City League squads prep for openers
The City League football schedule essentially is beginning with a running start considering the two division champions from last season will meet on the opening night of competition.
After practice for the league's 15 programs was suspended Aug. 14-28 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, a new three-week regular-season schedule was created for City teams that will include Thursday, Friday and Saturday contests.
One of the matchups Thursday, Sept. 17, will pit Centennial at Walnut Ridge.
Last season, Walnut Ridge completed a perfect regular season that included winning the City-South Division, finishing 11-1 overall and reaching a Division II, Region 8 semifinal.
The Scots went 7-0 to win the City-South ahead of Marion-Franklin (6-1), Eastmoor Academy (5-2), Independence (4-3), South (3-4), Africentric (2-5), Briggs (1-6) and West (0-7).
Centennial went 9-2 overall, including making the Division III, Region 11 playoffs for its first postseason appearance.
The Stars also captured their first City-North championship, going 6-0 to place ahead of Beechcroft (5-1), Northland (4-2), East (3-3), Whetstone (2-4), Mifflin (1-5) and Linden-McKinley (0-6).
"(We're) very excited to play Centennial," Scots coach Byron Mattox said. "Centennial will be a well-coached team that has had great success under coach (Donte) Goosby. We'll have to play great in all three phases and develop some depth if we want to be successful against the Stars."
Returning to lead the Scots are seniors Jamarius Dinkins (OL/DL), Javarus Leach (RB/LB) and Howard Thornton (QB).
Dinkins was first-team all-district on offense last season. Leach rushed for 790 yards and 12 touchdowns and was second-team all-district, and Thornton completed 102 of 172 passes for 1,402 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions and was special mention all-district.
Senior William Felts, who was the Scots' third-leading receiver with 13 receptions for 218 yards and three touchdowns, senior wide receiver Daaron Brown and junior running back Antonio Felts also should be key contributors.
"(Walnut) Ridge is going to be a very tall order because they have so much talent and are very well-coached," said Goosby, who was the district's Coach of the Year last season. "We're so inexperienced that we can't spend much time worrying about how good they are. We have to be concerned with improving in the areas that we're deficient in."
Senior Jaylen Gilbert was expected to return at quarterback but transferred to Pickerington North when practices were suspended in August.
Senior Syquee Womack, who was a first-team all-district honoree at defensive back last season, is expected to be at quarterback. Womack started two games last season when Gilbert was out with an injury.
Seniors Kevin Motely and Justin Grimes provide experience on the offensive line, and Grimes had 64 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks while playing on the defensive line.
Senior slot receiver Tyreek Gunnell and senior wide receiver Tavarres Overton also should fill key roles on offense.
Cougars, Devils set for meeting
Another matchup scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 17, features Marion-Franklin at Beechcroft. Those programs last met in 2016, with the Cougars winning 31-12 on their way to qualifying for the Division III playoffs.
Beechcroft has a new coach in Humphrey Simmons after going 7-3 but falling short of qualifying for the Region 11 playoffs last season.
Senior Muhammad-Ali Kobo, who could see action at several positions, including wide receiver, running back, tight end and linebacker, and junior running back Diante Latham are the top returnees.
Latham rushed 152 times for 822 yards and eight touchdowns and added 13 receptions last season.
Junior Javo Jordan and freshman Aurelius Scott both could see time at quarterback.
Junior J.J. Simmons, who is the coach's son, will start at wide receiver and safety and also should be on the kickoff and punt return teams.
Senior James Austin is a two-way lineman and senior Kevin Damoah also should fill a key role on the offensive line.
"It's a good group and they're ready to win," coach Simmons said.
The Red Devils' strength should be their offensive line, which features senior Lahti Murphy (6-foot-1, 285 pounds) at right guard, senior Quannaire Tatum (6-3, 275) at right tackle, senior Leviticus Brown (5-11, 310) at center, senior Lashawn Dillard (6-5, 280) at left tackle and junior JaQuan Lauderdale (6-6, 310) at left guard.
Senior John Martin should be at quarterback, with seniors Taylen James (RB/DB), Giovanni Scales (DB/WR), Maryon Tolbert (WR/DB) and Matt Ward (TE/DL) among others who should fill key roles.
