By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — Our long, county-wide nightmare is over.
High school football is back.
For many around the county, football season — specifically high school football season — represents the most magical time of year. While the actual games remain a few weeks away yet, teams already have started practicing. Some team elected to wait until today to start practice, while others took advantage of the Ohio High School Athletic Association rule that allowed them to start Saturday.
Either way, high school football is back and it’s a welcome return.
In the Miami Valley Sunday News, we examined the five-most pressing questions surrounding the Troy football team — today, we open things up and look at the five biggest questions surrounding other Miami County teams:
1) Can Covington “bounce back?”: It says something about Covington’s sustained excellence in recent year that a winning record and a trip to the Division VII playoffs would be considered by many to be a “down” year for the Buccaneers. After four Cross County Conference titles in a row — Covington went 36-0 in CCC play during that span — going 6-4 and finishing fourth in the CCC had to be considered a letdown.
All of which just goes to show how high Covington has set the bar.
The Buccaneer lost just four seniors to graduation and return a wealth of talent. If Covington can stay health — something it struggled to do a year ago — it’s hard to imagine the Buccaneers won’t get back into the mix for a run at another CCC crown.
2) How different will Tippecanoe look this season?: In many respects, the simple answer to this question is “very.”
Gone is head coach Charlie Burgbacher — who will join his son Matt’s staff at Troy as a defensive coordinator — who led the Red Devils the past 26 years. How successful was Burgbacher at Tippecanoe?
His teams went a combined 186-91. For the sake of comparison, in the years before Burgbacher’s arrival — from 1921 to 1988 — Tippecanoe won a total of 237 games in 67 years. Under Burgbacher, Tippecanoe won or shared seven conference titles. Prior to his arrival, the Red Devils won or shared that same amount in a 67-year span.
In some respects, however, this year’s team will look familiar to past Tippecanoe teams. Taking over for Burgbacher is Joel Derge, who served as both and offensive and defensive (not simultaneously) under Burgbacher. He has said he’ll be running both offensive and defensive schemes similar to those the Red Devils ran for 26 years under Burgbacher.
3) Can Troy Christian take the next step?: The Eagles’ ascension to a playoff team under former Troy coach Steve Nolan has been nothing short of amazing.
Three years ago, the athletic department shut the program down due to lack of participation. The Eagles took a year off from football. Two years ago, they brought the program back under Nolan, playing a partial schedule against mostly club teams and non-Ohio High School Athletic Association members.
Last year, competing as a full OHSAA member for the first time since 2011, all Troy Christian did was go 7-3, reach the playoffs for the third time in school history and win a playoff game for just the second time in school history.
Can the Eagles do it again — or, more impressively, improve upon last year? It won’t be easy. Numbers remain a problem for the Eagles. Last year, Troy Christian made the playoffs with around 20 players, which included freshmen. The numbers likely will be about the same this year.
With Nolan and 2,000-yard rusher Luke Dillahunt returning, however, nothing is out of the question.
4) Can Miami East keep it up?: In the late 1990s — with a losing streak that stretched past 40 games — Miami East strongly considered shutting down the football program forever.
In stepped Miami East graduate Max Current, who returned the Vikings to respectability in short order. The past three years, however, they have gone well beyond respectability, reaching the postseason three years in a row — the first time that has happened in school history.
Can the Vikings continue to make history by reaching the playoffs for a fourth year? They are going to have to find some playmakers at the skill positions. The Vikings took some heavy hits at quarterback and running back, in particular. After so many years of struggling, however, it would appear perhaps the Vikings have reached a point where they can focus on reloading rather than rebuilding.
5) Who will be the “sleeper” team of 2015?: Of all the county teams that finished with sub-.500 records in 2014, Milton-Union would appear to be the one most poised to make a turnaround in 2015. The Bulldogs were playing much better by the end of last year than they were at the beginning.
Like Current at Miami East, Milton coach Mark Lane graduated from the school at which he now coaches. He has a personal, vested interest in making his team better — and the talent in place with which to do it. Staying healthy will be key to the Bulldogs attempt at a turnaround.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong