Looking Back At "Best Of Ohio"

With the OHSAA football playoffs starting tonight, BuckeyeSports.com looks back on the "Best of Ohio" series that ran over the course of the season. All seven teams featured will begin the road to Ohio Stadium this weekend.

Over the course of this football season, BuckeyeSports.com has been chronicling some of the most notable programs in Ohio. Logistics made it tough to get to every deserving school, but all seven schools included in the series ended up making the postseason -- where they will fight to play a state title game in Ohio State's Ohio Stadium.

There have been a few requests to put all the stories in one place, and with the OHSAA football playoffs starting tonight, now seems like as good a time as any to get that done. The following stories are ordered by the date they were published and include a link and an excerpt from the story.

Legacy Of Faust Lives On At Moeller (Aug. 27)

“The first thing that makes Moeller unique is what Gerry Faust did for the school,” Crusaders head coach John Rodenberg told BSB. “He came in here and he established a precedent that was just far beyond what other high schools were doing. We’ve fed off that tradition. There are a lot of kids who come to this school who don’t know who Gerry Faust is, but they still know what Moeller is because of him.”

Those involved with the football program are certainly aware of Faust, though. From the weight room to the artificial turf practice field, the story of the most decorated coach in school history is pretty hard to escape.

“Gerry Faust has a statue out on our practice field, so he’s pretty well-respected around here,” said junior tight end Jake Hausmann, whom Scout lists as the No. 1 tight end and No. 23 overall prospect for the 2016 class. “He helped build this program and brought it up to what it is now.”

Hard Work Trumps All At St. Edward (Sept. 3)

The football team won a state title under head coach Rick Finotti in 2010, narrowly defeating a Huber Heights Wayne team that was led by a quarterback named Braxton Miller. A painting of the victory hangs in Finotti’s office, and there’s a trophy at the school. However, the coach would prefer that the accomplishments and the character of his program show up in the players themselves instead of in a trophy case.

“To have tradition and have pride, it’s got to be interactive,” he said. “You can’t just talk about it and put it on a wall and say, ‘That’s our tradition.’ You have to feel it. I really look at the chemistry of the group, like how well they get along. Some years you get guys that don’t get along that great, and other years you get guys who are really tight.

“The thing that I look for and that has to be the same is that feeling of respect. You have to respect your teammates, and you have to respect the team aspect of football. No individual ever won a state championship in football. The best teams win championships.”

Massillon History, Support Unmatched (Sept. 10)

Perhaps all you need to know about the Massillon (Ohio) Washington football team is that it has a live tiger on the sidelines of every home game. Given that this is arguably the most famous high school football program in the country, though, there is plenty more to say about a place that looks straight out of a movie.

The town’s lampposts are decorated with banners dedicated to the football team, and the school has an indoor practice facility that rivals those of the state’s two professional football teams. The actual stadium, Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, swells with crowds of more than 20,000 fans when the Tigers play at home.

What truly sets Massillon apart, though, is the people – players and fans, past and present. No high school in Ohio can match the lineage of coaches such as Paul Brown and Earle Bruce (both of whom went on to coach at Ohio State), and few if any towns can match the sheer volume of devotion that Massillon fans heap on their players.

Every Role Counts At St. Xavier (Sept. 17)

With a 129-player varsity roster that includes just four sophomores, a lack of playing time is widespread given the sheer volume of players compared to spots. The worst thing a player can do at St. Xavier, though, is step outside what is expected of them.

“You’re talking about 125 juniors and seniors that buy in,” head coach Steve Specht said. “Not all of them are going to play. But they buy in, and they believe in a bigger purpose and believe in a bigger cause and want to be a part of it. I think when you have that many kids sacrificing for one another, you can have good things. We have kids that play, and we have a lot of kids that will never play. But it takes every single one to play a role for this team to be successful.

“I think they understand. I always tell them that everyone is going to have a role, and it’s going to be an important role. You’re going to have a seat on the bus, but don’t ever try to get into someone else’s seat. That’s the big thing. We’re very clear with them. Our guys get it, and they like to compete.”

System Wins Out At Hilliard Davidson (Oct. 1)

In 2013, eventual state champion Cincinnati Moeller beat the Wildcats by a 13-11 score in the state semifinals. One week later, Moeller won its second consecutive state title by downing Mentor in a 55-52 shootout. It was the highest-scoring state championship game in Division I history, and the teams broke 16 offensive or scoring-based records.

“We play teams that like to spread it out and make it look pretty,” said senior linebacker Markus Bailey, who is verbally committed to Purdue. “Our coaches always say, ‘Make it look ugly.’ We like to play hard-nosed football. Everybody knows what we’re going to do, but our demeanor is, ‘Stop us.’

“A lot of coaches say when they prepared for us on film they thought it would be a lot easier to go against our offense. They don’t know how to go against our pad level and our consistency.”

The reason for that ugliness is not something that White attempts to hide. Unlike many other elite Division I programs, Hilliard Davidson isn’t overloaded with top college prospects. It has sent just one player to Ohio State since 1988 – quarterback Steve Baird, whose career ended prematurely because of injury – and Bailey is the only current Wildcat who has issued a verbal commitment to play Division I football.

Life Lessons Abound At Glenville (Oct. 8)

That success is embraced and celebrated, but it’s not how those affiliated with the program measure success. Just ask Ted Ginn Sr., the Tarblooders’ coach since 1997 who in 2007 founded the Ginn Academy, a place designed to integrate his leadership techniques and provide a safe haven for the players who suit up for him.

From Ginn’s perspective, football is just a means to a better life for Glenville men, many of whom come from unenviable circumstances.

“I’ve got love, passion and understanding for kids,” he said. “The football is just a vehicle that I use to attract the kids. That’s not really what I do. If I was just a football coach, I wouldn’t do it. This gives me an opportunity to teach them and educate them on how the world works. Football is just a piece of it. School gives you a chance to dominate the mind.”

The message starts from the outset and continues throughout players’ time with Ginn. Because he’s often dealing with at-risk kids, many of whom haven’t had steady role models in their lives, Ginn begins chipping away at kids the second they arrive. Sometimes it takes years before the message begins to resonate.

Mentor Instills Toughness Others Lack (Oct. 22)

The old-school head coach of the Cardinals isn’t content to accept what he views as diminished standards for success compared to those of years past.

“That’s America today,” he said. “Everything’s soft, everything’s easy and everything’s OK. This is hard. We have to do the job we need to do to toughen them up. They have to learn to battle every day. You can’t make it easy on them. They have to learn to toughen up because everything else we do isn’t tough. We’ve got to toughen them up, and we try to get them to compete every day. That shows in the games.”

At Mentor, pitting the starters against each other is one of the preferred methods of discovering who has the competitive fire the coaches want to see out of their players.

“We go best on best and twos against twos,” Trivisonno said. “We go back and forth every day, and there’s a lot of competition. That’s what we need to get out of it, and that’s the only way to get better. If our starters go against our twos and threes, they’re going to dominate and we’re not going to get good enough. We have to get a half hour a day of going best on best.”

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