The Cardinals have captured 16 straight GMC championships and are the unanimous favorites to extend that streak in the preseason coaches poll.
“I like being No. 1. I’m not going to lie,” 10th-year Colerain coach Tom Bolden said. “It feels good to be thought of that way. Honestly, that’s why you put the time in.”
Fairfield took second in the voting, followed (in order) by Mason, Lakota West, Sycamore, Lakota East, Hamilton, Middletown, Princeton and Oak Hills.
The Cardinals are loaded with experience and talent. They’re ranked seventh nationally by USA Today.
“Those things are flattery, but I don’t know how they come up with that,” Bolden said. “I put more stock in the GMC rankings because at least that’s my peers.
“We’ve got a chance to be special, but a lot goes into that. We’ve got to take care of the football, stay healthy and don’t read too much of our press clippings. Don’t run from it, but realize that stuff doesn’t win football games.”
Most of Colerain’s 50 defense is back this year, led by senior defensive back Amir Riep, who’s committed to Ohio State, and senior inside linebacker Kyle Bolden (Tom’s son).
“The old adage is defense wins championships. I hope that’s the case,” Tom Bolden said. “I’m an offensive guy, but I like having all those dudes back. The defense is going to carry us the first part of the year. We’re real young on offense.”
Senior fullback Monalo Caldwell is the lone returning starter in the skill positions, and Bolden thinks he’s poised for “a huge breakout year.” Junior Gunnar Leyendecker, a starting wingback last season, is the new quarterback.
Hamilton and East are the two conference teams that Colerain doesn’t play in the regular season.
Fairfield was a strong No. 2 in the voting. Tribe coach Jason Krause took that placement with mixed emotions.
“It’s a little bittersweet to see that,” Krause said. “I kind of like to be that guy that’s on the other end of that thing, where people really don’t expect you to do well and you do. But I also like the idea that our kids need to understand expectations, and they have to perform to reach those expectations.”
West coach Larry Cox didn’t have a problem with his team’s No. 4 spot in the poll.
“We lost some key kids last year, but we’ve got some key ones back,” Cox said. “It’s a fun team to coach because they’ve got a lot of energy. There’s enough athletes that we can make it interesting.
“In our league, Colerain is where they deserve to be at this point. After that, I think you can throw a lot of teams in the hat and mix ’em up. Princeton’s going to be your surprise team in the GMC. That’s my prediction.”
The Firebirds have one of the conference’s most dynamic players in senior running back Zelwyn Robinson, who scored 21 touchdowns and totaled 1,102 all-purpose yards last year.
“He can play every position in our offense,” Cox said. “You might even see him line up at quarterback. In fact, I can guarantee it.”
Hamilton coach Chad Murphy said being picked seventh is motivation for a squad that gained some confidence last season with a 4-6 record and several close defeats.
“Until we do what we’re supposed to do, that’s probably where it’s going to be in the preseason,” Murphy said. “But that’s fuel for our fire. That’s fuel for what we’re trying to do around here, so that’s fine with me.”
Bolden was impressed with Big Blue during last Friday’s scrimmage at Virgil Schwarm Stadium. He especially liked the play of senior quarterback Eric Jackson.
“I think they’re going to be a sleeper,” Bolden said. “I think they’ll finish in the Top 5 if they keep that quarterback healthy.”
“I trust the mentality of this football team because of having a lot of experience,” Murphy said. “We feel Hamilton needs some positive things, and we’re going to do our part to bring some back to Hamilton, especially to Hamilton High.”
Middletown coach Lance Engleka said the GMC voting isn’t part of his mind-set with the Middies preparing to open the season at Lima Senior.
“I have no thoughts on that right now,” Engleka said. “With all due respect to the other coaches in the league, I’m not concerning myself with what they think of us right now. I’m concerned about our 65 guys and how we play on Friday night.”
Attempts to reach East coach Rick Haynes for comment were unsuccessful.
Engleka, Princeton’s Pat McLaughlin and Oak Hills’ Kyle Prosser are the GMC’s new head coaches this year.