• New Albany-Reynoldsburg to open central Ohio football season

    The 2014 central Ohio high school football season is finally here, and ThisWeekSPORTS.com has you covered.

    Here's a link to the Friday Night Live page, which has previews of nearly all games involving central Ohio teams: http://www.thisweeknews.com/content/topic/sports/football-friday-night-live-2014.html

    In the meantime, the area's slate of games begins Thursday night when New Albany travels to Reynoldsburg.

    Here are a few things to keep in mind:

    1. New Albany has won four consecutive league titles and went 11-2 last year, including beating the Raiders 38-20.

    2. The highest recruited athletes in this game are probably New Albany's Jack Schroer, who already has committed to Miami University, and Reynoldsburg's Ashton Dulin, a speedster who is going to end up at something like a small DI or an FCS school if he wants to play football. He's also a standout track athlete.

    3. Reynoldsburg committed five turnovers in last year's game vs. New Albany, so you know that's been one of its focuses heading into this matchup.

    4. Just because New Albany has the credentials on paper doesn't mean this is a gimme win. Remember, in 2012, Reynoldsburg won 10-9 over the Eagles but New Albany eventually made it to a DII state semifinal. The Raiders went 7-3 but came up short of the playoffs because one of their non-league wins was against Westerville North, which would go 0-10, and the combined record of the teams they beat that year was just 18-42 outside of New Albany.

    5. While Jalen Ward is taking over at QB for New Albany, Reynoldsburg's Conner McCloud got experience at QB over the last four games last year.

    6. Reynoldsburg's depth of talent is in its junior class, and it will be starting several juniors. How much mental toughness this group shows tonight could determine whether the Raiders can hang with a New Albany team that has been cranking out consistent talent the last several years

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 28 / 14

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  • Gahanna, Coffman to put QB battles on display in scrimmage

    There's an old adage that says teams that have two quarterbacks don't really have one.

    While there might be some grain of truth to that, the axiom doesn't apply when there are two quarterbacks available that each have talent -- albeit different skill sets.

    That appears to be the case at both Dublin Coffman and Gahanna, which will play in a scrimmage at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at Gahanna.

    Here are a few things to consider.

    For Gahanna:

    1. Senior Ronald Robinson and junior Mason Blancett have been battling it out throughout the preseason.

    2. Last year, Robinson started the first four games before going down with an injury. Blancett replaced Robinson when he was out and Robinson didn't get his old job back.

    3. This doesn't mean Blancett will be the starter when Gahanna opens Aug. 29 against Huber Heights Wayne.

    4. From what I'm told, Robinson's leadership skills make him a natural fit for the quarterback role. He was respected enough as a junior to be named a captain, which says something.

    5. If it was a battle of last year's stats, Blancett would have the job: Robinson passed for 719 yards, Blancett for 1,077.

    6. To first-year coach Bruce Ward's credit, however, he's letting last year be in the past while giving everyone a clean slate.

    7. He also wants to name a starter between the two, so tonight's game will be a big factor.

    For Coffman:

    1. Whether you go back to Brady Quinn or Jack Rafferty, or consider the Stoudt brothers, it's hard to remember a time when Coffman DIDN'T have great options at QB.

    2. The Shamrocks have a returning senior in Ben Beckett who missed three games last year after a concussion, as well as last year's backup, junior Gunnar Hoak.

    3. Similarly to Gahanna, the senior has proven to have clear leadership skills.

    4. Also similarly to Gahanna, the junior has a skill set that's good enough to make him a contender for the job.

    5. Hoak is the player with a scholarship offer to Toledo, so perhaps his upside is higher than Beckett's.

    6. The Shamrocks spent the preseason waiting for one of the two to emerge, and to their credit, both played well.

    7. Regardless of who Coffman picks at QB, it has a talented running back to take the pressure off in Dre Kendrick.

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 21 / 14

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  • Gahanna infused with new look after 3-7 season

    There were numerous things that didn't go the Gahanna football team's way last year, starting with the fact that it couldn't survive a tough non-league schedule.

