From left, Northwood players Travis Singler, Myles Habel, Dominik Bermejo, Dylan Napier, and Derek Florez are expected to lead the Rangers this season. Northwood boasts a 72-4 record in TAAC play (100-40 overall) and nine playoff appearance since joining
Four straight Toledo Area Athletic Conference football championships. Ten titles in 13 years. A 72-4 record in conference play (100-40 overall), and nine playoff appearances since joining the TAAC in 2001.
Those are items on the program resume of the Northwood Rangers, and 29th-year coach Ken James offers an explanation for the success.
“Winning helps with the confidence level,” James said. “Just in a general sense, we don’t go into games intimidated by anybody.
“We’re fortunate that we have the tools to be competitive. We’ve got good facilities, we’ve got enough kids to be able to practice effectively, and winning helps.”
James points to the Rangers’ offseason workout commitment, good roster numbers, and an environment built at the school that is conducive to winning. The harder they work, the more they strive to win. And the more they win, the more willing they are to continue to work.
It is this circular process that has enabled Northwood to sustain its domination of the TAAC, and it’s also why, once again, the Rangers (8-3, 7-0 TAAC) were voted first in the preseason conference coaches poll.
Northwood received five first-place votes in the poll, and new TAAC member Tiffin Calvert, which was voted to place second, picked up the other three first-place votes.
“We’ve got eight guys back on each side of the ball,” James said. “If we didn’t have all of those guys back, I don’t think we would’ve been picked first. That was the biggest reason.”
Gibsonburg (5-5, 4-3) was tabbed for third place, Toledo Christian (6-4, 5-2) was voted fourth, and Edon (8-3, 6-1) — last season’s runner-up — was picked fifth. Danbury, Ottawa Hills, Cardinal Stritch, and Hilltop round out the TAAC coaches poll, respectively.
Northwood’s rule of the TAAC roost may get a serious threat from an incoming Calvert team that shared the 2013 Midland Athletic League championship with Carey in the final season of that now-defunct league.
The Senecas (7-5, 6-1 MAL) beat Edon 34-31 in a Division VII first round playoff games before falling in the second round to perennial state power Delphos St. John’s.
Fifth-year Calvert coach Todd Fox brings back nine offensive and seven defensive starters from that team, a group paced by three-year starters Tyler Long, Cameron Felter, and Matt Iannantuono.
“For us it’s just a whole new slate of teams, and it’s kind of fun to get to know them,” Fox said of joining the TAAC. “It’s more work for the coaching staff in terms of getting the kids prepared. There’s quality football in the TAAC, and we’re excited to be a part of the change.”
Long — a 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior quarterback and defensive back — has rushed for more than 3,000 yards and passed for 2,000-plus in his first two years as a starter. Returning junior running back/linebacker Adam Recker rushed for more than 500 yards a year ago and led the team with 117 tackles. Felter and Iannantuono are each two-way linemen.
“We go week by week, and everybody needs to stay healthy if we’re going to compete,” Fox said. “We need to see our offensive line come together as a solid unit, and every kid has to do what they’re capable of doing.
“We can’t take any teams in the TAAC lightly, and we have to go at every week.”
Going at it hard every week is something James and his coaching staff have had to apply extra focus to with their players.
“What we fight is the tendency to get complacent,” James said. “Every year we fight that. We try to pressure them to get better.”
Hard work is the best way to survive complacency, and James feels fortunate that large numbers of his players have traditionally been willing to put in the time.
“It’s tough these days to get kids to give up their summer committing to workouts,” James said. “The numbers in Ohio football since 2009 are down about 10,000 kids. It’s difficult because there are a lot of other things available to teenagers nowadays. The days of a guy coming out for football and waiting his turn until his senior year to play are gone.
“In today’s culture, it’s easier for a youngster to go find something else to do — whether it’s another sport, or a job, or whatever. Our guys are still putting in the time because they see a benefit in it. There’s no guarantees, but they’ve got an opportunity to be competitive, and potentially win a league title, and play in some big games in front of big crowds. If you’re program is struggling, it’s very difficult to get kids to put a lot of time in. That’s a difficult scenario.”
Leading this year’s preseason TAAC favorites are third-year Ranger running back Dominik Bermejo, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored 25 TDs last year as a junior, All-TAAC first-team lineman Myles Habel, and fellow senior Dylan Napier, a linebacker who had 93 tackles in 2013.
The teams picked third through fifth are each led by proven productive senior quarterbacks.
Gibsonburg is paced by Matt Tille (1,658 passing yards, 24 TDs), Toledo Christian is led by Brett Freeman (1,167 rushing yards, 16 TDs; 994 passing yards, 8 TDs), and Edon is guided by 2013 TAAC offensive player of the year Kaden Sapp (2,758 passing yards, 37 TDs; 710 rushing yards, 13 TDs).