Last season was shortened to six regular season games before the playoffs started. Teams could opt in or out of the playoffs, then continue their regular season up to 10 games.
The SBAAC featured a pair of league unbeatens atop the standings — Clinton-Massie in the American and Bethel-Tate in the National.
The Falcons the typical Falcons on offense, averaging more than 50 points a game on offense.
However, the once-vaunted CMHS defense took a hit, surrendering 25 points a game, including 54 to Western Brown and 41 to New Richmond.
American Division player of the year Carson Vanhoose returns along with a spate of senior classmates who earned all-league honors.
But the Broncos bring back a few standouts as well, including 6-6 junior signal-caller Drew Novak, who threw for 26 touchdowns and 2,543 yards in eight games. His highlights included a 40-62 passing performance for 518 yards and five total touchdowns against New Richmond then a six-touchdown, 497-yard game the next week against Massie.
His top two targets Logan Campbell (56-899-8) and Dylan Novak (43-672-6) were underclassmen last season.
The Tigers’ run in the post-season ended with a 56-20 loss to Clinton-Massie. Bethel-Tate’s defense gave up just 99 points in the other 11 games.
Bethel-Tate is a favorite to repeat with six first-team all-league players returning this season, including National player of the year Gauge Dunn (58-820-15 receiving).
Things will look plenty different at Barbour Memorial Field in 2021 for Jon Mulvihill’s Blanchester High School football team.
The Wildcats graduated 13 seniors, including two highly-decorated members of the class of 2020. Brayden Sipple a second team All-Ohio player and Colt Conover a third team All-Ohio have earned their high school diplomas. Sipple passed for 1,719 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 185 yards and a score. Conover had 69 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a sack and 10 tackles for loss for the Wildcats on defense. He was given honorable mention All-Ohio in 2019.
“Most of those seniors loved football. Even practice. It was a fun group to coach,” said Mulvihill, in his third season as head coach.
The returning letterwinners for Mulvihill’s Wildcats are Chasen Allison, Adam Frump, Nate Coyle, Cody Kidd, Zane Panetta, Jacob Hamm, Jacob Lanham and Ty Goodwin. There are just seven returning starters.
Coyle and Allison have been the off-season leaders in the weight room and early in camp and two-a-days, Mulvihill said.
Mulvihill will be assisted by John Lovin, Kelly Penquite and Brandon Scott at the high school level and Tanner Creager, Brent Hopkins, Tony Kelch and the aforementioned Colt Conover at the junior high level.
Newcomers to note, Mulvihill said, are Dustin Trace and Gabe McVey.
Despite the turnover, Mulvihill said the goals are the same — win the SBAAC National Division and win games in the playoffs. That can happen, the coach pointed out, if the overall athleticism meets the mental preparation at a positive point on the learning curve.
“We’re going to be super young, inexperienced to start,” Mulvihill said. “We have some good athletes. Our young guys are going to have to learn fast.
“Our goals are still the same. We have the pieces to make it happen, we just have to get those pieces to execute the plan like they need to.”
The Wildcats, 6-2 in 2020, defeated Madison Plains 55-34 in a wild playoff game then ended their season with a 23-6 loss to Springfield Shawnee. BHS did not continue after the playoff defeat.
“I was disappointed with how it ended, but given how it started, I was glad we even got the opportunity,” Mulvihill said of the season cut short by the pandemic. “In order to make the next step, we have to buy into the weight room and prepare our bodies for a full season. In addition, we need to spend time learning the offensive and defensive schemes. The offense will look a little different, but not a lot. We do still have a (Bryce) Sipple. We also have a few other weapons that will help.”
Clinton-Massie has a string of four straight SBAAC American Division championships on the line in 2021.
Vanhoose, a Division IV first team All-Ohio RB, rushed for 1,498 yards and 30 touchdowns in 10 games. He had back-to-back six touchdown games when he also ran for a combined 489 yards.
The Falcons (9-1 in 2020) season ended with a 28-9 playoff loss to Wyoming in a Division IV Region 16 Championship game.
Carter Frank ran for 563 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 54 rushes last season.
Quarterback Kody Zantene had six touchdown passes to go along with a 44-437-8 rushing line.
Second-team All-Ohio lineman Colton Trampler, Carter Euton, Charley Hale, Blake Ireland, Dawson Conley and Daelin Maple also return.
Trevor McGuinness was a Div. IV first team All-Ohio kicker last season. He graduated in the spring. Brody Muterspaw was second team All-Ohio and also graduated.
To get to the ultimate goal, Massie must improve its defense. The 251 points allowed in 10 games was, by far, the most in the last five seasons.
