SWBL football: Resurgent Bellbrook seeking more success

Culture can change quickly in a locker room. Bellbrook football is confirmation.

Entering Year 4 under alumnus and head coach Jeff Jenkins, the Eagles are pursuing their fourth straight high school football winning season and 14th straight regular-season win. Last fall, Bellbrook capped the third undefeated regular season in program history (in 55 years) by finishing No. 2 in the final Division III Associated Press state poll. That ties for the highest finish in school history.

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The Eagles also ended No. 2 in the final 1991 D-III AP poll (only five divisions). That season produced Bellbrook’s first 10-0 team.

In the nine years prior to Jenkins’ arrival Bellbrook managed one winning season.

“It’s a great time to be an Eagle,” Jenkins said. “Guys are excited to be Bellbrook football players. They’re looking forward to this year and making their own mark. They’re not living off last year’s accomplishments.”

A year ago Bellbrook outscored the opposition 382-109 in the regular season and earned a home playoff game in Region 11. The Eagles lost the postseason opener 27-19 to No. 7 Thornville Sheridan thanks in part to four second-half turnovers. Gone from that squad are 20 seniors.

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“Experience is the hardest thing we’re trying to replace,” said Jenkins, who is 24-7 in three years at Bellbrook. “Last year’s group was just not going to be denied. They had a very strong vision and they accomplished it. They left a legacy for these young guys to follow.”

The biggest shoes to fill come on offense where one starter – senior guard Davis Hagler – returns.

Sophomore Seth Borondy and senior JR McCormick will see time at halfback, while senior Sam Sherrill and junior Jonah Atchison will share fullback duties. That quartet is tasked with replacing last year’s senior sledgehammers Justin Sloan and Sedrick Ferguson who finished first and second, respectively, in the Southwestern Buckeye League in rushing. Both were over 1,000 yards. Sloan, a three-year starter, was the SWBL player of the year.

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Bellbrook graduated 2,528 yards of the 2,962 it produced on the ground last season. Borondy (115 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries as a freshman) is the leading returning rusher. Atchison ran for 111 yards on 21 carries.

“We’re replacing a lot of guys with a lot of years of experience,” Jenkins said. “It’s going to be a difficult task. I think our guys are up to it.”

Junior quarterback Alex Westbrock – who takes over for three-year starter Brendan Labensky – agrees.

“We have a lot of young guys and not a lot of experience,” Westbrock said. “But we’ll be fine.”

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Bellbrook’s defense returns seven starters including first team All-SWBL selections Ethan Fryman (junior linebacker) and McCormick (defensive back). Senior defensive back Braeden Gedeon (second team All-SWBL) holds offers from Morehead State and Sienna Heights (Mich.).

Defensive line coach Brian Woll is new to the staff. A former defensive coordinator – most recently at Carlisle and previously at Stebbins and Vista Peak (Aurora, Colo.) – Woll gives Jenkins four coaches on staff with defensive coordinator experience.

“Bellbrook is always going to hang its hat on defense,” Jenkins said. “We expect our defense to guide us to a lot of victories this year.”

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Bellbrook opens Friday at Bethel-Tate.

“We definitely have a target on our back,” Westbrock said. “It hypes us up knowing everyone’s coming for us. We’re ready.”

Here are some other things to know about SWBL football:

• There are at least three new SWBL head football coaches.

Scott Clodfelter resigned at Bethel to succeed T.J. Smart at Carlisle. Smart never coached for the Indians. He resigned in late May after landing the job in February following an admission to theft. Clodfelter also was a head coach at Beavercreek.

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Rickey Davis succeeds Steve Poff at Madison. Poff, 25, is among the area’s youngest head coaches. Poff remains on the Mohawks staff as an assistant.

Madison is a combined 37-10 over the last four seasons and was 12-1 last year, falling to Wheelersburg in a disputed D-V regional final. Madison was 11-3 in 2017, advancing to a D-V state semifinal.

Bob Mullins also succeeds Brett Stubbs at Monroe. Mullins was an assistant at Lakota East the previous five seasons. He’s the Hornets’ fourth head coach since the 2017 season.

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• Brookville’s Mike Hetrick is the senior SWBL coach, entering his 20th season as the Blue Devils head coach. Bob Smith of Northridge is in his 19th season as the Polar Bears head coach and has been on the Northridge staff for 37 years. Bret Pearce is going on his 15th season – and second stint – at Milton-Union.

Bob Skidmore has been on Valley View’s staff for 33 years. This is his fourth season as the Spartans head coach.

• All SWBL teams but Milton-Union and Waynesville retained their same divisional status as last season. Both of the SWBL Buckeye Division, the Bulldogs and Spartans each moved up to D-IV, Region 16. Milton-Union resided in D-V, Region 18 last season and Waynesville was in D-V, Region 20.

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• Only divisional winners Bellbrook and Middletown Madison (D-V, Region 20) qualified for the playoffs last season. Despite having 14 members, the SWBL hasn’t had more than four teams in any one season advance to the playoffs in recent seasons.

• Franklin (6-4) won out the last half of the regular season to stoke expectations. A big part of that success was returning QB Braden Woods and RB Gage Johnson. Woods has more than 2,300 career passing yards and Johnson had 761 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

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Franklin opens at Madison on Friday in a SWBL crossover matchup that promises to draw a capacity crowd.

• Massive Valley View senior Justin Bromagen is verbally committed to Illinois State. He’s a 6-5, 285 pounder who doubles on the offensive and defensive lines.

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