Missing the playoffs last year — despite playing the exact same schedule as 2016 and earning the exact same results — served as a reminder of just how important all the little details are.
Edgewood had some impressive results and it still wasn’t enough. The Cougars were 8-2 last year with losses to Franklin and Columbus DeSales for a second straight year. Winton Woods replaces DeSales on the schedule this season, which opens Aug. 24 at Monroe.
“The league championship is that first step, but you want to get to the playoffs and do something there,” Clemmons said. “Unfortunately last year was one of those situations where we won the league but didn’t get to the playoffs. All those games are important, so we have to make sure we take care of those games we haven’t won the last couple years.”
The Cougars have the benefit of returning several key pieces on offense this year after having to replace all 11 starters on that side of the ball in 2017.
Senior running back Wade Phillips returns after leading the SWOC with 1,398 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns last year, and he is joined in the backfield by senior Elijah Williams, who added 916 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
Quarterback Corbin Craft only attempted 38 passes last year, completing 23 of them for 389 yards and three TDs, but managed the offense well and is looking stronger and more comfortable going into his senior year, according to Clemmons.
PREP FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLLS
Junior running back/receiver Lincoln Howell also is back to help lead the Wing-T offense, but Edgewood lost three starters up front and will need some young players to step up there. Tight end Kory McCall adds some experience, and Andy Weaver and Isaac Hamilton are the lone returning offensive linemen.
“Maturity is the biggest thing,” Clemmons said. “Last year we had 11 new offensive starters, so that group had to jell quickly. This year we have more experienced guys, but it all starts up front so having Kory back at tight end — and Andy and Isaac and some other young guys who are ready to step up — we’ll find that group that meshes well.”
The defense, which will remain in a 3-4 scheme, has more holes to fill, as the Cougars lost a defensive lineman, two middle linebackers and three defensive backs, including SWOC Defensive Player of the Year D.J. Whiles, who had six interceptions.
Returners include senior defensive linemen Trent Persinger and Caden Nance, linebackers Justin Hiltbrand and Evan Brown, and senior cornerback Logan Loftus.
“We’re a little less experienced on defense, but the young men there filling spots are putting in the work and doing a good job stepping up,” Clemmons said. “We’re not the biggest or flashiest team, but the kids want to put in the work.”
Clemmons said the thing that makes this group unique is how tight-knit the players are from the senior class on down to the sophomores. He’s seen a businesslike approach to practice so far, and they will need to continue that into the season as the Cougars try to defend their league titles.
“Mount Healthy won the first four years (of the SWOC), and that was everyone’s target,” Clemmons said. “We won the last two years, and the pressure is on us now. Everyone wants that again this year, everyone wants to savor a championship, so we have to prove who we are as champs and we can’t rest on the last two teams’ success. It’s a new year, a new group of great young men who are putting in the time, so we’re excited for the season.”
Coach: Scott Clemmons, seventh season (34-28)
OHSAA designation: Division II, Region 8
Playoff history: 12-12 in 12 appearances (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2016)
2017 record: 8-2 overall, 6-0 in the Southwest Ohio Conference (first)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — at Monroe, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — Franklin, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — Badin, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — Northwest, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — at Harrison, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — at Ross, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — at Winton Woods, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — at Talawanda, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19 — Little Miami, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — Mount Healthy, 7 p.m.