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A slip to second place did not sit well with the Southview Cougars, a program perennially positioned atop the Northern Lakes League.
Napoleon's momentous victory over five-time defending champion Southview in the NLL opener last fall served as a springboard for a historic season for the Wildcats.
Napoleon went undefeated in the conference and coach Tory Strock earned the Ohio coach of the year honors in Division III.
“It is unlikely that we will sneak up on anyone,” Strock said. “Coming off of a 7-0 NLL championship, we’ll have a target on our back.”
Prior to Napoleon's leap to the top, Southview had won or shared eight of the previous nine NLL championships beginning in 2003.
READ MORE: 2013 High School Football Preview
But an injury-riddled Cougar team dropped its NLL opener 20-14 at Napoleon and also fell 23-16 on the road at Perrysburg in week six.
Southview coach Jim Mayzes, who enters his second decade at the helm, said losing the league games each by less than a touchdowns left a bitter taste.
“I think we're ticked off and motivated,” Mayzes said. “We had guys out hurt. But by the end of the year we got going. It was hard on us. If we don't get guys hurt, we have a shot.”
Southview received the preseason nod in a coaches' poll to return back to the top of the NLL.
Perrysburg, which will feature depth and speed at the skill positions, is picked to finish second.
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Despite heavy losses to graduation, Napoleon is predicted to contend again. Anthony Wayne and Maumee round out the top five in the preseason rankings.
Last season, Southview lost two of its first three games and four of its first six to start the year at 2-4. The Cougars opened with non-conference losses to St. Francis de Sales and Muskegon (Mich.).
But Southview finished the season on a four-game winning streak, outscoring Bowling Green, Anthony Wayne, Springfield, and Northview 174-21.
“We healed up from our wounds and played well down the stretch,” Mayzes said.
Southview once again should have speed to burn with several track stars on the roster. The Cougars will be led by Nate Hall, a 6-foot-3 and 205 pound wideout/safety, who has committed to Northwestern.
Mayzes also has eight players back on a veteran defense.
“I like the fact that we have some real good players. We have guys that come out of the weight room that are beasts and then we have some track stars,” Mayzes said. “Football is a mix of tempers and skill levels. The beauty of it is taking that all and putting it together.
“We have a real cohesive coaching staff.”
Perrysburg will be led by two talented running backs with differing styles, bruising Mark Delas and fleet-footed Gus Dimmerling. The Yellow Jackets earned a spot on the Division II playoffs. But they lost 28-11 to Avon in the opening round. Perrysburg has yet to win a playoff game under Matt Kregel, who enters his eight season.
A resilient Napoleon (11-1-1) team posted the most wins in school history last season. The Wildcats battled to go undefeated in the regular season and won the NLL title in just the second year competing in the league. The Wildcats went 5-5 the previous season.
Napoleon prevailed in overtime in back-to-back weeks against Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg and also edged Southview (20-14) and Maumee (14-6). The Wildcats reached the regional final before bowing out eventual state runner-up Bellevue (35-20).
Strock said the program's third season in the NLL will present many challenges and opportunities for his players.
“The quicker we mature on the offensive line, the better off we’ll be. We’ve always hung our hat on defense, and 2013 will be no different,” Strock said.
Napoleon will be led by senior linebacker/fullback Bryant Schlade, a 6-foot and 191 pounder who was selected as an All-Ohio first-team defensive lineman last season.
At Anthony Wayne longtime coach Craig Smith has experience and talent at the skill positions. Senior running back Sam Bruno ranked second in the league in scoring and finished third in rushing.
“We will be a very competitive football team again this season,” Smith said.
Former Clyde coach Marc Gibson takes over a Maumee program that lost all of its skill players to graduation. But Gibson inherits 51 players and he said the team's work ethic and its enthusiasm is encouraging. The Panthers last won an NLL championship in 2009.
Perrysburg won the league title outright in 2006. Anthony Wayne is seeking its first NLL crown since 1988. Springfield also is attempting to end a long dry spell as the Blue Devils last won in 1994.
“All of those teams [Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, and Napoleon] will be tough again,” Mayzes said. “Springfield will be much improved as well.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.