Three-peat is Edgewood High School’s football mentality this season.
The Cougars have won the last two Southwest Ohio Conference championships and are 2018 favorites as well, having finished first in the preseason SWOC coaches poll.
“It’s different than when you’re chasing. Now you’re the one being chased,” Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons said. “You can’t rest off the last two years’ teams because it’s a different year with different people. You’ve got to have the mind-set of re-gearing up. When we start playing the games, that’s when it will be decided by the young men that put in the work and the time.”
Unbeaten in conference play over the last two seasons, the Cougars received six first-place votes. Harrison got the other No. 1 vote and finished second in the poll, followed (in order) by Mount Healthy, Little Miami, Northwest, Talawanda and Ross.
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The Cougars finished 8-2 in 2017, barely missing the Division II playoffs. They return ground-chewing seniors Wade Phillips (172 carries, 1,358 yards) and Elijah Williams (141 carries, 916 yards), along with senior quarterback Corbin Craft (23-of-38, 389 yards).
“It always comes down to those guys up front,” said Clemmons, who lost three offensive linemen to graduation. “Those guys don’t get the recognition they deserve, but that’s where it all starts. It’s those six guys putting in the grunt work and coming together.”
The EHS defense was hit harder by graduation. The Cougars gave up a SWOC-best 176.3 yards per game last year.
“The boys have done all the things we’ve asked them to do in the spring and summer,” Clemmons said. “They’ve been very coachable. I think they’ve really jelled as a team.”
Butler County’s other two SWOC squads didn’t fare nearly as well in the voting, but Talawanda coach J.D. Vonderheide and Ross coach Kenyon Commins are both optimistic about their teams’ prospects.
Talawanda and Ross were both 1-9 last season. THS ended the season with a rainy 10-8 victory over the Rams.
“Until we win, I wouldn’t anticipate anything else,” Vonderheide said of Talawanda’s spot in the poll. “We like where we’re at regardless of what the public opinion is. If we stay healthy, we’re definitely going to surprise some people.”
The Braves will be a junior-dominated team after taking their lumps with a talented group of sophomores in 2017. Vonderheide has 20 juniors on his roster, and 15 started last year.
Among the top returnees are junior quarterback Adam Crank, who threw for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, and junior middle linebacker Dalton Norris.
“Last year I played all the sophomores one way trying to protect them. This year, we’re going to play our best 11, which may mean a few more kids have got to go both ways,” Vonderheide said.
“You roll the dice when you play a bunch of sophomores because you don’t want to ruin them and give them a sour taste because they’ve lost. I can honestly say that wasn’t the case. They needed to see that speed. We saw continued improvement throughout the year, and we’ve had a great offseason. They’re bigger. They’re faster. They’re stronger.”