Middletown football returns tonight, ready to ‘go play 100 miles an hour’

Middletown High School football team practices for the first time after they were cleared to practice Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at Barnitz Stadium in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Middletown High School football team practices for the first time after they were cleared to practice Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at Barnitz Stadium in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Middletown High School football coach Don Simpson had a simple message for his team going into this week as the Middies prepared for their season opener seven days later than most everyone else.

He told them in more words to seize the opportunity.

Two weeks ago, Middletown was still awaiting word on whether the school board would approve competition for fall sports after extracurriculars had just been given permission to resume meeting in small groups Aug. 18 after almost 20 days off. The approval came Aug. 24 and after a safe acclimatization period, the Middies are now set to play their opener Friday at Fairfield (0-1).

“We worked extremely hard to get to this point,” Simpson said. “It was difficult to say the least, but that’s what we talk about is how close we came to not being able to have a season. We can’t complain about missing practices. We are going to be grateful and go play 100 miles an hour.”

Senior running back/defensive back Josh Bryant said the Middies are ready to make up for lost time.

“Me and my teammates are really excited we can finally go out there and shock the world,” Bryant said. “It was kind of tough (not playing last week), but that only just made us hungrier.”

Simpson praised the positive attitude of his players through the ups and downs of the last several months, but said there is no denying they are behind where they would have been without the second suspension of practices. Sports shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and spring activities never resumed. That also meant no offseason football workouts until the Ohio High School Athletic Association approved them to begin May 26 in three phases.

Middletown was plugging along like the rest of the state and getting ready to gear up for official practices Aug. 1 when the school district shut down extracurriculars July 28.

“We were anticipating going into camp Aug. 1, two-a-days, acclimating to football, and it’s suddenly pulled away again,” Simpson said. “It’s difficult to keep kids focused, but we have a great senior class that stayed positive. They organized some things where they were conditioning and exercising to stay in shape. Those guys kept a positive attitude.”

By now, most teams have played two opponents – a scrimmage and then the opener last week.

Fairfield fell behind Mason late in the third quarter and ended up losing 24-12 to start the season on a much different note than a year ago when the Indians opened 9-0, earned their first playoff win since 2000 and finished 10-2. Fairfield was a senior-laden squad last year and now is relying on several young players, such as freshman dual-threat quarterback Fisher Talon, but Simpson expects the Indians to be ready to bounce right back as a program proven to reload in the past.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” Simpson said. “Every game in the GMC is tough, especially with them coming off a loss and us going into a hostile environment. Going to their stadium they are looking to bounce back. One loss won’t derail them. They’ve had a game scrimmage and a game, and they are working the kinks out so we are fully prepared to go into a good game with a very good team.”

Middletown has been looking at this season as an opportunity to finally turn the corner. The Middies were 3-17 over Simpson’s first two seasons and the last winning record was in 2011, but the coach has been looking for a senior class to take ownership of the program and he’s seeing that this year.

Top seniors leading the way include Bryant, linebacker Cameron Junior and quarterback Kamari Fuller. Other key returners on offense are senior wide receiver Elijah Rockhold and junior receiver John Calhoun, three starting offensive linemen in Justin Ferrer, Logan Osborne and Keishaun Beatty. The defense features middle linebacker Kamron Cooper, free safety Terrecc Richardson, nose guard Javen Davis and defensive end Simieon Salter, a transfer from Northwest High.

“When I took the job two years ago, I threw these seniors into the fire and watched them grow,” Simpson said. “When you’re setting the culture, you’re looking for players to set the trend and now the seniors are talking like I talk, committing time, trusting the process. The adversity is there, but we’ve established the culture and let the guys lead and this is the group that’s leading. This is the year they make a push, they make a message they want to bring back that Middie pride that’s been missing so many years now, and they want to work hard to get that going.”

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