CINCINNATI – Let the fun begin. High school football is back.
As Greater Cincinnati embarks upon yet another season, it’s important to note that the earliest known Ohio high school football game occurred 140 years ago this fall in the Queen City.
The Hughes versus Woodward game in late November 1878 is the earliest known game in Ohio, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association. That game occurred 16 years before Massillon first played Canton McKinley.
That Hughes-Woodward rivalry this season will be renewed Oct. 12 at Stargel Stadium – the final year of the current stadium before it’s rebuilt in a different space in the West End.
One significant additional storyline could emerge in the next two weeks as the Greater Catholic League Coed Division has filed a lawsuit against the Ohio High School Athletic Association regarding competitive balance.
A temporary restraining order has put a component of competitive balance on hold statewide, according to the OHSAA. If the ruling is upheld, it could mean some football teams would change tournament divisions during the season.
As 718 schools make final preparations across seven divisions for the season, let’s take a look at nine storylines to watch in Greater Cincinnati:
Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown
This is undoubtedly an annual rite of fall in Cincinnati. The 21st annual high school football showcase event organized by In-Game Sports President Tom Gamble simply can’t be matched anywhere else in the country. In fact, it's the longest running high school football showcase of its kind anywhere.
The season-opening games are excellent including La Salle at Colerain (Division I state semifinalist in 2017), Milford at Princeton and defending Division III state champion Trotwood-Madison at Division II state runner-up Winton Woods.
The Showdown will go national Aug. 26 when defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central plays Phillips (Ill.) Academy at Otterbein in a game televised by ESPN. One of our area teams may just see Pickerington Central in December in Canton.
A new and expanded format of the Showdown includes 44 schools playing in marquee games every Friday night all season through Oct. 26. Previously, there were 20-plus games in the first two to three weeks of the season. A total of 244 Showdown games have been played since 1998.
On Sept. 7, Wyoming will host Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in a reunion of former players in Wyoming's past 100 years of football.
On Oct. 5, Moeller coach Doug Rosfeld will make his Showdown debut when the Crusaders play Elder at Nippert Stadium.
A return to PBS
Lakota West plays St. Xavier Aug. 24 in the season opener for both teams under the lights at Paul Brown Stadium. It is the first time since 2008 Paul Brown Stadium will host a high school football game.
The game was originally scheduled for Nippert Stadium, but due to NCAA conflicts the teams needed to find a neutral site that could host the event.
Tom Gamble was instrumental in coordinating with Hamilton County and the Cincinnati Bengals as they joined together to offer to host the game.
St. Xavier, a Division I regional runner-up in 2017, have nine consecutive postseason appearances – the most for any large school in the area.
Lakota West is attempting to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014. Interim head coach Jeff Wadl, a longtime Lakota assistant coach, took over the program on an interim basis after Larry Cox stepped down as head May 25 after 21 seasons.
Kickoffs may be endangered
The elimination of the high school football varsity kickoff due to safety concerns may be just a matter of time. Kickoffs are no longer permitted in freshman games, and they are only permitted in junior varsity games if both head coaches mutually agree in OHSAA contests.
Kickoffs are already not permitted in junior high games in Ohio.
In games with no kickoffs, the ball will be spotted at the 35-yard line to start halves and after scores. The ball will be spotted at the 50-yard line after a safety.
Area coaches have mixed reactions to the new rule.
“I hate the rule,” Mason coach Brian Castner said. “I will be adamant about it. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. I understand that the safety of the game needs to happen and all those things will happen because we are coaching and making it a safer game. But, don’t take a play out of the game that is such a big part of what we were about – the kickoff.”
Elder coach Doug Ramsey, who is starting his 21st season in Price Hill, doesn’t mind it.
“We have to do more things for player safety,” Ramsey said. “We can say it hurts the essence of the game but if we don’t make the game safer there will not be a game. Coaches know it’s dangerous. No one ever wants to go live with special teams in scrimmages so why should we do it with freshmen.”
Farewell to Stargel Stadium
The 3,000-seat stadium is in its final football season and the site will be used to accommodate the new FC Cincinnati Stadium. A new Stargel Stadium will be built in the West End and plans to be ready for the 2019 season.
