“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.”