Central Catholic Greg Dempsey fires up his team against Clyde during a Division III regional final football playoff game last November at Doyt Perry Stadium in Bowling Green THE BLADE
There are 723 high schools with football programs in Ohio, and just about all of them will begin their respective marches into the 2014 season with opening day of preseason two-a-day practices today.
Ohio teams can play their first games Thursday, Aug. 28, but most teams will kick off the season the following night.
Michigan high schools also begin their season the weekend of Aug. 28-30, but Michigan High School Athletic Association rules do not allow teams to start practice until Aug. 11.
The top Ohio and Michigan teams from the area last season were Central Catholic and Bedford, respectively.
Central coach Greg Dempsey, whose team was ranked No. 2 in Division III at the end of the 2013 regular season, finished 12-1 overall with a 42-41 upset loss to Clyde in the regional finals.
That came on the heels of a 14-1, Division II state championship season in 2012 for the Irish.
Two of Central’s top players on each of those teams will not be back this season. First team All-Ohio quarterback DeShone Kizer graduated and moved on to Notre Dame, and Chris Green, who was a second-team All-Ohio linebacker as a junior last season, has already turned and is no longer eligible to participate under Ohio High School Athletic Association rules.
“It’s just exciting to get going again,” Dempsey said. “We’re fortunate to have a great group of seniors, and I’m excited to see what they’re going to do in taking their turn as being the leaders of this program.
“We lost two marquee players, but that’s what programs have to do — find different ways to have new guys fill those shoes.”
Dempsey will reload around standout linemen Ramone Miles and Christian Ward, and receivers Marcus Winters and Jermiah Braswell. Winters will bid for the starting quarterback position.
Ohio players wear helmets without pads for the first two days of practice, advance to helmets and pads for the next two days, move to full equipment with no contact allowed on day five, and full contact is allowed on the sixth day.
On Aug. 11, coach Jeff Wood will lead his Bedford team into the first day of two-a-days, as the Kicking Mules open with a three-day camp at Sauk Valley in the Irish Hills area of Michigan. The Mules resume two-a-days Aug. 14 at Bedford.
Bedford matched its best season in school history in 2013, going 9-0 in the regular season and finishing 11-1 with a heartbreaking 34-33 Division 1 regional final loss to Detroit Catholic Central, which scored in the game’s final 40 seconds to win.
Wood’s 2010 Mules also finished 11-1 with a 44-42 loss to Grosse Pointe South in a regional final.
Bedford graduated 38 seniors from last year’s team, which was ranked fifth in the final Michigan Division 1 state poll. Leading that group were running back Alec Hullibarger, offensive lineman Alex Johnson, and defensive linemen Austin Reidmaier and Jeremiah Harris, who were named to the All-Blade team.
“What I’m looking forward to the most with this group of kids is watching them gel together,” said Wood, whose teams have won three Southeastern Conference Red Division championship in the past five years. “They’ve worked so hard in the offseason to become the team they are now.”
Wood expects to return 15 letter-winners who will be seniors, and will have 36 juniors on the varsity roster.