Handicapping The Race For Mr. Football

The Ohio high school football season kicks off tonight, as does the campaign for Ohio's most prestigious individual award -- the yearly Mr. Football award, given to the state's top player. Who are the top candidates for this year's award? Among the list are several familiar names and a few early Buckeye commitments.

Welcome to opening day … er opening night!!

There will be a smattering of high school football games across the state this evening with most of the state's 700-plus football playing schools getting into action Friday and Saturday.

For the third year in a row, we will be presenting the Ohio High's Man of the Year award in football. The inaugural winner in 2003 was Cleveland Glenville's Ted Ginn Jr., now at Ohio State. The 2004 winner, Akron Hoban's Tyrell Sutton, now at Northwestern, ended his career as the leading rusher in Ohio prep history.

Who will step forward to win Ohio High's Man of the Year award as well as the Mr. Football award, presented annually by The Associated Press?

We have a worthy list of candidates to keep an eye on. Here we go:

* Chris Wells, RB, Akron Garfield – The 6-2, 225-pound Wells rushed for 1,939 yards and scored 20 TDs as a junior. He is rated as Ohio High's top prospect in the state and is considered one of the nation's top five prospects overall by Scout.com. This Ohio State verbal says his goal is 3,000 yards. If he gets there, Garfield would be a certain playoff contender and Wells would likely have made his case.

* Rudy Kirbus, QB, Cleveland St. Ignatius – The 6-4, 200-pound Kirbus will have every opportunity to shine, piloting what could end up being the state's best Division I team. He threw for 1,437 yards and 18 TDs last year. And he'll be throwing to Notre Dame verbal (and longtime target) Robby Parris.

* Mike McGee, QB, Columbus Brookhaven – The 6-1, 190-pound McGee was the driving force behind Brookhaven's Division II state championship team with 1,902 yards passing and 22 TDs. If Brookhaven succeeds in jump up to Division I, McGee could get a serious look.

* Miles Schlichter, QB, Washington C.H. Miami Trace – The 6-1, 210-pound Schlichter led Trace to a 10-0 regular season in 2004. He threw for 1,790 yards and 19 TDs and also rushed for 620 yards and four scores a year ago.

* Nate Davis, QB, Bellaire – The 6-3, 220-pound Davis threw for over 2,000 yards and 26 TDs in 2004. If Bellaire can again advance to the playoffs, Davis may be a name to keep in mind for postseason honors.

* Mike Hartline, QB, Canton GlenOak – The 6-5, 190-pound Hartline threw for 2,400 yards and 16 TDs in 2004. If he can cut down on 18 interceptions and if GlenOak can solve crosstown rival Canton McKinley and go deep in the playoffs, Hartline might be a strong awards candidate.

* Connor Smith, OL, Cincinnati Colerain – Awards like this rarely go to linemen. They just don't have those appealing stats. But the 6-5, 295-pound Smith is considered one of the nation's top 25 college prospects. He has already verbaled to Ohio State.

* Kurt Coleman, CB, Clayton Northmont – The 5-11, 190-pound Coleman came up big for Northmont last year with 91 tackles and 10 interceptions. If he can lead Northmont to the playoffs, Coleman would have to be an awards candidate. He has already verbaled to Ohio State.

* Ross Homan, RB-LB, Coldwater – Homan had over 140 tackles for Coldwater's No. 1-ranked Division IV team. He also is a standout in the backfield. He has already verbaled to Ohio State.

* Anthony Elzy, RB, Warren JFK – Elzy rushed for over 2,500 yards a year ago at JFK.

* Delone Carter, RB, Copley – Carter was in the 2,000-yard range last year for Copley.

* Jahmal Brown, RB, Cleveland Benedictine – The 5-10, 190-pound Brown rushed for 1,894 yards and scored 21 TDs in helping lead Benedictine to the Division III state title.

* Devon Torrence, junior, RB-DB, Canton South – The 6-1, 180-pound Torrence is the state's top-rated junior and may be that class' best chance to steal the award away from the seniors. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last year as a sophomore.

Preseason Predictions

OK, with the games starting tonight, I will share my state championship picks and a dark horse in each division. Here goes:

Division I – Cleveland St. Ignatius gets a record 10th title, defeating Columbus Brookhaven in the title game. Cincinnati Moeller, which hasn't been to the state final four since 1997, is my dark horse.

Division II – Dublin Scioto drops down from D-I. I like Scioto to down Avon Lake in the title game. My dark horse is Springboro with a ton of seniors.

Division III – Until somebody beats Cleveland Benedictine, this is their division. They go for three in a row and I think they beat Columbus DeSales to get it. My others to watch would be a toss-up between Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit and Mentor Lake Catholic.

Division IV – I like Coldwater to finally break through and win the state title, beating Youngstown Ursuline in the title game. My dark horse would be Bellaire – provided it can get past nearby Martins Ferry (finally).

Division V – It would be foolish to bet against St. Henry and Versailles, right? St. Henry hosts Versailles in the game of the year in this division on Oct. 21. St. Henry is the defending champ, but Versailles drops down from D-IV where it was the runner-up last year. I'll take Versailles for the title. Hamler Patrick Henry is another one to watch.

Division VI – Defending champ Dola Hardin Northern is again the pick, but look out for D-V dropouts Delphos St. John's and Liberty Center.

Good luck to your team in 2005 and he's hoping they go all the way!

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