The saving grace last season was the offense that averaged a mind-boggling 51.9 points a game.
Massie does not have a week one game as this goes to press so the Falcons will open Aug. 27 at Anderson High School.
East Clinton returns an experienced team to the football field in 2021.
“This is the most experienced team that I have had the pleasure of coaching during my time at East Clinton,” said head coach Steve Olds, who is in his third year in Lees Creek. “With 16 returning lettermen along with 12 starters returning, we should be able to put 11 guys on the field with plenty of Friday night’s under their belt. The past few years, we have had to rely heavily on underclassmen to play important roles within the team, so to be able to play this many upperclassmen is a luxury that we do not always have. They have worked really hard in the offseason and have paid their dues so the hope is that we can take another step forward in 2021.
The Astros (4-6 the past two seasons) lost a playoff shootout with Madison Plains 45-25 in 2020 then went 2-1 afterward with wins over former South Central Ohio League rivals Hillsboro and McClain.
“We will still need to develop depth across the board,” Olds said. “We will need to improve our discipline and decision-making as well.”
Gone from that EC team is Division V first team All-Ohio defender Branson Smith, who had a league-best seven interceptions last year, and Phillip Davis, who transferred to Wilmington.
“Last year’s seniors were part of the foundation of our program,” said Olds. “They stuck it out through some very dark days, both on and off the field. I believe their absence will, in a good way, force the returning players to step up and fill the void. This will be their time to shine, so to speak.”
The top returning players are Jared Smith, Chris Norman, Landon Runyon, Isaiah Conger and Glenn Peacock.
Olds said a newcomer of note is Aiden Conger. There are 13 seniors on the EC roster.
“All of them have taken on more of a leadership role within the team,” Olds said.
Olds will be assisted by Bryan Floyd, Nick Anderson, Adam Boysel and Daniel Day at the varsity level with DJ Luttrell and Jayden Luttrell making up the junior high staff.
Olds said just prior to the start of camp there were 40 players on the team.
“We haven’t had a winning season here in a decade, so accomplishing that is our number one goal,” said Olds. “If we can do that, everything else will hopefully take care of itself.”
The Wilmington Hurricane took their lumps in 2019 and 2020, largely because of roster top-heavy with young players.
Those young players are now veterans and head coach Scott Killen said it’s time to turn things around.
”We are getting closer to where I want the team to be,” said Killen, in his eighth season as the WHS head coach. “We have more buy-in with this group overall. One thing we have going for us is that we are not young anymore. These kids have seen the growth and have bought into the foundation of the program. I am excited to roll the ball out and play.”
Wilmington was 4-5 last season, losing its final playoff game because of Covid-19. The Hurricane defeated Marietta 56-14 in its playoff opener.
“It came down to consistency,” said Killen. “When we sat down and reflected on the season, we were not consistent when we needed to be. This year we have focused the offseason on conditioning and the smallest of details. We still have a ways to go but we are on track.
“The senior class has done a great job of stepping up and becoming the leaders. I really like (this team’s) willingness to compete and attack the task.”
Among the 2021 graduates, Carter Huffman (24-537-8 receiving) was one of the area’s best two-way players last season and earned Div. III third team All-Ohio honors. Others key players who are not returning include Elijah Rockhold (at Ashland University), Kendal France, Bradey Sturgill and Brock Rappach (Bluffton University).
“The only way to replace them is by reps,” Killen said. “We need to get players reps and build depth in those positions. When you look back on the seniors from 2020, they were all three-year starters and that is hard to replace.”
Also gone from last season is offensive coordinator Josh Wulff. Jody Drake will take over the play-calling duties for the Hurricane, Killen said.
Jeff Valentine leads a list of 27 returning players that includes Josh Snell, Isaiah Rigling, Remington Smith, Parker Henry, Andrew Stewart, Darrick Perdue, Tanner Killen, Thadeus Stuckey and Brett Brooks. There are 16 starters back but Killen said Malik Scott (returning from injury), Chase Pickard, Blaize Johnson, Shaine Griffith and Elijah Collins are newcomers who could see time on the field.
Killen will be assisted by Drake, J.D. McIntosh, Ryan Stuckey, Kyle Davis, Joe Gigandet, Davey Allen and Marcus Stewart at the high school with Travis Mellinger, Connor Rioch and Alantino Keefer at the middle school.
“I really enjoy this team and our offseason has been great. The kids that have been here understand where we are and the opportunity in front of them. They just need to focus on the finish of every rep, practice, and game.
“We need to be able to finish games. We did not do a very good job last year at closing out games.”
Killen said the Hurricane motto in 2021 is WIN.
“Whatever Is Necessary,” he said.