Watkins Memorial High School football players who do not participate in a spring sport are staying active nonetheless.
A spring basketball league for those athletes, including eighth-graders at the middle school, is being held for a third year. Run by Steve Hill, it's become a fun way for those individuals to stay sharp.
"It's keeping the kids fresh, and it's a little bit about those kids staying competitive," Warriors coach Jeff Severino said. "We have a captain's draft, the whole nine yards; even a tournament at the end. It's pretty popular."
Severino supported the OHSAA's decision earlier this month to veto a plan that would have given football teams 10 non-contact days of practice each spring.
"So many of our kids run track and play baseball, I wouldn't have wanted them to have to choose what to do in the spring. Timing-wise, (spring football practice) just would have been difficult to schedule," Severino said. "Plus, in my book, it would have been overkill. We want the kids to enjoy the whole high-school experience, and that means staying involved in the other sports they enjoy."
The Warriors are coming off a 6-4 season in which they made tremendous offensive strides operating in a new spread offense, which Severino plans to keep despite losing senior quarterback Devonte Marable. They averaged 29.8 points last season, up from 13.5 in 2009 when they finished 2-8 and 17.7 in 2008 while finishing 4-6 in Severino's first season.
The Warriors also will be graduating fullback Bryce Phillips, but Brendan Kemp (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) is expected to return after scoring 18 touchdowns as a sophomore. Much of the offensive line should return, including sophomore center Boban Stepanovich (6-4, 270) and junior tackle Reno Reda (6-5, 225), a Division I college prospect. Juniors Jake Hopson (6-0, 175) and Tyler Hodge (5-8, 175) are expected to compete for the starting quarterback job when fall practice begins Aug. 1.
In the meantime, the Warriors will spend three days attending a team camp in mid-July at Muskingum University. Coaches are allotted 10 days with their players overall, and Severino said the other days will be used practicing on Mondays beginning in June. On three of those days, the team will participate in 7-on-7 sessions with Granville, Walnut Ridge and one other opponent, possibly Lakewood.
Defensively, the potential impact players aside from Reda include junior cornerback Aaron Hix (6-0, 150) and junior safety Evan Din, who was listed on last year's roster at 5-11, 185 but has since added both size and speed, Severino said.
The first of two scrimmages is Aug. 17 against Marion Harding.
"We use the summer days just to work with our basic offensive and defensive formations, starting with terminology for the younger kids coming in and working our way up," Severino said. "I don't press the kids too much, and we really try to work around a lot of the summer sports."
New Albany went 7-0 to capture last year's OCC-Capital Division title, with the Warriors going 3-4 to finish fifth. Watkins Memorial ended the season with consecutive wins over Franklin Heights (36-20) and Hilliard Bradley (21-14), and hopes to pick up where it left off.
"It'll be an interesting year with new coaches at Bradley and Delaware," Severino said. "I think Olentangy Orange might be the team to beat. They've got a lot of young kids back on the offensive line and a couple of Division I prospects."