Football teams anxious, motivated to bounce back
During the 2008 season, one of the stronger central Ohio high school football programs of the 2000s beat perennially tough Dublin Coffman in week nine of the regular season and went on to advance to a Division I, Region 3 semifinal.
Based on the fact that it hasn't had a winning season since, it might surprise some that the team I'm referring to is Worthington Kilbourne.
The Wolves made a run to a state semifinal in 2004 and were regional semifinalists the next year in what was former coach Jeff Gafford's final season, but the first coach in program history had his share of struggles during the first 10 years of his 15-year tenure.
Vince Trombetti has led Kilbourne since 2006 and had made a firm footprint on the program by 2008, so it's not like he forgot how to coach when the Wolves went 5-5 in 2009, 4-6 in 2010 and 3-7 a year ago.
While it has to be easy for players in programs such as Pickerington Central, Hilliard Davidson and Marion-Franklin to get started again after having memorable seasons a year ago, teams such as Grove City, Watterson and Kilbourne probably are feeling a mix of anxiety and excitement as they prepare for this season.
I'm sure we won't hear anyone from Grove City making excuses, but last year was just its second season back after not fielding a team in 2009 because of a failed levy in South-Western City Schools.
Watterson won the Division III state championship in 2010 but went 3-7 last year. Injuries to several key players contributed to the Eagles' rare losing season.
The extenuating circumstances surrounding Kilbourne's slide the past three seasons have been more subtle but nonetheless debilitating, as the school's dropping enrollment made it tougher to keep up with its opponents in the OCC-Central Division.
While Davidson had more than 700 boys when the Ohio High School Athletic Association counted enrollment numbers in October 2010, Kilbourne had just 489. The Wolves dropped to Division II last year and this season will move to the OCC-Cardinal, where every school's enrollment is below 600.
When Canal Winchester joins the OCC next year, Kilbourne will move to the OCC-Capital, where most of the schools had fewer than 500 boys as of the 2010-11 school year.
Considering that three out of almost every four teams in central Ohio don't make the playoffs, teams like Grove City, Watterson and Kilbourne were in the majority in their disappointment in terms of the postseason a year ago.
That probably hurts a little more, though, for coaches and players who have enjoyed success in the past, such as Trombetti, Grove City coach Matt Jordan and Watterson quarterback Andy Elberson.
The great thing about this time of year for teams looking to bounce back is that the disappointments of the past can be turned into positives as coaches and players search for motivation.
What's enjoyable for the rest of us is that there really are few true givens when it comes to central Ohio high school football, and that leaves room for teams to re-emerge.
It makes it easy for someone like Trombetti to see the positives of his situation.
"Last year we started six sophomores and had a freshman long snapper," Trombetti said. "The good news is when we watch the film (we see) that they really were just trying to survive when we first put them out there, but the last five games they all made plays. We're not exactly where I want us to be, but we're stronger and faster."
Enthusiasm such as that is what makes this time of year special.
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.