Steve Poff’s message is clear: We’re moving on.
Madison High School’s historic run to the 2017 Division V state football semifinals is in the Mohawks’ rear-view mirror, even with most of their starters back this year.
“The key to it is figuring out with this group what’s going to work best,” said Poff, starting his fifth season as head coach. “It’s a new dynamic after the leadership the seniors had last year, and these seniors are now adopting their role in the leadership. It’s a learning process for everybody.
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“Obviously expectations are high, higher than they’ve probably ever been. But right now I think fundamentals are the key for us being a better team. I think we have a lot of skills and a lot of gifts, but fundamentally, we’ve got to improve things and play more team football than individual football.”
Madison went 11-3 last season, starting 1-2 (with losses to Monroe and Valley View) before surging to the Final Four.
The Mohawks had a 10-0 lead in the final 14 minutes against Wheelersburg, but lost 15-10. The Pirates went on to beat Pemberville Eastwood for the state title the following week.
Poff said he took a group of this year’s seniors to the state finals and watched Wheelersburg’s victory in Canton. He said he doesn’t spend much time thinking about how close Madison was to the state crown.
“We think we should’ve beaten Wheelersburg, but we came up short. I took the blame for that. I should’ve done a better job coaching them,” Poff said. “But we didn’t lose to a bunch of clowns. Coach (Rob) Woodward is a great coach. He does things the right way at Wheelersburg.
“I think as a group we’ve learned from it. They moved into our region this year, so we hope to get the opportunity to see them again.”
Poff isn’t changing much schematically. The Mohawks are still running the Wing-T offense and a 4-4 defense.
Offensively, a lot of firepower returns in senior quarterback Mason Whiteman (5-10, 185), senior fullback Cameron Svarda (5-8, 180) and senior halfback Evan Crim (6-0, 190).
Svarda isn’t your prototypical burly fullback, but he rushed for 1,940 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2017.
“He’s actually a little lighter this year than he was last year,” Poff said. “In this offense, you don’t have to have a big fullback to get it done. He’s elusive with how strong he runs.”
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Junior Jake Phelps (5-8, 160) is a new starting halfback with the graduation of Tyler Baumgartner, and senior Noah Lehman (5-8, 140) will play split end.
Don’t look for Madison to throw the ball a lot this year, though Poff said Whiteman has elevated his game as a passer.
“We’re going to take the path of least resistance, whichever way it goes,” Poff said. “So it’s not like we’re never going to throw, but the intention is to run the ball. If we want to take a shot downfield, we’ve got a couple guys we think are capable of taking care of that. We’ve definitely been working on it a little harder than in years past.
“The model of the Wing-T is figure out how to attack flanks and get things on the edge and figure out great angles in the middle, and we’re going to continue to do that. But we want to be efficient in how we’re throwing the ball.”
The offensive line does have some new faces and some changes. Senior right guard Caleb Bolen (6-3, 255) is the only returning starter in the same spot he played last year.
Seniors Noah Banks (6-0, 200) and Cameron Baker (5-10, 215) are also back. Banks is moving from left tackle to right tackle, and Baker is moving from tight end to left guard.
Newcomers include senior left tackle Mason Kelly (6-0, 210), sophomore center Noah Perry (5-9, 180) and senior tackle Riley Patrick (6-3, 195), who will see action on the right side. Junior Quincy Brown (6-3, 170) will be the tight end.
How does this line compare to last year’s line?
“Athletically, we’re very similar,” Poff said. “We might be a little smaller, but all of our guys can run. We don’t have a slow one out there.
“I don’t think these guys realize what their potential is yet because they’re still learning. I think the Wing-T compared to most offenses is pretty expensive. You’ve got to put a ton of investment in it to get it right. Typically we’re not very good the first three or four weeks of the season, but once we get rolling, we’re usually pretty good. It takes times to get it where you want it.”
Defensively, the Mohawks return four seniors up front — ends Levi McMonigle (6-6, 210) and Cole Pelgen (6-2, 245), and tackles Tanner Limon (6-0, 210) and Max Evans (6-1, 250). It’s a group that’s expected to cause major havoc at the line of scrimmage.
Crim is back at inside linebacker, where he’ll be joined by sophomore Devin Oligee (5-10, 165). Phelps and senior Kyle Melton (5-8, 170) are experienced outside linebackers.
Svarda (safety) and Whiteman (cornerback) are returning in the secondary. Lehman is slated to be the other cornerback.
Poff said a player to watch is senior Cameron Cooke (5-8, 160), who didn’t play last year. He should contribute as a linebacker and in the offensive backfield.
“He’s real physical and a tough kid,” Poff said. “We’re going to find a way to get him on the field.”
Whiteman is the returning No. 1 punter. Svarda will do the place-kicking.
Madison will travel to Oakwood for a 10 a.m. Saturday scrimmage that includes Carroll and Fairborn. The Mohawks’ final scrimmage will be Aug. 17 at Twin Valley South at 7 p.m.
Coach: Steve Poff, fifth season (30-14)
OHSAA designation: Division V, Region 20
Playoff history: 3-1 in 1 appearance (2017)
2017 record: 11-3 overall, 6-0 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division (first)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — at Franklin, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — Reading, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — at Valley View, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — at Preble Shawnee, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — at Milton-Union, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — Dixie, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — Carlisle, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — at Northridge, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19 — Monroe, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — Waynesville, 7 p.m.