Wayne County Athletic League
HOW THEY’LL FARE
(The Daily Record staff’s predicted order of finish)
1 NORWAYNE (14-1, 6-1) — The Wayne County Athletic League hasn’t exactly gone through a changing of the guard in recent seasons — it’s just that more schools have invested in their programs and joined the annual battle for WCAL supremacy.
Last season was a perfect example. Norwayne rocked and rolled its way to the Div. IV state championship, the league’s first, but the Bobcats needed the first of what would eventually be a series of fantastic finishes to score a late touchdown in Week 10 against Hillsdale just to get a piece of the league title with the Falcons and Smithville. The Smithies handed the Bobcats their only loss the week before.
Norwayne will undoubtedly miss its 13 seniors, including All-Ohioans QB/LB Adam Wallace and WR Jon Maibach and first team All-WCAL picks Tyler Zimmerly, Lawrence Wolfe and John Wilson, but a whopping 19 lettermen return. “We lost a lot of incredible talent and leadership in the Class of 2012, but we feel we have a lot of talent and potential coming back,” said fourth-year head coach Joe Harbour. “If we develop both on and off the field, physically and mentally, we could potentially be more talented than last year.”
Junior Joe Dreher steps in to replace Wallace at QB in the Bobcats’ spread offense, but he’ll be protected by four returning offensive linemen that average around 240 pounds, with the exception of 180-pound guard Caleb Barb, who may be the most physical of the group. Joining Dreher in the backfield will be 1,000-yard rusher Jon Zimmerly, while Brady Berger, Mitch Knieriem and Richie Smith are back as wideouts, along with playoff star Kaleb Harris, now packing 200 pounds on his 6-4 frame.
Zimmerly was a first-team All-Ohio end on defense and two more returning starters on the line, while most of the WRs will be in the defensive backfield, along with junior Trevahn Beery, who had three interceptions in the title game last fall.
Norwayne isn’t as deep as a year ago, but Harbour said he expects his team to be in the WCAL race “with three to five other teams.”
“We feel we should be one of the teams squarely in contention for both the league title and playoffs heading into weeks 8, 9 and 10,” he said.
Playoff odds: Div. IV, Region 13 (IIII out of five).
2 HILLSDALE (9-1, 6-1) — Hillsdale went undefeated through nine games and 47 minutes a year ago, but lost at Norwayne in a heartbreaker that cost the Falcons the outright league crown and a Div. V playoff berth.
Tenth-year head coach Tom Williams (57-38) lost 17 lettermen that won 35 games in their four years and has just two starters back on offense and five on defense, but it’s a testament to what they’ve built in Jeromesville that 18 lettermen return.
The two vets back on offense are G Brooke Switzer (6-2, 255) and C Zane Gross (5-11, 225), helping protect first-year QB Dilon Strine, a senior replacing two-year starter Trevor Cline. Senior Kevin Cline will be the fullback, while RBs Corbin Mager, Matt Zimmerman and A.J. Flores will all get carries. TE Ryan Bee, a 6-6, 235-pound junior, gives Strine a big target.
Cline is also a veteran at DB, while LB Dylan Eberly returns, as do three starters up front — Bee at DE and Brandyn Mullins and Thomas Zeno inside.
Williams knows inexperience will be a factor for his squad, but he likes the overall team speed, size up front, and depth.
Playoff odds: Div. V, Region 19 (IIII out of five).
3 NORTHWESTERN (3-7, 3-4) — After a string of seasons looking up at the league leaders, a talented group of skill players, including 1000-yard rusher Tyler Smith, and a big group of lettermen who have gained on-the-field experience hope to combine forces and reverse last year’s fortunes.
Smith is a junior, as is QB Malachi Nolletti, who joined his classmate in the 1,000-yard club by throwing for 1,093 yards as a sophomore. Matt Kohler had 27 receptions last year and Walker Claus will start for the third year on the offensive line.
Defensively, the top three tacklers are back — Kohler and Zach Glaser at LB and Claus (10 tackles for loss) on the line. Glaser and Smith were first-team All-WCAL last year, while Claus and Kohler were second-team picks.
Staying healthy will be key, of course. Track sprinter Dan Yoder has already been knocked out of action with a broken leg.
Playoff odds: Div. IV, Region 13 (III out of five).
4 SMITHVILLE (8-3, 6-1) — The biggest change at Smithville is on the sidelines, where Keith Schrock stepped down after 35 years and 250 wins following last year’s first-round playoff loss to eventual Final Four participant Bucyrus Wynford. The Smithies did get their third of the WCAL title by handing Norwayne its only loss. Brent Besancon is the new head coach, but certainly no stranger in Smithville, having played for Schrock and then serving on his staff around stints as a head coach at New London and Rittman.
Besancon will have to rebuild a line that lost four starters, including first-team All-WCAL picks Zach Douglass and Paul Kelbly, but has an impressive array of backfield talent, including veteran QB Alex Bates and RBs Tolan Shane and Tyler Buss. On the other side of the ball, Bates is a top-notch DB, but most of the front seven will be untested.
Playoff odds: Div. V, Region 19 (III out of five).
5 WAYNEDALE (6-4, 4-3) — The last of the five WCAL contenders are the Golden Bears, who, like Smithville, will be talented and experienced in the backfield but looking for some newcomers to get the job done on both sides of the line. “Building depth and experience on the lines will have a lot to do with our success this season,” said coach Matt Zuercher, starting his seventh season at his alma mater.
The big change will be in the backfield, where QB Brenden Stanley, who had nearly 1,500 yards of total offense a year ago, sliding over to RB to make room for Jr. Rhen Weaver. Stanley had 512 rushing yards as a junior, while RB Josh Strausbaugh, an All-WCAL first-teamer as a junior, added 767 yards and nine TDs.
LB Jared Orr had 75 tackles last season, while Strausbaugh is back at DE and Zack King gained a lot of experience at LB as a sophomore.
Playoff odds: Div. V, Region 19 (III out of five).
6 DALTON (2-8, 2-5) — The young Bulldogs lost only four lettermen, but still have just five seniors on the roster. Fortunately, one of those is QB/LB Chase Moyer, one of the league’s top athletes who passed for 619 yards and ran for 486 while battling injuries last season.
As a measure of their youth, the Bulldogs had six players letter as freshmen a year ago, including 300-pound C/DT J.D. Murphy.
“This year’s team is bigger, stronger and faster,” second-year coach Mike Doty said. “This season we will still be young, but experienced.”
Playoff odds: Div. VI, Region 21 (II out of five).
7 RITTMAN (1-9, 1-6) — The numbers are up in coach Bill Dennis’ second year with the Indians, including eight starters back on both sides of the ball.
The Tribe will have some size to go with the experience — six returning linemen are between 215 and 260 pounds — and the combination of QB Tyler Hooser and WR Blake Dennis will be one to watch.
Playoff odds: Div. V, Region 19 (I out of five).
8 CHIPPEWA (0-10, 0-7) — Coach Kevin Wolf knows this is a big year for both he and his team, as the Chipps have yet to win a game under the coach entering his third season. Last season, the Chipps were outscored 369-63.
Team depth, finally, is there for the Chipps, even with just six seniors. QB Bo Whetsell and 6-4 TE Stony Epling head up a solid class of juniors, which includes 6-1, 215-pound Logan Zierau, expected to be int he middle of the action as both a RB and ILB.
Playoff odds: Div. IV, Region 13 (I out of five).
— By MIKE PLANT, Daily Record Sports Writer