GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Gallia Academy suffered some key losses to graduation, but returns enough key players to be considered by many the favorite to win a second consecutive Ohio Valley Conference championship.
Sophomore running back/wide receiver James Armstrong (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), a speedster who runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, returns. He caught 21 passes for 372 yards last season to help the Blue Devils go 9-2 and reach the playoffs.
Quarterback Justin McClelland must be replaced, but Noah Vanco is considered a standout in the making. Isaac Clary is one of the OVC's better two-way linemen. Briar Williams is a sophomore wide receiver/defensive back with speed to stretch defenses.
Gallia Academy features a fast and physical defense, but has some younger players at linebacker.
FRANKLIN FURNACE, Ohio - The Bobcats appear in a strong position to win the Southern Ohio Conference Division I title and return to the Division VII playoffs.
A nearly intact offensive line and talented backfield returns from last season's 8-3 team that rushed for more than 3,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2018. Alec Smith, who ran for 1,024 yards and Lonnie Smith, who gained 801, are back, as is senior quarterback Trevor Darnell, who ran for 275 yards and passed for 480.
On defense, linebacker Lonnie Smith made 81 tackles - 18 for losses, including 10 sacks.
Cincinnati Dohn, Cincinnati College Prep, Fairview and Federal Hocking make up a non-conference schedule set up for success.
PORTSMOUTH, Ohio - The Trojans feature senior Talyn Parker, one of the premier running backs in Ohio.
Last season, Parker ran for 2,530 yards and 29 touchdowns and is about 750 yards away from the school's all-time rushing record. Parker owns several major college scholarship offers, but will need help for Portsmouth to better last year's 7-4 mark, which included a playoff berth.
Tyler McCoy provides Parker a reliable blocker at fullback and is a solid middle linebacker. The Trojans must rebuild their offensive line, however, and shore up a defense that allowed 24 points per game in 2018.
BIDWELL, Ohio - Senior running back/linebacker Cole Young brings a package of speed and strength that makes him one of the better players in the Tri-State.
Young runs 40 yards in 4.7 seconds and is known as one of the region's stronger players pound for pound in the weight room. The Raiders will need more than Young, however, coming off a 1-9 season which ended with an 8-0 victory over South Gallia. River Valley was shut out four times and lost by fewer than 21 points only once. Expect production from skill veteran players Jordan Burns, Colton Gilmore and Jared Reese as coach Jason Peck expects to diversify the offense.
On defense, Young is joined by vets Will Hash, Jacob McGhee, Darian Peck and Cole Thaxton.
The Raiders feature a large and talented freshman class that likely will need time to acclimate to the varsity level, especially against a strong schedule that includes non-conference foes Coal Grove, Gallia Academy and Portsmouth.
MERCERVILLE, Ohio - The Rebels went 3-7 last season, but were within 12 points of going 6-4, giving hope that another year of experience to the roster could result in a winning season.
New coach Vance Fellure, 29, is assisted by veteran Jack James. Both are optimistic that the team's six seniors can lead South Gallia to success, despite a rugged schedule that includes games at state runner-up Trimble, Watorford, Belpre and River Valley, which is two divisions larger.
Senior all-Tri-Valley Conference running back Kyle Northup teams with senior running back Justin Butler and sophomore quarterback Christian Tabor in a potent backfield. Fellure, a former River Valley assistant, said the Rebels will run and throw out of the spread offense. Northup ran for 1,146 yards and caught 347 yards worth of passes last season in earning all-league honors for the second consecutive year.
"Our seniors have worked very hard," Fellure said. "We have some really good kids who can compete in a lot of games this season."
Butler was an all-TVC linebacker.
WHEELERSBURG, Ohio - The Pirates suffered heavy graduation losses from last year's 12-2 team, but talent abounds on the 110-player roster.
Wide receiver/running back Makya Matthews is a NCAA Division I prospect. Evan Horsley looks to move from running back to quarterback. Both are among the better players in southern Ohio.
The Pirates, 52-4 the last four seasons, are the favorite in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II. Their non-conference schedule, though, is challenging, with Ironton, Columbus Hartley, Ashland, Greenup County and Jackson on the slate.