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Prep football: Rams, Braves working to make noise in competitive SWOC

The Southwest Ohio Conference prep football race figures to be competitive this year.

Ross and Talawanda? They’re yearning to be part of the conversation.

The Butler County Rams and Braves are winless through four weeks, with Ross getting outscored 122-40 and Talawanda getting outscored 147-21. Yet neither team is anywhere close to throwing in the towel.

“The one bright thing about this — if there is something you can take out of 0-4 — is that I love the attitude of our kids,” first-year Ross coach Kenyon Commins said. “They’re still ready and willing to fight.

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“I think my staff has done a phenomenal job of showing the work ethic we want the kids to have. There’s never a woe-is-me mentality. Our plan is there, we’re installing the plan, and there will not be any deviation from the plan. It’s going to take time, but we’ll beat down the resistance with persistence.”

J.D. Vonderheide is in his sixth year at the Talawanda helm. His Braves have lost 23 of their last 25 games.

He believes the silver lining is a lineup that includes as many as 15 sophomores. That class has been a winner coming up through the system, and Vonderheide sees growing pains at the varsity level as a natural progression for his 10th-graders.

“In some cases, we’re playing 15-year-olds against 18-year-olds,” Vonderheide said. “That’s not an excuse. We still have to do our job. So we’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to play with better technique. We’ve got to play with unmatched effort.

“Obviously that’s not what we anticipated our record being, but we’ve steadily improved every single week. I’ve said with this group, the spark’s going to ignite. Well, it’s starting to get a little warmer. It’s flickering.

“Unfortunately, you don’t get a preseason. You don’t get any redos. We’ve really stressed respecting and trusting the process. The kids have rallied together as a team, and they’ve rallied around the coaches. We’re very positive about where we’re going. We’re as happy as you can be at 0-4.”

Defending champion Edgewood, Harrison and Mt. Healthy are 1-0 in league play, while Little Miami, Northwest and Ross are 0-1. Talawanda had a SWOC bye last week while losing to New Richmond 35-14.

Edgewood, a 48-12 winner over Northwest last Friday, has a pivotal home game against Harrison on Friday. The Wildcats are coming off a 31-0 blanking of Ross.

“I think we’re all closer this year compared to years past,” Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons said. “Like I said in the preseason, I don’t think there’s any gimme games in there. There’s just too many tough games from here on out.”

Little Miami has served notice that it’s on the upswing. Nate Mahon’s Panthers opened with easy wins over West Carrollton, Western Brown and Richmond Heights, then took a 20-14 defeat at Mt. Healthy, even with junior tailback Lucas Patten sidelined by a high ankle sprain.

In most cases, playing weaker opponents isn’t a great idea for teams that want to improve and compete for championships. But the 3-0 start bolstered the confidence and enthusiasm at Little Miami.

“When you’ve been down for so long, you’ve got to start somewhere,” Mahon said. “We’re still Little Miami at the end of the day, but we’re getting better, and that’s all we can ask for. I would say for the first time in a while, we feel like our guys can match up with the other team’s guys, and that’s anybody on our schedule.

“That’s good to know, but you’ve still got to perform and make those plays. But the first thing you need to get things turned around is the confidence to do it.”

Mt. Healthy dropped its first three games to Taft (28-20 in overtime), Sycamore (17-0) and Dunbar (26-20). The Owls also lost junior quarterback Michael Crawford to a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.

Arvie Crouch said his defense is very good, keyed by junior end Lonnie Phelps and junior linebacker Alex Howard. But sophomore quarterback Brandon Lanier and the Mt. Healthy offense are still trying to find their way.

“We’re just focusing on us, man,” Crouch said. “We’re trying to get back to the Mt. Healthy football level of play. We’re very young, not only age-wise, but experience-wise too. We’re slowly but surely growing up.”

Ross, which hosts Mt. Healthy on Friday, and Talawanda will square off in Week 10 in Oxford. Neither coach wants to consider the possibility of being 0-9.

Commins and his Rams are playing without junior quarterback Dylan Zimmerman, who’s out with a knee injury. Senior Ethan Minges is running the Ross triple-option offense for now.

“There’s a lot of growing pains for us learning how to win and the establishment of our offensive system,” Commins said. “You’ve got to literally tear down everything they’ve learned and reteach them a system. All of these things are so foreign to them, especially going from a power spread system to this. It’s just a huge change.”

Commins said Edgewood, Mt. Healthy and Harrison are at the top of the SWOC “until somebody can knock those three big dogs out of the way.”

Crouch said he likes the conference because it’s more of what he calls “community football.”

“We’re not getting kids moving in all the time,” Crouch continued. “We’re taking the kids we have, and from what I understand, that’s all across the board in the SWOC. It’s real football. It’s about just taking the kids you’ve got and making them better and seeing what happens.”

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