    Although they won their first three games of the OCC-Ohio schedule, a four-game skid to end the season that included a 22-19 loss at Lancaster that the Lions could have won all but sealed their fate last season.

    Former Beechcroft coach Bruce Ward has come in with some new ideas, and it will be intriguing to see what he can do in his first season.

    1. When Ward was at Beechcroft, he at times ran a form of the spread offense, particularly when he had a talented athlete at quarterback in 2013 graduate Maurice Hale.

    2. He's got two experienced options at quarterback in Ronald Robinson and Mason Blancett. Robinson started the season at QB last year but Blancett ended the season behind center, and Blancett was the more effective of the two statistically.

    3. Blancett is only a junior, so even if he doesn't start the season at QB, his time will come.

    4. It's a really good junior class for the Lions. In addition to Blancett, there's TE/DL Jonathon Cooper, who has 5 scholarship offers including a big one -- from Ohio State.

    5. It will be fun to watch Cooper grow this year and next.

    6. As far as this year's team is concerned, much of what the Lions are able to accomplish will be determined by seniors like Vasean Davis and Blake Baker, who are solid players, and whether enough players will emerge around them.

    7. The Lions again have a difficult non-league schedule, and one of the Pickerington teams is likely -- again -- to win the OCC-Ohio.

    8. In summation, a season around .500 is what many people are going to expect from this team.

    9. The fun thing about every season is watching to see if teams can surpass expectations, and there certainly is potential here considering the talent at the younger levels, the numbers and athletes in the program, the infusion of a new coaching staff and experienced returnees at the skill positions.

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 19 / 14

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  • Reynoldsburg football team looking to take step up

    I love talking to Reynoldsburg football coach Buddy White.

    He's always got insightful and usually pretty honest things to say about his football team and just about things going on in central Ohio.

    He tells me that he's got a pretty special junior class to work with, led by multi-sport athlete Mark Gooden.

    Here are a few thoughts about Raiders football:

    1. Things are tough for Reynoldsburg athletes right now. There's a $335 pay-to-play, and many sports have suffered. The girls tennis team only had four players the last I had heard.

    2. Despite this, there seems to be great interest from young kids, particularly in that junior class, in playing football.

    3. Maybe it's because the Raiders have seemingly gotten closer than ever before to breaking through in recent years.

    4. I know they only went 5-5 last year, but they were 7-3 a couple years ago and have been much more competitive since Buddy took over.

    5. With so many juniors taking on key roles, does it mean the Raiders are still a year away?

    6. Maybe, but I think there's room for some optimism.

    7. There are three teams in the OCC-Ohio with new coaches, so Reynoldsburg theoretically would have a head up on them in terms of being fluid.

    8. This is a key year for Buddy as he strives to build a great program. It should be intriguing to watch.

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 14 / 14

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  • Ready rebuilding under veteran coaching staff

    Brian Cross has gotten the old band back together this fall over at Ready.

    The veteran of 33 seasons as a head coach has taken several former colleagues with him to the program that went 19-6 over the last two seasons under new UA coach Joel Cutler.

    Whether Cross and a staff that includes former Grove City assistants such as Steve White, John Snoad and Tony Milano and former Orange assistant Jay Priest can build on that success will depend on the abilities of the Silver Knights' senior class.

    Here are a few other observations:

    1. Ready is going to switch from running more spread looks to running the old-style wing-T, which is probably a good idea since it will have a new quarterback with little varsity experience in Dominic Lombardi.

    2. The Silver Knights gave up lots of points last season, but a lot of times their games were blowouts by halftime or early in the second half, so that's a bit deceptive.

    3. Ready should be solid defensively with players like Alvin Knox, Anthony Havens and Connor Lancia back. Knox is a first-team all-state returnee who should end up playing collegiately.

    4. The kicking game also should be a strength.

    5. The biggest factor in Ready's success will be whether it can stay healthy, because two-thirds of its roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores.

