Players to watch
Drake driven to fulfill dream of Division I QB
Jared Drake is not afraid to think big.
During his first season at quarterback for the Westerville Central High School football team last fall, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder fit in quickly even though he had just joined the program after transferring from Upper Arlington.
Of the six quarterbacks in Division I who made first-team, second-team or special mention all-district last season, Drake was the only underclassman.
Now a senior and with an experienced cast around him, Drake enters his final prep season looking to help the Warhawks make the playoffs for the second time in program history -- while disproving doubters.
While his speed and size have made him an attractive prospect to Division I colleges as an athlete, Drake refuses to let go of the idea that he can play quarterback for a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
He currently has one scholarship offer at quarterback, from Indiana State of the Football Championship Subdivision.
"I grew up playing football and it's always been a dream of mine to be a Division I quarterback," Drake said. "I want to take that dream to its furthest potential. I know if it doesn't work out, going as an athlete is a backup option. But I'm going to compete to reach my dream."
Drake's opportunity to shine one last time at the prep level comes during a season in which there are few known commodities in central Ohio at the skill positions.
Of the players from the 2014 recruiting class who have verbally committed to FBS programs, five are projected to play on the offensive line and eight others are college prospects on defense.
Drake is the only returning member of last season's ThisWeek Super 25, and only three of the 32 who made Super 25 honorable mention return.
The only quarterback to commit to a Division I college thus far is Newark Catholic's Chayce Crouch, who has pledged to go to Illinois. Crouch helped the Green Wave earn a Division VI state runner-up finish a year ago.
Drake passed for 1,308 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 951 yards and 13 scores as the Warhawks went 7-3 and finished ninth in Division I, Region 3, one spot from a playoff berth.
Central is among five area teams now competing in the new Division I, Region 1 following the OHSAA's expansion from six to seven playoff divisions.
"I know Dublin Scioto graduated a lot of seniors and Westerville South graduated a lot of seniors," Drake said of the Warhawks' OCC-Cardinal Division foes, both of which made the playoffs last season. "Overall in Columbus, it'll be interesting to see what guys can step up."
Below is a look at some of the area's top players, by position:
•QUARTERBACK -- While Drake and Crouch stand out because of their all-around abilities, Whetstone senior Ramroth Finnegan is back after passing for 2,458 yards and 20 touchdowns. Finnegan (6-3, 250) has been offered by Buffalo.
Ready's Matt Yoho and Hartley's Jared Brandewie are seniors who made special mention all-district a year ago.
Division I programs Pickerington Central (Colby Simkins), Grove City (Cameron Meece), Thomas Worthington (Danny Gordon), Hilliard Bradley (Tommy Horn), Central Crossing (Luke Duncan) and Newark (Grant Russell) all return starters.
•RUNNING BACK -- Three of the area's most experienced running backs, Thomas Worthington's Tony Harvard (1,172 yards, 11 touchdowns), Olentangy Liberty's Daryian Davies (925 yards, 14 combined rushing and receiving scores) and Hilliard Davidson's D.D. Clark (853 yards, 5 touchdowns), play in the OCC-Central.
New Albany's Leslie Anokye returns after rushing for more than 1,000 yards last season. Johnstown returns an all-district player in Cody Farley (1,792 yards, 16 touchdowns), while Ready's Akili Taylor (1,060 yards, 10 scores) also is back.
Fairfield Christian's Ben Tobin is a senior who rushed for 2,802 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago.
•WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END -- Alonzo Saxton, a Duke recruit, should become a key part of Hartley's offense at wide receiver or running back.
Another player looking to stand out based on his athleticism is Davidson's Phillipie Motley, who has verbally committed to Pittsburgh.
Two teams with multiple experienced receivers are Gahanna (Kevin Randolph and Tank Davis) and Granville (Ajay Alderman, Hunter Orth and Brock Hill). Delaware's Jante Wright has moved to quarterback after having 50 receptions last year, but teammate Caleb Howell had 42 catches and is back.
Westerville South's Darryl Long is the area's top returning tight end and Torrodd Carter is among the Wildcats' top wide receivers.
•OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE LINE -- Central Ohio has a deep talent pool on the offensive line.
Verbally committing to Division I
colleges from the area are Lancaster's Kyle Trout (Ohio State), Ready's Brady Taylor (Virginia Tech), Westerville Central's Nick Richardson (Kentucky), Hilliard Bradley's Skylar Hartley (Buffalo) and Liberty's Luke Callahan (Cincinnati).
Davidson's Alex Backenstoe made Super 25 honorable mention a year ago and figures to see time on the line and at tight end. Westerville South junior Rob Dowdy already is getting looks from Division I schools as well.
Marion-Franklin's Martesse Patterson has several Division I scholarship offers, including from Illinois and Indiana.
Walnut Ridge's Robert Bowers (Michigan State) and Hartley's Kalil Morris (Kent State) are defensive linemen who will play collegiately. Bowers (6-5, 210) is expected to miss at least the first half of the season with an injury.
•LINEBACKER -- Upper Arlington's best player this season might be senior Chris Frey, a running back and linebacker who has committed to Michigan State.
"He's got a great work ethic, and that's combined with the fact that he's very strong and very aggressive," Golden Bears coach Mike Golden said.
Pickerington North senior Dylan Weigel already is his school's all-time leading tackler.
Hamilton Township's Micky Crum (Louisville) and DeSales' Griff Saunders (Bowling Green) are others who have verbally committed.
•SECONDARY -- In addition to Motley and Saxton, St. Charles safety Ben Hale (Bowling Green) is a senior in the secondary who has made his college choice.
Gahanna's Emile Camm had seven interceptions a year ago. Others back are Canal Winchester's Khari Golden, DeSales' Sayyid Kanu and Ready's Kelly Culbertson.
Westerville Central's Eldin Anu also should make an impact.
•SPECIAL TEAMS -- Marysville's Nick Mazza and Dublin Scioto's Sam Crosa should be among the top area kickers after each made special mention all-district a year ago.
Also back at kicker are Pickerington North's Karch Holland, DeSales' Adam Acquista and Watkins Memorial's Jerrod Lyon.
Among the top punters should be Worthington Kilbourne's Taylor Wilson, Hilliard Darby's Nate Green, Eastmoor Academy's Quincy Colvin and Crouch.