NEW MIAMI — It’s been 10 years since New Miami High School’s football team made its historic debut in the playoffs.
For Jeremy Rogers and Bobby Rice and Kenny Gabbard, the memories are fresh and wonderful.
The 2018 Vikings will make the program’s second postseason appearance Saturday when they travel to Fort Loramie for a Division VII, Region 28 quarterfinal.
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Rogers plans to be there and hopes New Miami does well, but 2008 will always hold a special place in his heart.
“I told those guys that year that we were going to make history and you can only be the first team if you’re the first team, so that’s something they can always celebrate,” Rogers said. “It was a great experience, something that me and my coaches and those players will think about forever.”
He’s the linebackers coach at Badin today, but a decade ago, Rogers was in his seventh and final year at the Vikings helm. The 1994 New Miami graduate informed the school midway through the campaign that he was leaving the program after the season in part because of some philosophical differences with the school’s leadership.
On the field, New Miami won seven games and slipped into the Division VI, Region 24 playoffs. The Vikings defeated Dayton Christian in Week 10, then watched multiple scores go in their favor to earn the postseason bid.
“I think the Viking gods shined down on us because going into that night, making the playoffs almost seemed impossible,” said Gabbard, a senior offensive guard and defensive end on that squad.
Rice, a senior fullback, linebacker, punter and place-kicker, said getting the playoff news felt like “the world was lifted off our shoulders. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced.”
That New Miami team was similar to today’s Vikings — a tough, hard-nosed crew that would hit you on defense and loved to run the ball.
New Miami doesn’t throw it very much today, but did it even less in 2008. Junior quarterback/free safety Jacob Lewis was 11-of-25 for 158 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season.
The running game was powered by senior Josh Hampton, Rice and junior Jarrad Faulkner. Hampton, the Vikings’ single-season and career rushing leader, piled up 1,584 yards and 13 touchdowns on 177 carries in the regular season. Rice ran 123 times for 776 yards and seven TDs, and Faulkner had 105 carries for 751 yards and 14 scores.
“We just played with a lot of heart,” Rice said. “We were always the underdog growing up. We were trying to defeat all the obstacles around us. We just finally clicked. It all came together in our senior year.”
It was a streaky season for the Vikings. They opened with wins over South Charleston Southeastern (50-27), Middletown Christian (44-8) and Batavia (29-7), then lost to Lockland (13-8), North College Hill (33-0) and Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (38-6), then beat Cincinnati Christian (47-27), Summit Country Day (30-20), Cincinnati Country Day (41-7) and Dayton Christian (32-15).
Rice said his favorite victory came over Batavia. “They said it wasn’t going to be much of a game and they were going to make New Miami their backyard,” he said. “They had us all fired up.”
Gabbard pointed to the CCD win. “That was my favorite game for sure,” he said. “We hadn’t beaten them like that, not in my lifetime. For them to come in here on Senior Night and to thump them 41-7, it doesn’t get better than that.”
Those bumps along the way weren’t easy to take.
After the Lockland game, Panthers coach Ben Hubbard (an assistant on the current New Miami staff) had this to say: “I feel so bad. I love Jeremy and what they’re doing at New Miami. I thought he outcoached me again, and they probably outplayed us. We just got a few breaks again.”
The North College Hill contest was 6-0 at halftime, then turned into a rout. The Trojans actually had a pair of offensive linemen recover fumbles in the end zone for touchdowns.
Rogers was not happy after the game. “The second half was one of the poorest efforts I’ve seen from one of my teams, maybe ever,” he said. “It was very disheartening. I can’t explain it.”
“All three of those losses were against playoff teams,” Rogers said this week. “Right around the time we played North College Hill is when we had that big wind storm. We didn’t even have school that week. We didn’t practice that week. We weren’t even allowed to use the football field. I think on Thursday we were able to go out and do a walk-through with garbage cans, and then we turned around and played the game on a Saturday.”
Rogers said the way things fell into place in Week 10 was a bit surreal.
“We probably needed more help to get in the playoffs than what they actually needed this past Friday,” Rogers said. “We had a lot of the planets align for us.”
The playoff opponent was unbeaten Mechanicsburg. The Vikings had to go there, and it didn’t end well (42-0).
“Our kids played their tails off that game,” said Nick Yordy, the current Badin head coach who was New Miami’s offensive coordinator. “At halftime, it wasn’t out of reach. I think we lost Jarrad Faulkner early in that game, which definitely didn’t help. But Mechanicsburg was very good.”
“It was 14-0 at halftime, but for the first time that season, I really thought at halftime that our guys were spent,” Rogers said. “Everything they could do, they tried to do. We just ran out of gas.”
Said Gabbard, “We pretty much knew how that was going to go, to be honest with you. I didn’t know if it would be quite like 42-0, but the first couple drives they just took it right down and scored and I’m like, ‘We’re in for a long one.’ ”
Said Rice, “We had all the intentions of going there to shock the world. It sucks to say, but they were just the better team. They had numbers. Most of our guys were out there the whole game, and they had a fresh offense and defense on every possession. They just wore us down.”
Hampton, Gabbard and senior offensive tackle/defensive end Kris Roberts were Associated Press All-Southwest District first-teamers in 2008.
There were other standouts, guys like senior two-way guard Richie Hacker, senior strong safety Jacob Brown, junior middle linebacker/tight end Robert Martin and sophomore cornerback Casey Chestnut.
Rice is a Madison Township guy these days and coaches third-grade football in the Madison system. He works as a fabricator for Ransohoff Cleaning Technologies Group in West Chester Township.
“My senior year was special,” Rice said. “We went out there every day with the mentality that we were going to be the last guys walking out of the trench, the last ones standing.”
Gabbard lives in Trenton. He’s an electrician with the local IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) 648.
“Still to this day I miss playing football. I think about it all the time,” Gabbard said. “There’s really no better feeling than making the playoffs and getting that extra week of football. I wish we could’ve done more with it, but it was still a blast.”
Rogers got an opportunity last week to talk with the 2018 Vikings.
“I’m always going to be a New Miami boy,” Rogers said. “Anytime they do something special, I celebrate with them even though I’m no longer there. They’re still my people.
“I told them there’s a shirt I bought my first year as the head coach at New Miami and I wear it every Friday, whether I’ve been at Mount Healthy or Badin. It’s the first thing I put on to remind me to stay humble and remember where I came from. I tried to use that to motivate the kids and let them know to stay grounded in your roots, love where you come from and stand up for your people.
“The shirt says ‘New Miami football and fortified with iron,’ and I told them it says fortified with iron because we play ironman football. They don’t remember the plant that Armco used to have in New Miami, but I think it symbolizes the blue-collar work ethic that a lot of people in New Miami have. Sometimes that gets lost in the news, but there’s still a good fabric of people in New Miami.”