Smitherman said. “We’ve been blessed with a nice field and a scoreboard, but the product has got to continue to get better. The kids have to continue to learn.”
The high school football preseason begins Monday.
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