Kelby Cox and most of his life-long teammates on the Stebbins High School football team embraced the game. They just hadn’t had much success.
“Growing up, we didn’t really win much, especially in my grade,” admitted the senior receiver and punt returner.
Then the unthinkable. Stebbins limped into last season having just one win in 2017, a Week 10 defeat of West Carrollton. Then-promising sophomore quarterback Ryan Minor transferred to Chaminade Julienne, where he’s now a standout senior. Stebbins sank to 0-10.
“It was rough and very hard,” reflected Cox. “It was us against the world.”
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That shook Greg Bonifay, the former Southeastern coach who succeeded Trace Smitherman at Stebbins, too. “It was the toughest thing I’ve ever been through,” he said.
That all changed this past offseason. There was a significant shift in attitude; morale was high. Weight-lifting sessions were bonding opportunities. Participation numbers soared. A unified team with a single purpose – to win a game – was forming.
“We had a good feeling,” Bonifay said. “The attitude is starting to change a little bit and when that changes good things happen.”
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What happened in the Week 1 opener at Greeneview was the best thing Stebbins could never have imagined, especially that senior class. Stebbins rocked Greeneview, 19-0.
This wasn’t just a losing-streak buster. It was a program reboot against a regional Division V power that advanced to the playoffs each of the previous five seasons, winning 47 games in that span. Stebbins (D-II, Region 8) has never qualified for the postseason.
“We have a lot of kids who just buy in,” said Cox, who scored on a fumble recovery to push the Indians’ halftime lead to 13-0. “You’re either all in or you’re not in. We have a dawg mentality.”
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Stebbins also has a robust 67 players on the roster, the most Bonifay has coached in three seasons with the Indians. That’s enough depth for Stebbins to essentially two-platoon, a difference-maker againt teams like Greeneview that doesn’t.
There also are nearly 30 players in the junior class, an unusually large number at the school that’s tucked between Harshman Road and Valley Street and borders Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Former Butler head coach Greg Bush was enticed by Bonifay to join the coaching staff.
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That success-driven senior class comprises most of the offensive line, which has been in place for three seasons now. Austin Womack, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound hammer and last season’s starter at quarterback, has been switched to H-back. He opened scoring at Greeneview with a one-yard dive.
Sophomore Nate Keller has taken over at QB after putting up huge numbers in Weeks 9-10 last season while subbing for Womack.
Stebbins (1-0) is at Greenville (1-0) on Friday in the debut of the revised Miami Valley League. Both were in the Greater Western Ohio Conference American Conference until leaving for the MVL this season with eight other former GWOC teams.
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None of that guarantees more success for the Indians, but that good start sure helps.
“We’ve got resilient kids,” Bonifay said. “It was exciting to see them react. They let loose a little bit and showed some excitement and that’s what we want to see.”
• Carroll (0-1) will dedicate the makeover of Spoerl-Bartlett Field prior to Friday’s game against visiting Tecumseh (0-1). The stadium has been refitted with FieldTurf and an all-weather running track. That was part of a $2.1 million project that was funded by private donations as part of the school’s Foundation for the Future campaign.
Former Carroll football head coaches Jim Spoerl (1966-89) and Steve Bartlett (1994-2010) are the winningest coaches in Patriots program history. Cody Byrd made his debut as Carroll’s head coach in last week’s 35-28 loss to Columbus DeSales at Wayne in the Backyard Blitz.
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• No area affiliation fared better than the Midwest Athletic Conference in the Week 1, and it wasn’t close. MAC teams were a combined 8-2 in openers.
The 10 MAC teams play an eight-game conference schedule, with Weeks 1-2 open. That’s why Coldwater (1-0) is at Cincinnati Mt. Healthy (1-0) on Friday in an intriguing matchup. It’s the first time for the teams to play. Mt. Healthy (D-III, Region 12) opened with a 22-8 defeat of visiting Tippecanoe and Coldwater (D-VI, region 23) crushed Kenton, 42-7.
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Mt. Healthy replaces Clinton-Massie on Coldwater’s schedule. The Cavaliers handed the Falcons their only regular-season loss in Week 2 last season, 31-28.
• Peyton Lane of National Trail (D-VI, Region 24) scored four different ways last week’s 56-6 blitz of Riverview East Academy. The senior had rushing and receiving TDs and returned an interception and kickoff for two more scores.
“I have never seen this in 41 years of coaching,” Blazers coach Mark Hoffman shared by email. “It was something to behold.”
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Lane was a D-III state wrestling runner-up last season at 135 pounds and All-Ohio in baseball. National Trail (1-0) is at Bethel (0-1) on Friday.
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