On the football field, the rivalry between Kent Roosevelt and Ravenna has always been strong.
Things have heated up in the scope of the Portage Trail Conference, though, as the Rough Riders have edged out the Ravens for the league championship the past two seasons, with Ravenna taking it the two seasons before that.
The two programs have seemingly separated themselves from the rest of the pack as the teams to beat, but other schools like Field, Norton and Coventry could be in the mix for the league title with the rivals at the end of the season.
The Rough Riders come off a 9-1, 7-0 season, going into the second round of the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Led by all-state inside linebacker and Kent State recruit Matt Sommers, the Rough Riders are poised to make another run this season.
“Our expectation is to win the conference every year,” Roosevelt coach John Nemec said. “That is the goal we set, that’s what we strive for and that’s the most important thing we do around here: try to win the league championship.”
The Rough Riders return five starters on offense and nine starters on defense, with a strong senior class of 27.
The defense should remain solid for the Rough Riders, but some inexperienced starters on offense could keep them from coming strong out of the gate.
Starting quarterback Dustin Monaco is a senior, but he will be playing in his first varsity game in Roosevelt’s season opener against Archbishop Hoban. He has been operating in the scheme for three years on the junior varsity and as a backup quarterback, though, so Nemec is not worried about his inexperience.
Meanwhile, Ravenna is coming off back-to-back seasons with playoff victories, the first and second in the school’s history, however their five regular-season losses were the most the school has endured since 2004.
The Ravens return seven starters on offense and six on defense, led by the senior wide receiver tandem of Shane Perry and Christian Berry along with senior running back Demetrius Fear and junior quarterback Warren Bradley.
The Ravens also return four of their five starting offensive linemen, so the offense should not be a cause for concern. Depth might be an issue for the Ravens, but as long as they avoid injuries, they should be competing with Roosevelt for another league championship.
After the big rivalry game between the two schools ended in thrilling fashion the past two seasons, with Roosevelt winning in double overtime last year and on an interception return for a touchdown the year before, the game will be played in week five this year, after traditionally being the last game of the season.
Neither coach expects that will bring down the intensity of the highly anticipated battle.
“It’s always very big and important to these kids, it’s the longest running rivalry that I know of,” Ravenna coach Jim Lunardi said. “But when that game comes, you can’t make it more important than the other ones or we won’t be playing for the league championship, which is what we really want.”
At Norton, John Tanksley did his best in turning around a program that was 1-9 before he took over as head coach.
The Panthers went 5-5 in their first year under Tanksley last season, and hope to get over the .500 hump and compete for a league title, led by senior quarterback Brandon Cuda and senior tailback Jake Fling.
Field dropped to 4-6 last season after Matt Furino’s return to the program, but his familiarity with the school should have the Falcons on the upswing in his second stint with the program.
A new regime begins in Coventry as Ed Egan takes over as coach after serving as the Comets’ defensive coordinator from 2000-2009.
“The last couple years we’ve been stuck in that .500 range,” Egan said. “We’ve just got to move up the ladder. Our goal is turn the program around by competing with winners.”
After senior quarterback Devin Elekes made an offseason switch to wide receiver, the Comets will have a competition at quarterback between junior Trevor Burkhart and sophomore Jaret Skaggs.
“We’re just looking for a leader,” Egan said, “someone who can control 10 other guys on offense, control the huddle, sideline and make things happen. Whoever does that will come out as our quarterback.”
Wildcats seek excellence
In the County Division, Mogadore looks to continue it’s reign following a perfect 10-0, 6-0 regular season that ended with a loss in the Division VI state semifinals.
Returning are both offensive and defensive captains, senior quarterback Anthony Ricci and senior linebacker Bryce Huth, but the Wildcats are in a rebuilding year, returning only four starters on offense and six on defense.
“We’re going to have to find our way offensively early on, figuring out who we are,” Wildcats coach Matt Adorni said. “These groups have been successful all the way up and have had a tradition of winning throughout the ranks. Now it’s time to put it together at the varsity level.”
With Streetsboro moving back to the County Division, Adorni cites them as a threat to unseat the Wildcats as league champions, as well as Southeast, which finished 8-2 last year.
Coming off a third-place 7-3, 5-2 season under ninth-year coach Eric Ervin, Woodridge looks to stay afloat in a rebuilding year after losing all of its skill players and its entire secondary.
“It starts in the offseason,” Ervin said. “We knew what we had coming back. Our guys put a lot of effort in and have been very successful on JV. That doesn’t always equal varsity success, but that’s how you develop and these guys are putting a lot of effort in.”
Making the task tougher could be playing what Ervin described as maybe the hardest schedule Woodridge has ever faced, with a matchup against defending state champion St. Vincent-St. Mary as well as Mogadore, Southeast and PTC-County newcomer Streetsboro.