The favorites in the Federal League appear to be last season’s co-champions — Canton McKinley and North Canton Hoover.
McKinley and Hoover return several key players from last season, when each finished 5-1 in the league.
Marcus Wattley replaced Dan Reardon as McKinley’s coach after Reardon chose to return to Youngstown to coach Ursuline. Reardon went 30-15 with four playoff appearances and two Federal League titles in four seasons at McKinley.
Wattley, a 2000 Copley graduate, spent last season as a defensive ends coach at the University of Akron. He previously was the head coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary for two years and an assistant for 12 years (three at Copley and nine at St. V-M).
McKinley returns 16 lettermen from last season, when the Bulldogs finished 9-3 and qualified for the Division I playoffs. The offense features senior wide receivers Jalen Ross and Jasper Robinson and senior running back Lameir Garrett, who rushed for 1,224 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018.
Robinson has pledged to play at Kent State, and Ross and Garrett each hold Division I college scholarship offers.
Junior Elijah Wesley is set to take over at quarterback for Alijah Curtis, who is now at Army. Juniors Terrell Dillworth and Xavier Black are other key wide receivers.
The Bulldogs return their top two tacklers from last year in safeties Brian Pinkney and Chamber Stokes-Williams. Pinkney, a junior, was in on 136 tackles, including 82 solo. Stokes-Williams, a senior, made 115 tackles, 72 solo.
“We look for him to have a really big year,” Wattley said of Pinkney. “I think the defense really fits his skill set and his ability to not only cover but stick his nose in on run plays. And Chamber Stokes-Williams is a big-time hitter who has a chance to be a big-time player.”
Senior D.J. Owens is expected to play both ways on the McKinley lines because, as Wattley said, “He’s too good at both not to.”
Two other impact senior defenders are linebacker Joe Saipaia and cornerback Tyson Durant, a transfer from Copley.
From last season's 7-3 team, Hoover brings back junior quarterback Connor Ashby, who completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 2,252 yards and 21 touchdowns.
“I want the Fed first,” Hoover coach Brian Baum said. “Then we’ll worry about the playoffs, because last year we went 7-3 and that’s [good enough] for the playoffs in most places. Not our region [in Division II]. So that happens. You can’t control that.”
Baum paused briefly, then added, “Well, you go 10-0 you control it.”
The list of 17 returning lettermen for the Vikings also includes senior Adam Griguolo (1,559 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns last season), senior linemen Ben Wyatt and Colby Shirey, senior wide receiver Drew Johnson, senior linebacker J.R. Ruppert, junior linebacker Ryan Prusinowski and senior defensive end Connor Mayle.
Keith Wakefield is back for his 29th season as Perry coach and 35th overall. Perry went 8-2 overall last year and 4-2 in the FL.
“We had a good offseason and we’re a physically strong team, one of the strongest teams I’ve ever coached,” Wakefield said. “Our issue will be depth.”
Perry brings back 15 lettermen, including four starting offensive linemen — Toledo recruit Vinny Sciury and fellow seniors Max Millin, Carter Huff and Adam Luster.
Juniors Josh Lemon and Kenny Anderson and senior Kyle Middaugh are slated to be Perry's top running backs, and all three are also vital defenders. Lemon, however, is recovering from an injury suffered during baseball season.
Wakefield is counting on senior lineman Alex Ratliff to step into a bigger role, and junior athlete Cayman Williams is at Perry after starting last year at McKinley.
Senior wide receiver-defensive back Jake Ryan and senior running back-linebacker Ethan Adkins are back to lead Jackson (6-4, 3-3) under coach Tim Budd.
The Polar Bears also return seniors Alex Roth, Joe Ackerman, Carlos Elias, Victor Shott and Jack Dennis, and junior Johnny Kulich.
Lake (6-4, 3-3) will feature junior quarterback Jake Eckels. Coach Dan DeGeorge is also relying on big contributions from seniors Sean-Michael James, Logan Fedor, David Rhodes, Avery Keith and Brady Tobin, and juniors Joe Spohn and Bryce Snow.
Green (1-9, 1-5) and GlenOak (1-9, 0-6) both have new coaches. Mark Geis is in at Green after coaching at Kent Roosevelt and Rootstown, and GlenOak hired Beau Balderson, who previously coached Marlington, Jackson, Parma and Southeast.
Green will feature seniors Andrew Shelton, Porter Flinn and Collin Somerday. Flinn is the Bulldogs' top running back and a linebacker.
Seniors quarterback-defensive back Kindel Richardson and junior two-way lineman Aeden Begue are back at GlenOak after missing last season with injuries. Senior athlete Jamiel Randle is another key player for the Golden Eagles.
GateHouse Media Ohio writers Josh Weir and Joe Scalzo contributed to this story. Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com.