Northwest Conference forecast

By Ross Bishoff -

1. DELPHOS JEFFERSON. The two-time defending NWC champs are loaded with 15 letterwinners and 14 returning starters, 10 of whom are seniors. The defense led the league a year ago and brings back All-Ohio linebacker Dalton Hicks, while the offense returns a highly productive backfield with some talented additions.

2. SPENCERVILLE: The Bearcats’ punishing ground attack and defense will feature one of the top athletes around in RB/LB Zach Goecke, who finished with 1,641 yards and 28 TDs to go with 150 tackles a year ago. A slew of key returnees give coach John Zerbe plenty to work with.

3. COLUMBUS GROVE: State semifinalists a year ago, the Bulldogs graduated a star in Joey Warnecke but return six starters on each side of the ball. The offense will be more balanced, and the defense’s front seven is superb.

4. BLUFFTON: Mitchell Ault threw for 2,208 yards and 25 TDs a year ago and will be the team’s “Sam” linebacker. In his second year at the helm, coach Kyle Cutnaw feels the pieces are in place for a big turnaround from last year’s 3-7 season.

5. CRESTVIEW: QB Preston Zaleski is going to be tough to replace, but coach Jared Owens has built a trend of success for the Knights. Sixteen letterwinners, a strong offensive line and plenty of team speed will make Crestview a tough contender once again.

6. ADA: Senior LB Blake Ansley has recorded at least 100 tackles in three-straight seasons and heads up a team that isn’t deep but will be skilled on offense and experienced on both sides of the ball.

7. ALLEN EAST: Coach Mike Abbey has an experienced, stronger and overall more physical team. A veteran, talented backfield will make the Wing-T offense dangerous again. However, improving defense and being consistent will be keys for the Mustangs.

8. PAULDING: Thirteen returning letterwinners and new coach Tyler Arend give Paulding reason to believe they can improve on last year’s 1-9 record.

By Ross Bishoff

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