Ohio Dominican has a wealth of players who can run, catch and kick the ball and block and tackle, but the burning question is which player will be the quarterback in the team’s attempt to win a second straight Great Midwest championship.
Two players are competing to take the place of Grant Russell, but none has his track record. Russell threw for 3,182 yards and 30 touchdowns last season in helping lead the Panthers to a 7-3 record.
It’s important that Charleston Southern transfer Shane Bucenell or redshirt freshman Evan Ernst step forward with the first games coming against California University, Ashland, Hillsdale and Findlay. Bucenell threw for 21 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards in two seasons at the FCS school.
“The reality is we’ll be inexperienced and young at that spot,” coach Kelly Cummings said. “Shane and Evan did get quality reps in the spring, and it has gone back and forth. The great part is that every receiver is back. They are throwing to talented people.”
The offensive line, led by left tackle Bob Vargo, should move people. Running back E.J. Colson (844 yards, nine touchdowns) and receiver Cory Contini (72 catches, 1,186 yards, 14 touchdowns) are back. Most of the front seven is back on defense, including linemen Tristan Kehres and Brian Hunter.
“We stay healthy and we have an opportunity to do some good things,” Cummings said. “My phrase is that I am cautiously optimistic.”
Otterbein, which was 6-4 in 2017, has 20 starters back but must replace quarterback Logan Stepp. He became the first Ohio Athletic Conference player to pass for more than 2,000 yards and run for more than 1,000.
Steve Irwin, a senior, gets the first shot at the job.
“We do have some firepower, no doubt,” seventh-year coach Tim Doup said. “We lost Logan, and Irwin has waited his turn and we’ll give him the ball first. I think he fits right into the offense as a runner and passer. We’ll say, ‘Take the ball and lead us.’ ”
The Cardinals have no one on the roster to replace Julian Lowe of Gahanna, who scored 30 career touchdowns as a receiver. The offensive line is experienced but doesn’t have one senior.
Capital, in the third season under coach Chad Rogosheske, returns 13 starters. Quarterback Thomas Wibbeler, a senior from Zanesville, threw for 2,813 yards and 29 touchdowns last season.
The biggest concern is an offensive line with zero experience, and that includes 12 freshmen.
“We don’t have the luxury of experience on the line, but we do have a good amount of skill players,” Rogosheske said. “We do have experience on the defensive line, and that’s a good start. But our lack of experience at linebacker is the same as the offensive line.”