"The offense is really behind due to lack of summer practice and mandatory short practices," coach David Lakso said. "Beechcroft is always loaded with athletes and we know zero about them this year."
Braves, Vikings ready for kickoff
Also slated for Thursday, Sept. 17, is Whetstone at South in a rematch of a game the Bulldogs won 50-21 last season.
South won its first six games last year before losing its final four, all against City-South opponents.
The top returnee for the Bulldogs is senior quarterback Ronmel Robinson, who completed 89 of 128 passes for 1,102 yards and 14 touchdowns, rushed for 576 yards and 11 touchdowns and added 15 two-point conversions.
Junior Tony Souvanhly was a second-team all-district honoree on offense last season who is at center and defensive tackle.
Whetstone is led by senior quarterback Alex Hurd, who finished 109-for-196 passing for 1,148 yards with 11 touchdowns.
Senior Darric McClinton returns at running back after rushing for 322 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries.
Northland will play at Eastmoor Academy and Africentric will visit Mifflin in matchups Friday, Sept. 18.
At noon Saturday, Sept. 19, Independence will play at East and Linden will play at Briggs.
While Eastmoor finished 6-4 last season, Northland went 4-6 and has a new coach in former Pickerington North assistant Ryan Sayers.
For the Vikings, junior Isaiah Jackson has returned at quarterback, with seniors Japhrone Chapman and Shemar Watson at wide receiver and junior Rayvon Ivery and sophomore Gentry Ross at running back.
Senior Victor Jeter and junior Corey Craddolph are two-way linemen taking on key roles.
"Coming into this is a blessing," Sayers said. "We had a lot of young guys playing last year and we have a new coaching staff. We're all learning from each other and getting better every single day."
City League Kickoff
CENTENNIAL at WALNUT RIDGE
*When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17
*Last meeting: 2004, Walnut Ridge 48-18
*Top Stars: Jake Barnes (OL/DL), Justin Grimes (OL/DL), Tyreek Gunnell (WR/DB), Noah Hatem (OL/DL), Kevin Motely (OL/LB), Tavarres Overton (WR/DB) and Syquee Womack (QB)
*Top Scots: Ras Anderson (OL/DL), Daaron Brown (WR/DB), Jamarius Dinkins (OL/DL), Antonio Felts (RB/LB), William Felts (WR/DB), Javarus Leach (RB/LB) and Howard Thornton (QB)
MARION-FRANKLIN at BEECHCROFT
*When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17
*Last meeting: 2017, Marion-Franklin 26-8
*Top Red Devils: Leviticus Brown (OL/DL), Taylen James (RB/DB), John Martin (QB), Giovanni Scales (WR/DB) and Quannaire Tatum (OL)
*Top Cougars: James Austin (OL/DL), Devin French (RB/LB), Muhammad-Ali Kobo (WR/TE/LB/DL), Diante Latham (RB/DB), Antoine Reed Jr. (TE/LB) and J.J. Simmons (WR/DB)
NORTHLAND at EASTMOOR ACADEMY
*When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18
*Last meeting: 2016, Eastmoor 42-14
*Top Vikings: Japhrone Chapman (WR/DB), Corey Craddolph (OL/DL), Rob Dorsey (WR/DB), Isaiah Jackson (QB), Shemar Watson (WR/DB/QB) and Isaiah Willis Jackson (WR/DB)
*Top Warriors: Ahmad Armstrong (QB), Malachi Coleman (DL/WR), Cameron Foster (RB/DB), Isaiah Pressley (WR/DB) and Diamonte Salley (WR/LB)
WHETSTONE at SOUTH
*When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17
*Last meeting: 2019, South 51-20
*Top Braves: Zane Fent (OL/DL), Alex Hurd (QB/DB), Darric McClinton (RB/DB), Abdourahman Sallah (DB) and Khris Watkins-Sellers (WR/DB)
*Top Bulldogs: Jerome Dillard (TE/DB), Shermar Lindsey (OL/DL), Ronmel Robinson (QB/LB), Delquan Rodgers (RB/DB) and Tony Souvanhly (OL/DL)