Fairfield High School’s football team is a near-unanimous choice to finish second in the Greater Miami Conference this season.
That means the Indians are expected to lead the charge against Colerain, which got every No. 1 vote in the coaches poll and has won the last 18 GMC championships.
Fairfield hasn’t beaten the Cardinals since 1999. Last year, the score was 38-12.
PRESEASON PREP FOOTBALL POLLS
“We were right there at halftime and there was a huge play right before the half, a turnover that really swayed the momentum,” FHS coach Jason Krause said. “They’re the guys to beat. They’ve been the guys to beat since I’ve been coaching in this league.
“But we don’t feel like we’re banging our head against the wall. We feel like we’re chasing, and sometimes the chase is good for you. You feel like you’ve got to get better each day to catch those guys.”
Mason finished third in the coaches voting, followed (in order) by Sycamore, Princeton, Lakota East, Hamilton, Lakota West, Middletown and Oak Hills.
Colerain was a Division I state semifinalist last season with a young squad. So, yes, the Cardinals have a lot of experience and top-of-the-line talent this year.
Colerain coach Tom Bolden admitted that he thought the 2018 team would have a better shot at making a run for the state championship than last year’s squad.
“I loved those kids and I always will, but from a pure physical standpoint, there’s just more talent this year,” Bolden said.
He pointed to seven players with Division I college offers this year. Three seniors have already committed — tight end/defensive end Eric Phillips to Cincinnati, and inside linebacker Luke Bolden and offensive tackle Rusty Feth to Miami.
The Cardinals return considerable firepower in their triple-option offense as seniors J.J. Davis (69 carries, 1,038 yards), Ivan Pace Jr. (142 carries, 984 yards), Deante Smith-Moore (125 carries, 628 yards) and Syncere Jones (59 carries, 340 yards) are all back to run the ball. Three starters on the O-line also return.
Smith-Moore will be the quarterback. He saw some action there last season when Gunnar Leyendecker got hurt.
Colerain clearly won’t throw the ball a lot. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinals can’t be successful in the passing game.
“We’re going to run the ball, and when you get tired of us running the ball and you step up in there, we’re going to throw a touchdown pass,” Tom Bolden said.
Linebacker Pace, senior safety Jakari Patterson and cornerback Syncere Jones are standouts in Colerain’s 50 slant-and-angle defense.
“We’ll probably be more athletic than we’ve been defensively,” Bolden said. “We’ve got three young guys up front that are adding another dimension with their size.”
Fairfield returns several big names in its spread offense — senior quarterback Jeff Tyus, junior running back JuTahn McClain, senior tight end Erick All and senior center Jacob Hensley.
All has committed to Michigan and figures to be the No. 1 target for Tyus, who threw for 1,111 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
Senior nose guard Greg Fitzpatrick and senior linebacker Del Thomas lead the defense. John Hembree is the Indians’ new defensive coordinator after the departure of John Hart.
“We feel like it’s the strongest, fastest team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Krause, who has taken four FHS teams to the playoffs during his first seven years, yet still hasn’t registered a postseason win. “We’re working on five winning seasons in a row, but it’s time to win a playoff game and work through the playoffs. That’s kind of what our attitude has been this offseason.”
East coach Rick Haynes wasn’t surprised that this year’s poll looked a lot like last year’s final standings.
“I think that’s pretty much how coaches look at things,” Haynes said. “I think we can have a good season. Our kids have got a great work ethic.”
The Thunderhawks had some late-season internal problems last year. Fullback Jack Dobrozsi didn’t play the last three games, but still ran 159 times for 974 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Dobrozsi is back as a senior, and Haynes said he looks better than ever. Senior free safety Avi McGary has the team’s only Division I offer (from Air Force) at this point.
Chad Murphy starts his sixth season at Hamilton looking for the program’s first winning record since 2010.
Big Blue junior quarterback Khaliyal Sowell already has an offer from Indiana. Murphy said sophomore running back Keyshawn Stephens, slated to be the workhorse runner, will be a big-time recruit as well.
HHS is also switching its defense this year under new coordinator Dan Scholz, the former head coach at Oak Hills. Big Blue will use the 50 rather than a four-man front.
Murphy believes his team is better than its seventh-place showing in the poll. His senior, junior and sophomore classes were all winners at the freshman level.
“We’ve got a tight-knit group, and I think they have an understanding of how to win because they’ve been winning,” Murphy said. “Our motto for the year is just stay quiet, stay humble and work.”
West has endured two straight 2-8 campaigns and has an interim head coach in Jeff Wadl, who said being voted eighth in the GMC means little to him.
“We already know nobody thinks we’re going to win, so that’s fine,” Wadl said. “What have we got to lose? I’ve got the interim tag … I’m playing with house money. So you know what? We’re going to go out and play football.
“These guys are going to be coached, they’re going to be ready to play football, and if they go out on Friday night and execute and utilize the talent that God gave them, they can win a lot of games. That’s not preseason coachspeak. I honestly believe these kids can win. These kids deserve to win because of the work they’ve put in so far.”
The Firebirds have lost some guys to transfers, but Wadl said there’s a number of quality players that are a year better after getting thrown into the fire as sophomores last year. David Afari was one of those 10th-graders, and he rushed for 1,109 yards and seven TDs.
Senior D.J. Christon moved in from Georgia in the spring and is competing for the quarterback job with senior Charlie Hall and sophomore Caleb Rao. Defensively, junior linebacker Daved Jones, senior end Steven Faucheux and senior cornerback Jeremiah Ross are all highly regarded.
At Middletown, new coach Don Simpson is stressing culture and confidence. The Middies were 1-9 last season, so being voted ninth in this year’s poll came as no surprise to him.
“We haven’t done anything to really prove who we are and what we are and what we’re doing,” Simpson said. “I want the guys to have a little chip on their shoulder. I want them to get a little pissed off. Let’s go out and play some football. Let’s get after some people. Let’s go shock some people.”
Offensively, Middletown won’t just stand up and bang with opponents. Simpson said offensive coordinator Ross Baker is implementing a spread attack that will get the ball to the Middies’ playmakers out in space, and Simpson will run the 3-4 defense.
Senior Jarrenn Thomas is taking over at quarterback, and sophomore Cameron Junior looks to be the No. 1 running back. Middletown also returns all four starters — seniors Troy Vinson, Kailon Johnson and Shawn Duckworth, and junior Deyon Brown — in the secondary.
GMC: The Vote
Here’s how the coaches voted in the preseason Greater Miami Conference football poll, with point totals and first-place votes (in parentheses):
1. Colerain (10) 100
2. Fairfield 89
3. Mason 74
4. Sycamore 67
5. Princeton 51
6. Lakota East 46
7. Hamilton 44
8. Lakota West 43
9. Middletown 20
10. Oak Hills 16
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.