High School Football: West ‘fueled’ by 2021 regional final loss

The Lakota West High School football team has not forgotten the sting of how last season ended, but fourth-year coach Tom Bolden said this year’s group is working to establish its own identity.

West won its second straight Greater Miami Conference title last year and finished 11-2, falling to Moeller, 21-17, in the regional final and just missing the program’s first state tournament berth.

The Firebirds open the 2022 season Friday against St. Xavier, a team they lost to in the opener last season but beat in the regional semifinals. It’s a good early test as West returns 14 starters but has some key pieces to replace after graduating some talented players to college football programs.

“We’ve got a lot of kids back from a team last year that had a lot of success, but we’re a new team, still establishing our identity,” Bolden said. “We have good pieces in place. We’re a little banged up to start the season but hope we can get healthy and have another good season.”

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Although the Firebirds want to be remembered for their own unique accomplishments, they are still motivated by last year’s regional final shortcoming. West was leading Moeller by three going into the fourth quarter.

“This is a different team with a different identity, so they are wanting to make their mark, but that’s fuel, there’s no question about it,” Bolden said. “We weren’t happy how the year ended last year so we’re using that as fuel to get us where we need to get.”

West will still be a “fast defense-oriented team that runs fast, hits hard and plays fast, fundamental defense and hopefully makes enough plays on offense to win games,” Bolden said.

Fourth-year starter Mitch Bolden returns at quarterback 20 pounds stronger, bringing experience, leadership and dual-threat abilities. Trent Lloyd, a slot back who will play out of the backfield more this season, will lead a running back by committee, and offensive tackle Tony Curtis will anchor the line.

The strength of the defense lies in the secondary with three Division I college commits in senior safeties Malik Hartford (Ohio State) and Ben Minich (Notre Dame) and cornerback Josh Fussell (Northwestern). Others to watch on that side of the ball include junior defensive lineman Elijah Davis, who was an All-Southwest Ohio pick, and linebacker Mike Brankamp, who missed much of last year with a torn ligament in his knee but had a big interception in the regional final.

Bolden is looking forward to seeing how it all comes together Friday at home against St. X, which is ranked sixth in the state by MaxPreps.com. West is third.

“It will be a typical knockdown, drag-out game with ups and downs,” Bolden said. “People are discounting X because they lost so many starters, but people forget how talented they are, and they will be hungry because we knocked them out of the playoffs last year.”

Early tests for Badin

Coming off a state finals appearance in 2021, Badin will be tested early by its non-conference schedule. The Rams open Friday against Cleveland’s Villa Angela St. Joseph at Case Western University, then face Columbus Francis DeSales in Week 2 and Withrow the next game.

VASJ went 7-2 last year in a schedule that saw four games canceled but included a playoff win. DeSales was 7-5 with one playoff win and Withrow finished 9-2 with a loss to Piqua in the first round of the postseason.

Badin finished as the Division III runner-up after a 21-14 loss to Chardon in the final. The Rams lost several players to graduation, including record-setting running back Jack Walsh and quarterback Landyn Vidourek, Badin is in search of a fifth straight Greater Catholic League Co-ed Division title this season behind new quarterback Alex Ritzie, who replaced injured Vidourek in the playoffs last year, and senior running back Carter Russo.

Past vs. present

Hamilton had been scheduled for two openers at West Clermont, starting last year, but the matchup this time is especially intriguing with former Big Blue coach Nate Mahon now coaching at West Clermont. Arvie Crouch, the former Mount Healthy coach, will make his Hamilton head coaching debut Friday against his predecessor.

Also of note, the son of the late former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry plays for West Clermont. Chris Henry Jr. is just a freshman but already has interest from several Division I colleges, including an offer from Ohio State when he was still in eighth grade. He lives with his adoptive father, former Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones.