The Valley Division of the Northeast Ohio Conference is considered one of the strongest top to bottom in the area with Solon, Mentor, Twinsburg, Strongsville, Brunswick and Medina.
Last season was a year of good news and bad news for Twinsburg. After moving up from the River Division, where the Tigers had won three consecutive titles, they earned a share of their fourth consecutive title, taking the Valley Division crown with Solon and Mentor.
However, the Tigers, under new coach Joe Schiavone, missed the playoffs after three consecutive appearances because of a 27-24 double-overtime loss at Stow and a 27-21 overtime loss to visiting Solon.
The Tigers are replacing 15 starters. Returning players on offense are all seniors: quarterback Jalen Washington, a second-team All-Ohio pick and co-offensive Valley Division player of the year who runs the no-huddle offense; offensive tackle Bob Liu; and kicker Frank Candau.
The four returning defensive starters are seniors Scot Tegowski (inside linebacker), Ben Bisesi (strong safety) and Rob Williams (defensive end) and junior Cameron Dial, a defensive lineman.
Medina has its fourth head coach in four years. Dan Sutherland, an assistant at the school for 10 years, is a 1996 graduate and played tight end and defensive end under coach John Semenik, who is now coaching at the middle school.
“It is about being consistent. We owe them as a coach and a staff to have them go out on top,” Sutherland said. “We have over 100 kids in the weight room and we haven’t had that happen before.
“We have a new offense, defense and coaching staff and how fast we can learn and mesh as a team will determine our season.”
The Bees come off a 4-6 year with enthusiasm after defeating rivals Strongsville (30-27 in three overtimes) and Brunswick (7-0) in the season finale. Medina had never beaten both Strongsville and Brunswick in a season before.
The Bees have 19 lettermen returning, including 14 returning starters, eight on offense. There is experience at wide receiver with seniors Danny Eller and Dillon Wiesler; a veteran offensive line led by seniors Mitch Doraty, Matt Brubaker and Jake Glomb; and what Sutherland thinks will be an aggressive defense with seniors Tyler Galosi (defensive end), Chris Ford (defensive tackle) and Emerson Buckland (linebacker).
In the River Division, it was smooth sailing last season for Hudson under first-year head coach Ron Wright. The Explorers (10-2, 5-0) were undefeated in the division and closed out Dante Lavelli Field with a scintillating 35-28 double-overtime victory over Findlay in the first round of the playoffs. The Explorers have won or tied for the division title the past three seasons.
The Explorers open the season Aug. 24 against Kenston to christen their $5.5 million 5,000-seat Memorial Stadium.
The Explorers lost 11 starters to graduation.
The offense is built around the skills of running back Ben Gedeon, who is committed to Michigan, and wide receiver Leighton Antonio, along with the blocking of Jason Idoine.
“It should be an interesting year. We need to find some youngsters that can help us on the offensive and defensive lines,” Wright said.
The defensive line is led by senior end Adam Coberly, who was a third-team All-Ohio honoree and had 13 quarterback sacks. Strong safety Ross McLelland is very active in the secondary.
Like Hudson, Stow (4-6, 1-4) will no longer play in a quagmire of mud when it rains with newly installed field turf at Bulldog Stadium.
“It is special. The funds were raised privately and it comes from a lot of community members, so everyone has a piece of this. It is another piece to the puzzle to help grow this program,” coach Mark Nori said.
After winning three of their first four games, the Bulldogs lost five in a row and finished with just one win in the division last season.
Like Hudson, Nori has a young team that needs to mature quickly.
“Our senior class is not large in numbers and the sophomores and juniors will have to step up and play because we need them,” Nori said. “I’m excited about the guys we have this year and some exciting new guys coming up.”
The Bulldogs are hoping for big years from seniors Tyler Devitis, Jonathon Ansley, Andreas Diamantopoulos, Keith Philpot and Tom McCartney and junior kicker Kyle Wright.
Coming off back-to-back seasons of 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the River Division, Cuyahoga Falls will try to capture its first winning season in a decade (6-4 in 2002). It won’t be easy with 16 seniors graduating, but coach Mike Miller is optimistic.
“I am excited about the leadership of our seniors and our returning lettermen. The big thing for us is to stay healthy,” Miller said.
The biggest health concerns are on the offensive and defensive lines. Doug Dodridge, Eli Forbes, Samson Demand and A.J. Starcher hope to handle the work on the lines on both sides of the ball.
Miller will rely on seniors in Chris Harris (running back-defensive back), Devin Speicher (wide receiver-defensive back), Drew Paster (tight end-linebacker), Luke Ritzinger (wide receiver) and Matt Lawrence (wide receiver-defensive back).
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