We're just one day away from the start of high school football across Ohio, and we can already feel the glow of the Friday night lights.
2018 was an incredible year for Northeast Ohio teams in particular, with five local schools taking home state championships. The Division II title game even saw an all-Northeast Ohio matchup, as Archbishop Hoban knocked off Massillon Washington 42-28 in a battle of unbeatens.
2019 will hopefully be a banner season too, and we have compiled a list of 11 teams to watch out for (we wanted to keep it at 10, but felt like we couldn't leave anyone out). WKYC will also keep Top 10 rankings throughout the ensuing months.
2018: 15-0, Division II state champions
The Knights are going for an incredible fifth straight state title (something only St. Ignatius has done, back in 1995), and Tim Tyrell’s squad is once again loaded. They are led by running back DeaMonte Trayanum, an early Mr. Football favorite and Arizona State commit. Tight end Caden Clark and receiver Brayden Fox add to the offensive playmaking ability, while linebackers Devin Hightower and Damon Ollison anchor the defensive side.
It will be tough for anyone to even snap Hoban’s 29-game winning streak, much less beat them out for the state title.
2018: 14-1, Division II state runner-up
If anyone is going to knock off Hoban, it’s the Tigers, who gave the Knights all they could handle in last year’s championship game. Nate Moore’s bunch is stacked, and quarterback Aiden Longwell will be throwing a lot to juniors Jayden Ballard (an Ohio State commit) and Andrew Wilson-Lamp. Terrence Rankl will protect Longwell on the line, while Luke Murphy leads the defense.
Last season was the first time Massillon played for a state title in 13 years, but Ohio’s most-storied high school football program still hasn’t won it all since 1970 (before the introduction of the playoff system). This may be their best chance.
2018: 11-3, Division I state champions
The Eagles shocked everyone last year by winning a fourth state title despite entering the playoffs as a seven seed. This season will be no easier, as they once again open with Mentor followed by later matchups against archrival St. Ignatius as well as Elder and Archbishop Moeller out of Cincinnati. Tom Lombardo will try to lean on a defense led by linebacker CJ Hankins and defensive end Jeff Pietrowski.
2018: 8-3, Division I state playoffs
No list would be complete without Chuck Kyle’s group, who will have revenge on their minds after beating St. Edward last year only to get upset by the same team a week later in the postseason. The strength will be in the offense, with Sam Daugstrup and Connor Cmiel catching plenty of passes as Nick Schwitzgebel helps protect the quarterback.
An interesting note: This year’s rivalry showdown against St. Ed will take place during Week 7, rather than as the final game of the season as is customary.
2018: 11-2, Greater Cleveland Conference co-champions & Division I state playoffs
After 23 years, legendary Cardinals coach Steve Trivisonno will be stepping down at the end of the season. This is his last chance to capture the state championship that has eluded him for so long.
Those dreams came crashing down last year with a loss to St. Edward (whom they had beaten in the regular season) in the regional final. This year, though, they may have the best quarterback in Northeast Ohio in junior Ian Kipp, and he has a prime target in Boston College commit Luke Floriea. Ed and Ignatius will once again be on the schedule to open the year, so the road will once again be a difficult one.
2018: 9-3, Federal League champions & Division I state playoffs
This year will be a bit of a transition for the Bulldogs, as head coach Dan Reardon left to return to Ursuline in Youngstown. To replace him, administrators made a splash with former St. Vincent-St. Mary coach and former Akron Zips assistant Marcus Wattley.
McKinley also hopes it can transition away from what has become a theme in recent seasons: Getting off to a hot start before losing to Perry and Massillon and flaming out in the playoffs. To shed that label, they will have to rely on seniors Jasper Robinson (a Kent State commit) and Jalen Ross to catch plenty of passes.
2018: 8-3, Division I state playoffs
Even with a new contract extension and the added title of athletic director, Jim McQuaide has been feeling the pressure. His Comets have not been past the second round of the postseason since 2010, and are still without a regional championship during his 16-year tenure.
Last year wasn’t much different, as Solon stunned Mentor in overtime only to fall to McKinley three weeks later in a home playoff game. Expectations are once again high, and the star will have to be Najee Story. The junior is one of the best defensive ends in the country and may be the best player in all of Northeast Ohio, and is reportedly leaning towards Ohio State.
Could this finally be the breakthrough for the Tigers? They’re coming off their best season in years, barely missing the playoffs after a 28-21 loss to unbeaten Maple Heights in the final game. It’s all about defense with Mac Stephens’ bunch, and this year’s squad is no different with Cincinnati commit Justin Wodtly leading the line and Jiovanny Holmes in the backfield.
2018: 14-1, Division III state champions
2018 was a year the Bombers and their fans will never forget, as Jeff Grubich's bunch shocked the state by rolling to its first title. The team was led by an offense than only four times was held under 40 points, and much of that group is back this time around.
Now a senior, Jack Porter will look to build on the nearly 4,000 yards and 54 touchdowns he has rushed for the last two seasons, and Wake Forest commit George Sell will be there to give him the blocking room he needs. Jon Tomcufcik is also back at quarterback after throwing for three TDs in the state title route of Archbishop Alter.
2018: 9-3, Division III playoffs
Despite often being overlooked playing in the Akron City Series, Marques Hayes has quietly put together a very good program, and his 2019 squad boasts several players committed to FBS college schools. On defense, Tariq Williamson (Toledo) and Bangally Kamara (Pittsburgh) anchor the front seven, while Deshawn Jones (Cincinnati) will lock down the backfield. When the Dragons have the ball, they have the option of either handing it off to Kobe Campbell or throwing it Richtell McCallister and Travon Walker. This is a team that can compete with anyone in D-III.
2018: 8-2, Senate Athletic League champions
Ted Ginn Sr.’s storied program has fallen on (moderately) hard times: Enrollment and competitive balance issues have dropped the Tarblooders all the way to D-III, and they haven’t won a regional title in six years. Worse still, last year’s team was banned from the postseason and remains on probation following a scandal that saw 13 players from the Ginn Academy improperly assigned to the school.
Glenville is back in the playoff picture this season, and will have to take advantage of early opportunities against Euclid, Cleveland Heights, and Olentangy Liberty before the weak Senate League schedule kicks in (they have not lost a Senate League game in 22 years). Kentucky commit Torrance Davis will hope to carry the offense, while William Anglen leads the defense.