The current Stargel Stadium was built in 2004 with games started in the fall 2005. There are 35 high school football games scheduled for this season.
The Cincinnati Public Schools teams that play there include Aiken, Gamble Montessori, Hughes, Riverview East, Shroder and Taft.
The stadium is named after the late Willard Stargel Jr., who starred on the Woodward High School and University of Cincinnati football teams and later coached at Taft and Walnut Hills.
The groundbreaking for Stargel Stadium occurred June 29, 2004.
Is this the year for Colerain?
The anticipation is thick on Cheviot Road this season as the Cardinals may have their best opportunity to make it the state final since winning it all in 2004.
The Cardinals, a Division I state semifinalist with an 11-3 record in 2017, have all the ingredients to make it to Canton.
“We got a lot of experience,” senior running back JJ Davis said. “So I feel this is the one. We just have to bring it all together and work hard. If we put it all together I think we have enough talent and just raw athleticism to beat anybody.”
Colerain has four of the first five games at Cardinal Stadium but faces significant challenges from La Salle (Aug. 24) and at St. Xavier (Aug. 31) before the Greater Miami Conference schedule.
The Cardinals have won 18 consecutive GMC titles.
Will Winton Woods return to Canton?
Winton Woods coach Andre Parker said this summer the Warriors are hungry to return to Canton after they lost to Akron Archbishop Hoban 28-14 in the Division II state final in 2017.
Winton Woods (13-2 in 2017), an independent without conference affiliation since the 2012-13 school year, earned its second state finals appearance in program history in 2017 after it won the 2009 Division II state title.
“People talk about how we went to state,” said junior running back Miyan Williams. “It isn’t easy going back-to-back to state. So we have to work hard. That’s where we want to go this year.”
The Warriors’ schedule isn’t for the faint of heart as multiple playoff teams await. Winton Woods opens the season against visiting Trotwood-Madison in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown Aug. 24. The game against the reigning Division III state champion Rams is the first of a two-year deal that could eventually become a four-year agreement.
“Honestly we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Parker said. “We’re accustomed to it. We would like to know where we are. We like to play the best.”
ECC on the national stage
Anderson senior offensive lineman Zeke Correll and Walnut Hills senior defensive tackle Jowon Briggs are among the nation’s top players in the 2019 class and the spotlight will follow them this fall. Both players from the Eastern Cincinnati Conference have committed to the Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 3 in Orlando. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Correll is committed to Notre Dame while Briggs is committed to Virginia. Correll is also committed to the 2019 Polynesian Bowl Jan. 19 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. The game will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.
By the way, Anderson plays host to Walnut Hills Oct. 19 (Week 9) this season.
Welcome back, Saturday playoff games
The OHSAA Board of Directors approved Saturday night playoff games – returning to a format of Friday and Saturdays for the postseason until the state finals in Canton. The postseason games will start at 7 p.m.
The OHSAA has sought to increase ticket sales, and a move back to Friday and Saturday for the playoffs is a result of that. The 2017 season was the first time since 1973 that all the football playoffs were played exclusively on Friday night until the state finals.
In 2016, Division III, V and VII games were on Saturday night. Yet the OHSAA found in recent years that Saturday night games often conflict with college football and high school football attendance is primarily higher on Fridays around the state.
Prior to the 2016 season, the OHSAA approved a measure to move Division I playoff games to Friday.
It’s not too early to look ahead to some of the area’s top players in the 2020 class.
St. Xavier offensive lineman Paris Johnson is at the top of that class. Johnson, an Ohio State commit, is committed to the 2020 All-American Bowl and Polynesian Bowl. He was also named the MaxPreps Preseason Junior All-American Team.
Princeton junior defensive end Darrion Henry is also one of the most sought-after recruits in the state. He has offers that include the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia, Michigan State, Kentucky and several others.
Elder offensive lineman Jakob James, Princeton linebacker Jaheim Thomas, Winton Woods running back Miyan Williams, Lakota West linebacker Daved Jones, Fairfield running back JuTahn McClain, La Salle running back Cam Porter, La Salle kicker Jake Seibert, Wyoming quarterback Evan Prater and Lakota West running back David Afari are among others to watch. Covington (Ky.) Catholic tight end Michael Mayer is verbally committed to Notre Dame.