COLUMBUS GROVE — The offense might be a little ahead of the defense at Columbus Grove right now as it tries to build on the success of a year ago, when it won eight games and reached the second round of the playoffs.
At least on paper, the offense is quite a bit more experienced than the defense.
“Offensively we have a ton of people back, but defensively it’s a whole different story,” Columbus Grove coach Andy Schafer said. “We’ve got some people back (defensively), but we’ve had to move them around. We run a 3-4 defense and we lost three out of the four linebackers. On the defensive line, we lost big Cody Johnson. We’re kind of shifting some people around.”
As the Bulldogs learned last season, where you end up and where you start can be very different.
Columbus Grove started last season with back-to-back losses to a pair of Blanchard Valley Conference powers, Pandora-Gilboa and Leipsic, then won eight of its final 10 games. The only losses after the first two games were by two points to Spencerville on a last-second field goal and in double overtime to Seneca East in a playoff game.
“We’re hoping that confidence carries over to this year. You see a different attitude. They got a little taste of winning, and they’re hungry for more,” Schafer said.
Columbus Grove has 13 returning starters, six of whom earned some type of all-Northwest Conference honors last season.
Junior quarterback Blake Reynolds, a three-year starter, and junior offensive lineman Ethan Halker were second-team all-NWC. Wide receiver Gabe Clement, offensive linemen Jeff Meyer and Jared Basinger and defensive lineman Ezra Jones received honorable mention.
“Balance is the key to our success this year. If we can get a good mix of run and pass, we will be hard to stop,” Schafer said. “It is important for our offense to score points and take the pressure off a young, inexperienced defense.
“Reynolds has a clear understanding of our offense. An experienced offensive line will give him the protection needed for a very athletic receiving corps to get open,” he said.
The Bulldogs have five returning starters on the offensive line, and two of them will be playing new positions. Ezra Jones, Dylan Sargent, Meyer and Jones all were starters a year ago. Halker will move to tight end from center, and Jones will play center after playing guard last season.
Despite losing two of the top three receivers and the top two running backs from 2018, Schafer thinks those areas could be a strong point. Sophomore Colin Metzger is expected to be the starting running back, and Jon Banal, Zac Ridenour and Clement are the top receivers.
“We have quite a few people back, especially if you consider contributors. We rotated in quite a few receivers, so I would consider some of those guys returning starters,” he said.
“Clement is a very fast, athletic player. We look for him to make big plays in our offense. Ridenour is an extremely good corner who is now going to play offense and defense. We have a solid defensive line, which should help. But we need some players to step up early because we have a very tough front end schedule.”