Questions mount as new high school football season nears
High school football teams can hold their first scrimmages Tuesday, Aug. 7, which means the regular season is just around the corner.
There are numerous matters that will be addressed over the coming months as OCC teams adjust to realignment, last year's breakout squads try to keep things rolling and central Ohio programs attempt to put together state championship-caliber seasons.
Here are five questions to consider entering the 2012 season:
5. What players could post big numbers this season?
A year ago, Johnstown running back Ross Franklin had one of the state's all-time great seasons and led his team to a Division IV state semifinal.
Granville, whose only loss last season was to the Johnnies, has a player of superstar caliber in quarterback David Fraley. The Blue Aces have won a combined 16 regular-season games the last two seasons but came up short of the playoffs both times.
Marion-Franklin arguably was the second-best team in the state in Division II last season, and it has a quarterback in Corry Benson who never has lost a regular-season start going into his senior year.
Running back Ja'Wuan Woodley should have plenty of opportunities to rack up yards in Hartley's run-first offense as his team looks to remain one of the state's best in Division IV.
4. Can perennial playoff contenders like Olentangy Liberty, Watterson and Westerville South make it back to the postseason?
Liberty has settled for back-to-back 6-4 seasons, but the Patriots advanced to the playoffs six consecutive times before that. The return of quarterback Joey Longhino should assure the Patriots of at least contending.
With quarterback Marcus Ball and wide receiver Gary Brown back in the fold for Westerville South, it seems a safe bet that the Wildcats will get back to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Things might not be as clear-cut for Watterson, which won the 2010 Division III state title but last year failed to win at least four games for the first time since 1958.
The biggest key to the postseason for the Eagles could be surviving a schedule that includes six 2011 playoff teams.
3. Who might be a surprise playoff team?
Last fall, Grandview followed a 6-4 season in 2010 with a perfect regular season and Westerville Central improved from 2-8 in 2010 to make the playoffs for the first time.
This season, if it can survive the difficult OCC-Ohio Division, Reynoldsburg could be a team to watch. The Raiders went 6-4 a year ago but haven't been to the playoffs since 2001.
Both Licking Heights and Watkins Memorial were middling teams in Division II, Region 7 that have key players back.
Whitehall, which had gone a combined 9-61 from 2004-10, has a new coach after improving to 6-4 a year ago, just missing the Division III, Region 10 playoffs.
2. What affect will the latest OCC realignment have on league-championship and playoff races?
Although the OCC-Cardinal, OCC-Central and OCC-Capital each will have a slightly new look because of realignment, the OCC-Cardinal should remain tight because of the additions of Hilliard Bradley and Hilliard Darby. Both went 7-3 last season.
Olentangy, which has been a competitive team that could not seem to break into elite territory the last few years, could find more success now that it has moved from the OCC-Cardinal to the OCC-Capital.
The OCC-Central still includes powers Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Davidson and Upper Arlington, and Liberty has been added to the mix.
1. Which teams could emerge as contenders for the Division I state championship?
The resumes that Davidson and Pickerington Central have built the past few years dictates every conversation about Division I football in central Ohio should start with those programs.
Although both have proven systems and playoff-savvy coaches, each will be looking for new stars to emerge because of significant graduation losses.
Whether that leaves the door open for another program is yet to be determined, but Coffman, Pickerington North, Upper Arlington and Westerville South all appear ready if it does.
Coffman returns quarterback James Walsh, and it has one of the area's most proven coaches in Mark Crabtree.
Both Westerville South and UA return key skill position players, and Pickerington North has a pair of high-caliber athletes in Godwin Igwebuike and Jake Butt.
Because of central Ohio's depth, it's safe to say that whichever team emerges should represent the area well on the state's biggest stage.
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.