Bracing for season to remember on Lima area high school gridiron


By Ross Bishoff - Contributing Columnist



I’ve never really shied away from the fact I’m an intensely lazy person at heart. The problem is, when you commit yourself to the intense art of sports journalism it’s impossible to balance a soul-pleasing amount of sloth with the pure dedication it takes to accurately and fairly cover a giant swath of sports teams in an area like this.

One way I’ve always tried to do that was by making sure I don’t work too hard on “research.”

No, the way I’ve always predicted outcomes is through reading the signs. It’s a vastly easier life but it often ends in realizing you misread about half what you think you saw.

So, accuracy often gets stomped by the cold hard facts the sports seer neglected altogether.

But I don’t apologize for any of that. However, that doesn’t mean I’m unapologetic. This summer I stepped away from reading the signs, took my eyes off the craft, and have actually tried to do homework leading into the upcoming football season.

I know, I know, it’s intolerable.

But as far back as last season, I began to pick up on how strong most of the area football teams are going to be in 2015. The local conference races are going to be absolute fist fights up until Week 10, and after that we’ll be following a slew of area squads in the postseason when they get the chance to beat up on outside teams.

Because of that, I felt it was important I actually researched and studied, asked questions and did interviews.

Turns out, sports journalism is time consuming. It does pay off though.

At my fingertips are a pile of preview printouts, a giant notebook full of stats and names, a recorder packed with long interviews, Word files with more interviews and stats, text messages and emails from fans and coaches and about eight tabs open on my Chrome with rankings, capsules and websites all dedicated to predicting state and local high school football.

It’s a lot to digest. And it gets confusing.

So finally, I turned my gaze to the crystal ball an hour or two ago. I pulled out of the black case I hide from the women and children and gently, so-so gently pulled out the crystal football from its glass case. It blinked and sparked for a few moments before it recognized my touch and promptly popped to life in a smoky torrent.

Sadly, it didn’t reveal much I didn’t already know from all the “research” I put in. It was simply easier to read.

So behold, predictions based on “homework.” Not as thrilling, but probably more accurate.

Lima Senior

I’ve covered some insane program turnarounds but what Mike Fell has done at Lima Senior still blows me away. It’s not just the fact the Spartans are good but they’re good in one of the best football conferences in the state.

Remember that 0-10 debacle in 2012? Heading into 2015, they’re coming off a playoff season and are the team to beat in Region 4.

How does that happen so quickly? Easy answer: Great coaching, great athletes, and tons of work.

It’s not a fluke, sorry.

If you think that rapid rise is going to plateau this season, stop thinking.

PREDICTION: Lima Senior takes another big step this year. With the skill players returning and Fell’s coaching brilliance, The Spartans win the Three Rivers Athletic Conference and at least two playoff games this year.

What do I base that on? Lima Senior enters with the perfect balance of confidence and hunger. The Spartans have learned how to win but they’ve still got a lot to prove. They didn’t win the conference last year and had a major playoff letdown. So buckle up.

Western Buckeye League

In 2011, the WBL was incredible with Kenton (14-1), Elida (10-4), Ottawa-Glandorf (8-3) and Wapakoneta (10-2) each turning in fantastic seasons. Since then, it’s remained a tough conference but not like that.

However, it has been building back to that level and this year from top to bottom might be better than 2011.

Most of it can be attributed to the high level of coaching with Doug Frye returning to St. Marys, Travis Moyer taking over at Wapak, Kenton and O-G not missing a step and Trent Temple (Celina), Keith Recker (Van Wert) and Bill Garland (Bath) working hard to steer their programs in the right direction.

This season, it all comes together in a torrent of excellence. The result is a brutally competitive league. In fact, some teams might be better this year but finish with worse records.

PREDICTIONS

Champion: Wapakoneta

Yes, they lost some big-time players but the Redskins reload with experienced, talented, big athletes who have had a year under Moyer’s tutelage. They’re going to be stacked and are fresh off a regional final run.

Watch out for: Kenton

After a one-point loss to Wapak in Week 2, the Wildcats didn’t lose another game till a 25-22 loss in the state semis to Kettering Alter. This program year-in and year-out is unreal and they’ll be just as good this season.

Sleeper: Celina

St. Marys will continue to get better and Van Wert is going to be very dangerous. But Celina fans should feel really good about this team.

Last year, coming off a 7-3 season in which the Bulldogs were very good, I thought they were ready for a huge season. Instead, offensive line problems tripped them up all year. This year, with Caleb Hoyng back for a third season at QB, many problems ironed out on offense, and a defense loaded with promise, they’re going to be a force for the next 10 weeks.

Northwest Conference

The NWC is fun to cover. Each team has built an identity for itself and it’s a conference full of good, young coaches. And oh by the way, they spend the whole season knocking each other off pedestals.

Last year, Delphos Jefferson won the conference by beating Spencerville, which beat state semifinalist Columbus Grove, which beat Ada, which beat Crestview, which beat both Spencerville and Delphos Jefferson.

It’s a vicious cycle NWC-on-NWC violence.

But it just illustrates how competitive a conference it is. And this year despite graduating some big names, every team is stronger. That’s why it’s such a hard league to predict. But here we go:

PREDICTIONS

Champion: Delphos Jefferson.

The two-time defending champion returns an incredible defense and will get better on offense. It’s an experienced, well-coached team that’s trying to actually get tougher. Look out.

Watch out for: Spencerville.

Obviously, you watch out for Spencerville, right? I could have probably predicted the Bearcats as champs and nobody would bat an eye. Zach Goecke (RB/LB) might be the top athlete in the area, and I love how the Bearcats pound the football.

Sleeper: Columbus Grove.

Probably not a real sleeper considering Grove to the state semifinals. However, losing Joey Warnecke is a major loss and many may think the Bulldogs will go backward because of that. They won’t. Their defensive line is going to be stout and the offense is going to be tougher to stop than ever as it morphs into a balanced, spread attack.

Midwest Athletic Conference

Honestly, there’s not much to say here. It’s pound-for-pound arguably the best conference in Ohio.

The conference won three state titles last year — Coldwater in Division V, Minster in Division VI and Marion Local in Division VII. However, the Flyers graduated one of the best senior classes ever and probably won’t be blowing Minster and Coldwater off the field. That’s not to say they can’t duplicate their record a year ago, but it isn’t going to seem like a breeze, no way.

PREDICTION

Honestly? Three more state titles.

Minster is now Division VII and might have the top quarterback in the area in Josh Nixon. Marion Local is still the best team in Division VI and should ease to a fifth-straight state title. Meanwhile, Coldwater has won three straight state titles and been to six-straight title games.

I couldn’t predict any of that if I tried, but it’s gonna happen again. Honestly, picking the MAC champ is more difficult. So I’ll go with Marion Local because, why not? To be the man, you gotta beat the man.

And with that Ric Flair reference, I’m dropping the mic, curling up with my crystal ball and taking a nap before the season officially kicks off.

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By Ross Bishoff

Contributing Columnist

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