Edgewood High School’s football team captured its first Southwest Ohio Conference title last season, ending Mt. Healthy’s four-year reign as champion.
The Cougars are favored to rule the SWOC again this year in tight voting by the conference coaches, who picked Edgewood to take the top spot by one voting point.
“We told the boys early on that we’ve got a target on our back,” EHS coach Scott Clemmons said. “It’s like pressure — you either give it or receive it. It’s flattering that the coaches in the league feel that way about us. Polls are nice for people to have conversations about, but championships are won on the field.”
Edgewood and Mt. Healthy were either first or second on every ballot, but the Cougars received four first-place votes and the Owls got three.
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Harrison was third in the voting, followed (in order) by Little Miami, Northwest, Talawanda and Ross.
“It’s just like when we were winning the league and the coaches picked us No. 1 because we deserved it,” Mt. Healthy coach Arvie Crouch said. “Edgewood deserves it right now. It’s motivation for us to get back on track and hopefully win that SWOC back.”
The Cougars — who nearly knocked off eventual Division II state champion La Salle in the first round of the 2016 playoffs — return nine starters on defense, but zero starters on offense.
Senior linebacker Garrett Gabbard, junior linebacker Evan Brown, senior safety D.J. Whiles and senior cornerback Nick Noble are among the returnees. Noble has been medically cleared to play defense after undergoing offseason Tommy John surgery.
“We’re very pleased so far,” Clemmons said. “We graduated a bunch of seniors last year, but we have 22 on the roster again this year, and we also have 23 juniors.
“I think the league is going to be up this year. Anybody in our league that walks into any game thinking it’s going to be an easy one, I think they’re fooling themselves and lying to their kids.”
Mt. Healthy only has five starters back from its 2016 D-III playoff squad. Junior quarterback Michael Crawford is among the returnees, and Crouch said he’s had a great offseason.
“We’re replacing a lot of dudes, but I love these kids. They’re easy to coach and work hard,” the veteran coach said. “I don’t know how good we’ll be. We’ve got to get some fresh meat in there and see what happens. I’m very, very happy with the talent we have. It’s just a talented team that hasn’t proven anything yet.”
Talawanda coach J.D. Vonderheide thinks it will be a good, competitive year for the SWOC. He’s optimistic that his Braves, bolstered by a strong sophomore class, will be part of that conversation after going 2-18 over the last two seasons.
“Some people will sleep on us, but I think we’re closer than what they think,” Vonderheide said.
First-year Ross coach Kenyon Commins wasn’t shocked to hear that his squad was voted last in the conference. The Rams were 2-8 last season.
“I’m sure in some type of psychological way you’ll use that as motivation, but to be honest with you, it’s been a problem here,” Commins said. “They’ve allowed other people to define with their success is. Nobody can define what success is to us. We know where we are, we know where we need to get to, and we know what we need to do to get there.
“As for the rest of the league, I don’t blame them for the voting. We were 0-6 in the conference last year. We haven’t earned anything other than that, and that’s all we ask for is just to be given what we’ve earned. So in my opinion, that’s about right.
“I will say that I have been more than excited about the work these young men have put in. Everything is so different this year, but they’ve attacked every day with relentless enthusiasm.”
The SWOC’s leading passer (Harrison senior Frankie Young) and rusher (Little Miami junior Lucas Patten) have returned this season. Young threw for 3,024 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2016, while Patten ran for 1,531 yards and 20 TDs.