by Jeremy Benson, GrandRiverConference.com
Coaches' Pre-Season Poll
Defending GRC 11-Man Champion Gallatin Bulldogs look to repeat as champions this year. According to the coaches, they are the favorites to become the first GRC football team to capture back-to-back outright titles since South Harrison in 2012 and 2013.
Here are the coaches' picks for the 2022 season for GRC 11-Man:
Gallatin finished 9-3 in 2021 including 6-1 in the GRC. They finished a game in front of South Harrison and Milan to win their 12th conference championship. They advanced to the District Championship game before falling to Hamilton. Of their 3 losses in 2022, Hamilton was the opponent in 2 of them.
The core of the Bulldogs team is returning including Junior Quarterback Peyton Baker. Baker threw for over 2000 yards and rushed for over 500 yards during his sophomore campaign. This dual-threat quarterback will be tough for opponents to defend this year. Senior Daven Wright will be starting at running back this season. He averaged just under 5 yards a carry last season, but will be expected to take on a bigger role in the back field this season with the graduation of Jaggar Gray.
Senior Wide Receiver Isaac Bird and Senior Tight End Payton Fieden are expected to be the top targets for Baker this year, but also expect Wright to catch some passes out of the back field. The Bulldogs will be protected by an experienced line which includes four senior lineman (Gabe Parker, Colt Baker, Brett Hemry, Ethan Adkinson) and Senior Fullback Logan Botcher along with newcomer Junior lineman Keegan McBroom.
Although Gallatin lost a couple of key contributors on the defense in Jaggar Gray, Carson Lang and Draygan Schweizer, most of the defense returns this year for a team that led the GRC in allowing only 15 points per game (including 11 ppg in conference). Many of the same players mentioned above on offense are expected to play a big roll on defense as well. In addition, Juniors Boston Bell and Owen Waterbury are expected to step in to continue the Bulldogs stinginess on defense.
Many of Gallatin's returning players earned all-conference honors last season: Peyton Baker (1st-team QB), Isaac Bird (1st-team WR/DB), Payton Fieden (1st-team TE/LB), Gabe Parker (1st-team OL/DL), Draven Wright (1st-team Athlete/DB/Returner, Hon Men K), Brett Hemry (2nd-team OL, Hon Men LB)
First-year head coach Chris Holt said that "We will be more physical in nature. We want to compete for a chance to win a conference and district title."
Trenton finished the 2021 season 5-6 including 4-3 in the GRC. It was a much improved campaign, in which they were right in the thick of the conference race until the final two weeks.
Trenton is losing All-Conference and All-District Caleb Johnson, who was a key player on defense. In addition, they will have to replace over half of the offensive line with 3 seniors graduating. Returning for the Bulldogs are All-Conference FB/LB Sam Gibson, QB Colman Griffin (who was All-Conference at punter) and All-Conference WR/DB Tucker Otto.
Coach Kevin Hixon said, "We have some good young lineman returning. Our expectations for the season is to go out and play harder and be more competitive."
Milan was in the thick of the conference race last season. Mid-season losses to Gallatin and Trenton left them a game out of the conference lead. They finished 2021 6-5 including 5-2 in the GRC. The biggest hole that the Wildcats will have to replace this season is All-State Running Back Deric Deporto. Wildcats will also have to replace the following all-conference athletes: Blake Eitel (1st-team OL), John Ray De LaCruz (2nd-team DB), and David Eddy (Hon Men. DB).
Milan has plenty of talented players returning this season. They have another Deporto in the back field in Darren Deporto who was 2nd-team all-conference at running back and defensive end. Deporto will switch to nose guard on defense this season. Other all-conference players returning are Christian Chaparro (1st-team Kicker), Ahmet Niasse (2nd-team LB), Chase Jacobs (Hon. Men. OL), Carlos Cotto (Hon. Men. RB). Garret Mosely also returns to join Jacobs on the line.
Jeremy Bennett missed all of last season due to injury, but will be returning for his senior season. He was 1st-team all-conference wide receiver and honorable mention defensive back as a sophomore. Top newcomers include Jose Garcia and Jared Gonzalez.
