Coaches respond to new prep football environment

J. Patrick Eaken

        With the high school football regular-season underway, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has provided details and reminders regarding media coverage, team protocols, game management changes and the new playoff format.
       There were 709 member schools originally planning to play 11-man football in Ohio this fall, but approximately 60 schools have either paused or canceled football due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 18, Governor Mike DeWine asked the OHSAA to create participation opportunity for those schools that don’t play sports this fall, but it is unlikely that additional tournaments would be held in the spring for fall sports.
      “Our schools are so excited to get the season started and they are taking ownership of the new safety guidelines so they can have a season,” said Beau Rugg, OHSAA Senior Director of Sport Management and Officiating. “As we saw in the spring, sports can be shut down due to COVID-19 spread, so our schools, coaches and student-athletes want to do everything they can to play as many games this fall as possible. Teams must continue to follow the safety protocols that have been put in place, including wearing a facial covering, staying 6-feet apart and washing their hands.”
      At the recommendation of the Governor’s Office, the OHSAA announced on August 7 that the season would end earlier than previously scheduled and that every team could enter the playoffs, which will begin October 9-10. The Harbin computer ratings will not be used this season.
      Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford says his guys can’t wait to hit the gridiron.
        “We have four classes that complement each other really well. None of them are really big, but when we put them together they give us a lot of depth. We think that is going to be important in a year like this,” Rutherford said. “No one knows what is going to happen week to week, but our guys are looking forward to playing some games. This season is important to them, and we think it’s important for the community. We want to give them something to be excited about this fall.”
        So how do the local coaches feel about the revised schedule — so far, shortened to six games and a guaranteed playoff game? If teams are eliminated or don’t enter the playoffs, they can still play a 10-game schedule, but they were only allowed one scrimmage heading into the first game, which happens to be a league game.
        “It’s a shortened season and then the playoffs — that’s the thing. You’re going into this differently. I talk about our two young quarterbacks and we need to see how they perform. It would be nice to see, but what’s also nice is the shortened season and everybody makes the playoffs,” Genoa coach Paul Patterson said.
        “It’s almost as though, even though we’re playing league games, those first couple games are going to be probably pretty vanilla for both teams, for everybody. We’re all in the same boat. It’s an opportunity and you just have to look at things differently, and there is not that pressure now to get your computer points and get into the playoffs. There are all kinds of still-unknowns, but I like it. We’re going to adjust to it, and there’s still an opportunity to play.”
Regulations galore
        By order of the Ohio Department of Health, only 15 percent of the stadium’s permanent seating capacity may be admitted into the game. Players, coaches, officials, cheerleaders, band members, game workers and media do not count toward that 15 percent capacity. It’s going to be a strange environment for prep football, but the Toledo Sports Network is broadcasting all four Northern Buckeye Conference games live each week for those who cannot attend.
        Woodmore first-year coach Curtis Schlea added, “This is a special year in terms of all the regulations, guidelines, restrictions and uncertainty that we’ve all faced this summer. I’ve talked with several area coaches and we are all ready to go and play some games.”
        Schlea, who coached football and baseball at Woodmore in 2013 and 2014, has never been a head coach before. He did coach football and baseball at Gibsonburg from 2015-19, where he helped lead the Golden Bears to Sandusky Bay Conference River Division championship in 2018 and 2019, reaching the playoffs in 2018 and finishing 10-0 the following year.
        Schlea is a 2007 graduate of Woodmore High School and has a real drive to see the team he played for once return to winning ways.
        “As a Woodmore alumnus I am extremely excited to have this opportunity to lead the football program,”Schlea said.  “During my career, I have coached under several great high school football coaches, mostly coach Mike Lee while at Gibsonburg.  I will take many aspects of their coaching and mold it to my style and plan. My first goal is to help the young men be their best off and on the field, and give them the tools to become successful and responsible adults.”
        Schlea is one of three first-year head coaches in the Eastern Maumee Bay community. Former Sylvania Northview assistant coach Gene Rucker takes the helm at Cardinal Stritch and longtime area coach Joe Wyant takes over at Gibsonburg. Meanwhile, the area dean of coaches, Ken James, is entering his 35th year in charge of the Northwood program after getting his 200th win last year.
        The Press football preview section is included as an insert in the August 31 issue, covering the nine teams who are playing. To watch NBC games streamed live, visit This article includes press release material provided by the OHSAA.


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