    6. The Knights have a mostly new schedule, but it seems navigatable.

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 13 / 14

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  • Hartley football team confident it can continue recent run

    Got a chance to check out the Hartley football team Sunday afternoon as its players baked in the hot sun waiting for their team pictures to be taken.

    It was enough to make anyone a little grouchy, but little gets into the heads of this red-hot program.

    The Hawks are coming off a state runner-up season in which they solved every riddle except for one -- how to beat Coldwater.

    Here are a few observations about the latest product Hartley will put on the field this fall.

    1. As always, the Hawks are brimming with confidence. Everyone involved in the program believes there won't be a dropoff despite losing college-level talent like Alonzo Saxton and Kalil Morris.

    2. They've created a revolving door of athletes and running backs in recent years whether its Noah Key, Saxton, Sam Mackowiak or one of the latest speedsters like Mateo Saxton or Cavell Bennett.

    3. One thing to keep in mind about this season for Hartley is that it's schedule probably has never been tougher. Instead of Amanda-Clearcreek and Ironton, there's a school from Michigan in week one that won its Division 8 state title and the first matchup with DeSales since the 1980s.

    4. Hartley will even be playing two of the best teams from the City League in Beechcroft and Marion-Franklin, which made the following question pop into my mind: Will they play Hilliard Davidson one of these years? I wouldn't put it past them.

    5. On a more serious note, there's no reason to think that the Hawks won't win somewhere between 7-10 games during the regular season.

    6. If Hartley can be a little more healthy than it was last year, another long playoff run is likely if not inevitable.

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 11 / 14

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  • Northland, Beechcroft football teams on track

    Made a stop out at both Beechcroft and Northland on Thursday.

    Here are a few things I came away with from those interviews.

    1. Beechhaven/Brookcroft, whatever you'd like to call it, is really a true mix of players from last year's Beechcroft team and the former Brookhaven.

    2. Key players seemed pretty split down the middle between players who started at Brookhaven and those who started at Beechcroft last year.

    3. All of the coaching staff from Brookhaven now comprises the Beechcroft staff, so the transition should be at a minimun.

    4. Numbers aren't great at Beechcroft, despite the mix of the two programs.

    5. Northland has a clear advantage when it comes to depth.

    6. The Vikings have made it to the playoffs a couple times now and have the attitude of a savvy veteran: They expect to be good now. When I visited Northland in past years, the hope would always be there, but there is more confidence now.

    7. I'm planning to check out Mifflin early next week and Whetstone has made some headway in some past years and also has a veteran staff, but as of now I'd be surprised if the City-North is anything but a two-headed race for the title and for playoff spots.

    8. Top players for Northland are Nateshawn Hargrove, Abu Turay and Nick Fischer

    9. Top players for Beechcroft include Takeyvion Simmons and Macyah Fleming, formerly of Brookhaven, and holdovers like Tyree Dukes, Rayshawn Dukes and Chaquez Fair.

    10. I would expect a more heated rivalry to develop between B-Croft & N-land over the next few years

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 9 / 14

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  • Pickerington North football team to have new look on offense

    Got a chance to check out practice at Pickerington Nort this morning.

    Here are among the things I jotted down:

    1. North has a new quarterback in senior Christian Whitner, who is a transfer from Pick Central. Although he missed most of last season with an injury and will be a varsity QB for the first time, everyone in camp is confident in his ability.

    2. Senior Frankie Weirick, who was second-team all-league last year, is out until probably October after having a surgery in the spring according to coach Tom Phillips. Weirick was one of the candidates to play QB but more importantly is an athletic RB/LB, so they'll have to fill that void.

    3. The Panthers have lots of big linemen as always. Junior Adam Notestine is 6-4, 325 ...

    4. North should be solid. On the surface it seems like it will be a challenge to reach the heights they've reached the last two years, but the Panthers' depth could be special

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    By: Jarrod Ulrey

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    8 / 7 / 14

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