Mark Cole is taking over the head coach duties for John Dabney who retired. Coach Cole said, "With the skill players returning and a large number of starters from our defense, we have high hopes to fit into the top half of the conference and be a tough out by season's end."
Polo finished the 2021 season with a 6-4 record including 4-3 in the GRC. Other than their game against Princeton, every game was decided by 12 or fewer points. Their biggest win came against GRC Champion Gallatin 13-12. Coach Kyle Ross will have to replace seven key players that made at least one postseason team last season (Andrew Stone, Mason Chapman, Caleb Thompson, Braxton Mellon, Damion Tice, Jace Bolling)
Despite the loss of talent, Polo's most experience unit this season will be it's offensive line, which returns four starters (Aden Segal, Hunter Harris, Tyler Covey, Wyatt Kelly) and Senior Ty Claypool who is moving to the guard position after a great offseason in the weight room. Sophomore Maverick Gentry will line up behind the line as quarterback and Junior Ayden Baker brings experience at the wing position. Gentry was also a 3rd-team all-state punter last season. Senior Zadin Owens and Sophomore Gage Gilbert will be targets for Gentry as receivers this year. They are both big targets with good hands that also block well. Rounding out the backfield will be Senior Luke Curp at running back and Levi Bolling at fullback.
Polo's defense was one of their strengths last year. They held all but one opponent to 20 or fewer points last season. Many of the offensive players will also find playing time on defense this year, including All-Conference returnees Claypool (2nd-team DB), Baker (2nd-team DB, Hon Men WR/Returner) and Gentry (Hon Men DB/P). Other players on the defensive end include Owens, Bolling, Gilbert, Harris, Kelley, and Covey. Freshman Tommy Ross and Seniors Zander Preacher and Landon Norton are expected to give the Panthers depth on defense.
Coach Ross said, "We will be pretty young again, as we will only have a handful of Seniors this year. We did gain a lot of experience with our young kids last year in some very tight ball games. Our Freshman class has a lot of boys out and they are going to help us in the future. Freshman Owen Horner, Dalton Gatrel, and Cody Ziegler will play some special teams and rotational time immediately. I think we will continue to be a competitive team on the rise, as long as we can stay away from the injury bug, etc."
South Harrison finished 2021 with a 6-5 record including 5-2 in the GRC. A 2-point loss to Gallatin in their opening conference game was the only thing between them and a conference title. If they are going to challenge for a conference title this year, they will have to replace several key players who graduated. Braydon Spurling was a very good football player and great leader. He played mike linebacker all 4 years and was all-state his junior and senior year. He also played offensive line and tight end. Parker Chamberlin earned 1st-team all-conference honors at running back last season and was also the team's punter, for which he got honorable mention all-conference. Chance Corbett was 1st-team all-conference at wide receiver. His quickness allowed him to make some big plays on the outside.
Jad Cornett will return for the Bulldogs at quarterback where he earned 2nd-team all-conference. He is expected to be a bigger part of the offense this season. Grant Williams was 2nd-team all-conference at running back. Grant will also play linebacker, and by the end of the season he was a great defender. Beau Rainey played on both sides of the line last season earnings 1st-team all-conference on offense and 2nd-team on defense. He is very physical and will be expected to be the leader of the line on both sides.
Top newcomers that are expected to get significant playing time are Cooper Johnson, Briar Hudlemeyer, Rugar Johnson and Crae Johnson.
Head Coach Chris Schoning thinks that his "team has the potential to play very good football. We are going to have a big mixture of Seniors through Freshmen, so that will be different for some of these guys. But I think if they can trust each other and depend on one another we will have a good season."
Maysville finished 2021 with a 3-7 record including 2-5 in the GRC. However, the record is not indicative of how well they competed last season. Their opponents only outscored them by 18 total points the entire season. They had 2 losses by one score and 3 others by two scores. They were in most games in the 4th quarter.
