Bryan’s Lucas Nye, left, and Derek Knisely take down Kenton’s Luke Jackson in a playoff game. The Golden Bears have won two straight NWOAL championships. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Play in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League the past two seasons concluded with Bryan coming out on top as league champions.
The Golden Bears ruled the NWOAL.
Are they capable of making it three years in a row as league winners?
The answer, simply: Yes.
Coaches in the NWOAL picked the Golden Bears to win the league for a third straight season.
Delta, which received three first-place votes like Bryan, was picked to finish second even with a coaching change taking place.
Wauseon was picked to finish third, followed by Archbold, Patrick Henry, Liberty Center, Swanton, Montpelier, and Evergreen, respectively.
“I don’t know why we’d be the favorites this year because we’ve lost so much from last year,” Bryan coach Kevin Kline said. “But our kids have worked hard and are doing the things that we’ve asked them to do.
“Hopefully we can challenge for something high in the league. We’ll have to see how it works out.”
What will make it tough on Bryan is not having dual-threat quarterback Austin Schimmoeller to manage the Golden Bears’ high-octane offense. His graduation leaves a huge question mark on offense.
Yet there’s enough talent back for the Golden Bears to have a chance to compete for a third consecutive league title.
Wauseon coach Travis Cooper made it clear who he considers the teams to beat in order to have a shot at winning the league championship.
“Bryan is the favorite,” Cooper said. “After that, Delta is the most talented coming back.”
Delta’s recognition as a contender comes from the fact that plenty of key individuals return for new Panthers coach Jim Kubuske.
Quarterback Noah Parsons and running back Bailey Storeholder may be the league’s top returning quarterback-running back tandem in the league. Storeholder has the potential to become a 1,000-yard rusher after gaining more than 700 yards last fall. Parsons passed for more than 700 yards last season.
Bryan’s experience on the roster starts with seniors Derek Knisely, Brandon Dean, and Zach Dean.
Wauseon tight end Noah Castle and wideout Zac Robinson enter their senior seasons as two of the top returning offensive threats in the NWOAL. They were all-league performers last season and lead an Indians team that returns nearly two dozen letter-winners.
Delta is picked as a preseason favorite despite being one of three schools in the league entering the season under new leadership. Jim Kubuske replaced Mike Vicars as the Panthers’ coach after Vicars moved to Swanton. Patrick Henry is also looking to find success under a new coach as Joe Kirkendall replaces the retired Bill Inselmann.
Of the three, Kubuske may face more pressure to win based upon the kind of talent and experience returning to the Panthers’ roster.
It’s a position he fully accepts with his new post.
“Although they are learning their third offense in three years, the enthusiasm is there, and the confidence is there,” Kubuske said. “So it’s easy to kind of aim them in the right direction and just let them go.”
Kirkendall, who is a former Patriots assistant and a 1995 PH graduate, is looking forward to the opportunity to be in charge of the Patriots’ program.
“You’re coming home and it has its own challenges,” Kirkendall said. “You’re replacing coach Inselmann, which has even more greater challenges.
“It’s a young team with a lot of first-year varsity guys, so I can really put my stamp on things because these kids are ready to do this.”
There is a feeling that no one would be surprised if a team other than Bryan or Delta ended up coming out on top in the NWOAL.
“It’s going to be the program [that] has the guys to step up, and who [has] the guys who want to take the reins and become the guys who want to be the face of our league,” Cooper said regarding the teams most likely to finish on top.
Montpelier coach Steven Brancheau thinks every team in the league has potential to contend.
“There is going to be a lot of parity,” Brancheau said. “I think a lot of talented players left the league for graduation. I think there will be parity throughout the season.”