Aug. 1—NORWALK — Practice is officially underway for the upcoming 2022 high school football season, with teams already set for scrimmages this weekend.
Below is a look at key questions for each of the nine area Reflector teams ahead of their respective season openers on Aug. 19:
Can Norwalk survive front and back of schedule?
A year ago, the Truckers lost by an 18-12 score in the season opener in Mansfield against a Senior team that went 9-3 and narrowly missed reaching the third round of the Division III state playoffs.
Norwalk went on to finish with one win in 2021, playing a schedule that included six teams that won eight-plus games, and seven teams that won at least one playoff game.
This season, little changes on the unforgiving schedule. The Truckers again host Mansfield Senior in their opener, then have to travel to Huron and Olmsted Falls in consecutive weeks.
After a long trip to Alliance and home games vs. traditionally-strong Edison and Bellevue, Norwalk also finds itself closing with Perkins, Clyde and Columbian in the daunting SBC Lake Division.
An early win by the Truckers can go a long way toward a bounce-back season in 2022.
Does St. Paul have the depth for an FC and regional run?
The Flyers have averaged nine wins for a staggering 32 years under John Livengood. The win total won't be the question for St. Paul, which again has aspirations of winning the Firelands Conference and making a run in a loaded Div. VII Region 25.
To do that, the Flyers will need to navigate a schedule with just three home games — and a roster of just 34 players. Because of a change in the non-league schedule in Week 2, as well as New London again not fielding an 11-man team in 2022, St. Paul lost two home games from its 10-game slate.
On the field, the Flyers will bring back over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns to their backfield, and three of their four top tacklers to anchor a team that brings back half the starters on both sides of the ball. However, health will be more critical than ever for St. Paul in 2022.
Who leads the offense at Western Reserve?
The Roughriders are 22-9 over the past three seasons with multiple playoff wins and an FC title.
Two big reasons for that success was the combination of quarterback Jude Muenz and receiver Jake Jarrett, who are among the key losses to graduation at Western.
Once a lineman, Rhett Grose filled in for an injured Muenz last season, while running backs Logan Wiegel and Muck Grandy combined for 1,001 yards and 10 TDs in 2021. Those three will again need to be an anchor for a 'Riders offense that will need to score plenty of points to again stay in the FC race with Crestview and St. Paul.
Will new faces take Monroeville back to playoffs?
The Eagles are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances and an FC title in 2020.
But similar to other teams, Monroeville lost several mainstays from that stretch, none bigger than four-year starter in quarterback Isaac Roeder.
The Eagles won three games last year, which earned them the No. 14 seed and a long trip to Warren JFK in the first round of the playoffs.
While much of the offensive production will need replaced by players who saw the field last season in more limited roles, the defense will be boosted by the return of Landen Roeder. He led the team in tackles (104) with a sack and a fumble recovery as a freshman in 2021.
Evan Benfer caught 23 passes for 247 yards and a TD and added 68 tackles during the regular season last year, and also returns as just a sophomore for the Eagles, who also welcome good numbers from the junior high level.
Monroeville tentatively has 37 on the varsity roster, with just four seniors.
Can Mitchell take South Central back to playoffs?
The numbers game will again be an issue for the Trojans in 2022.
However, one spot head coach Corey Fickiesen has the most experience is also the most important.
Senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell returns for his third season as signal caller after he threw for an FC-best 2,380 yards with 29 TDs and 11 interceptions in 2021. Targets such as Hagen Adams and Isaac Blair will be tasked with replacing production graduated by Carson Music and Kayden Hauler.
The Trojans also bring back some of the top tacklers in the FC in Braden Kiesel, Brandon Smith and Gage Lauderman.
If South Central is to return to Week 11 for a third straight year, however, it will again have to rely on big numbers offensively to combat the season-long depth grind.
Will speed keep Plymouth in contention?
The Big Red were 5-5 in 2021, but there is little question where their key question and storyline stands.
Plymouth will arguably have the two fastest players in the conference touching the ball more often than not this season in running back Shae Sparks and receiver Caiden Allen.
Sparks is already a two-time All-FC first team running back. He totaled 1,202 yards and 19 TDs during the regular season and scored 24 total TDs in the nine games. He will also be one of the Big Red's key defenders.
Meanwhile, Allen is coming off a track and field season that saw him earn fourth in the 100-meter dash at the Div. III state championships in Columbus.
Longtime coach Mark Genders will certainly need to rely on the blazing speed of both Sparks and Allen. The Big Red will need big seasons from both once again to compete with the top half of the FC, and a return to the Div. VII playoff field.
Last year of 8-man in New London?
The Wildcats were expected to have about 14-to-15 players report to practice on Monday.
Last season, New London opted to switch to eight-man football because of low numbers, and did not compete in the Firelands Conference.
After debating playing a junior varsity schedule in 2022, the Wildcats are again expected to play an 8-man schedule under head coach Josh Harrison. With strong junior high numbers, the hope remains for New London to return to an 11-man schedule in 2023.
More progress in Willard?
The Crimson Flashes snapped a 20-game losing streak — the second-longest in program history — with a rout over Vermilion in the 2021 regular season finale.
Will that be a springboard to 2022 under second-year head coach Bill Speller? Time will tell, but it will help that his wide-open offense returns sophomore signal caller Isaac Robinson (1,612 yards, 11 TDs) and Cam Robinson (36 catches, 246 yards).
Speller also sees his top tackler return in linebacker Carson Hamons (106 tackles, 3 sacks) in 2022.
The Flashes will again have a challenging slate in the SBC Bay Division in 2022. The progression in Year 2 under Speller will likely be the biggest key, results withstanding.
Can consistency again carry Edison?
The Chargers long ago became a consistent winner under longtime head coach Jim Hall.
In 2021, even in a year they went .500, the Chargers became a footnote in OHSAA history when they became the first No. 16 seed to win a state playoff game at Bellevue.
Edison will now look to Marcus Medina to engineer the triple option offense that has seen a myriad of tweaks and changes over the years. Medina had his season cut short by injury in 2021, but still managed to average 5.2 yards per touch and 6 TDs.
Clint Finnen returns (691 yards, 6 TDs) and also figures to be a key player in the offense.
But after a banner sports year yet again in 2021-22 in Milan, how that the consistency of success will be the biggest question for the Chargers in the Bay Division this fall.