For Maysville to compete again this year (and hopefully turn those into wins), they will have to replace some key players. Departing players who were all-conference last year include: Jacob Uthe (1st-team WR) and Logan Kimbrell (1st-team DB; Hon. Men. WR). The Wolverines will also miss Caden Israel, Zach Heintz, and Adam Owens.
Returning for the Wolverines will be Konnor Watkins (2nd-team OL/DL), Coy Sobotka (2nd-team LB), Spencer Pliley (Hon. Men. RB), Kaleb Jestes (Hon. Men. LB), Dillon Willis, Emmett Wade, Canon Scoles, Max Heintz, Kendrick Gabbard, Kobyn Metzger, and Trey Hall.
Newcomers expected to contribute will be Kris Gabbard, Tanner Evans, Gavin Kennedy, Dillon Clark, Braden Watkins, and Carson Bray.
Coach Chris McMillen said, "Although our win total from last was not where we wanted it to be, we were very competitive in all the contests. This year we are experiencing a boost in numbers which is always a good thing. With good numbers and returning a ton of experienced players our expectations are high. The guys have worked hard this summer in the weight room and in practices so far. They are hungry to prove themselves this season."
Putnam County finished the 2021 campaign with a 3-7 record including 2-5 in the GRC. While they welcome Adam Huse as the new coach from Marshall, most of the Midget team will be returning. Their only senior departing from last year's team was Elijah Jones who started on both the offensive and defensive lines.
The top returning players this year will be RB/LB Blaine Perkins (1st-team all-conference Athlete), WR/DB Jake Rouse (2nd-team all-conference DB), RB/DB Nico Lopez (2nd-team all-conference Returner), TE/LB Chase Simmons (2nd-team all-conference LB) and OL/DL Brayden Walter. In addition, Chase Tomlin will be returning after missing all last year with an injury. Joining the team this year will be TE/LB Kollin Huse, who moved with his dad from Marshall, and OL/DL Mason Robinson, who transferred from Princeton.
Coach Huse said that he is "very excited about our group of kids. They work extremely hard. Seventeen had perfect attendance this summer, and another 8 had 94% or higher attendance. We return a lot of players with experience. Many of our seniors have been starting since they were sophomores, and some even as freshman. They have bought into our new systems and my coaching, and I feel we are looking towards a great year."
Coach Huse added that with being in a new conference, he is looking forward to seeing all of the schools in the conference and the area, and can't wait to get started.
Coming into last season, Princeton had won (at least a share of) back-to-back GRC 11-man championships. With their title in 2017, the 2020 graduating class won 3 championships in their 4 seasons. That class had 10 all-conference players.
Last year, the Tigers found it difficult to replace that much talent graduating. They finished the season 0-10 including 0-7 in conference. The Tigers only had 2 players graduate from last year's team (Logan Smith and Luke Kelly), but they also lose Mason Robinson, who move to Putnam County, and Gavin Power, who chose not to play.
The Tigers are still young and return a lot of players who saw significant playing time last year. All-Conference returnees Talen Holt (2nd-team WR/Punter) and Andrew Rhoades (1st-team Returner) are joined by Tyler Brown, Evan Houck, Kelby Thomas, Tyler Coffman, Nicolas Rubio, Dylan Girdner, Gabe Zeider, Hunter Foster, Ethan Rhoades, and Cooper Boxley.
Princeton doesn’t have any Mercer players this year, but added Newtown-Harris to the co-op. Johannes Oaks will join them from Newtown-Harris. In addition, three freshman, Kole Lewis, Chanse Glenn, and Lance Montgomery, are expected to get playing time due to a small roster.
Coach Nathan Powell commented that, "We had a humbling season last year after coming off back to back conference championships and a district runner-up in 2020. Our inexperience and bad coaching on my part added up on us. The kids that hung in there and took lumps last season gained a lot of valuable experience and have come back eager to redeem themselves. We don't have a deep bench to pull subs from this season, so for us to be successful, we are going to have to control the tempo of the game when we have the ball and be very patient with our play calls. Defensively we are changing things up from what we have built on the past 3 seasons. We have a lot of athleticism and we're going to try and use that to be more multiple and more aggressive with our calls."
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