There isn’t expected to be much of a Firelands Conference championship race in the upcoming 2014 football season.
Among 15 voters from more than 10 media outlets Tuesday night in Willard, St. Paul took home every first place vote in the preseason FC media poll, good for 120 points.
Western Reserve was second with 92 points, closely followed by Plymouth (87) in third and Mapleton (70) in fourth. Rounding out the poll was New London (63), Crestview (56), Monroeville (34) and South Central (18).
A year ago, the Flyers ripped through seven FC opponents by a combined score of 348-79, good for an average score of 50-11. With 17 of 22 players back on both sides of the ball who started at least six games or more returning, that isn’t expected to change this season.
St. Paul finished 11-2 last season, falling to Berlin Center Western Reserve in the Division VII Region 23 championship game. St. Paul will get tested early, however, hosting Tiffin Calvert in Week 2 and Huron in Week 3. Calvert advanced to the second round last season, while Huron also played for a regional championship.
Entering his 24th season at St. Paul with 212 wins, 15 FC titles, 15 playoff appearances, a state championship and three state runner-up finishes, John Livengood will be led by a stable of running backs in 2014.
Senior Devin Smith (844 yards, 14 TDs) and juniors Brad Smith (759 yards, 5 TDs) and Jaret Nickoli (510 yards, 9 TDs) all return to the backfield, along with three offensive linemen in front of them.
Nickoli (155 tackles, 6 sacks) anchors the Flyer defense at linebacker, where he was a second team All-Ohioan as a sophomore in 2013.
Veteran coach Mike Stoll is back for a 17th season at Western Reserve, but will need to replace quarterback Will Pritt and receiver Nate Good from a 7-3 team in 2013. Western lost to playoff teams Black River, Norwalk and St. Paul a year ago in going 6-1 in the FC.
Receiver Dakota Stump (26 catches, 340 yards, 5 TDs) and linebacker Jack Klingshim (87 tackles, 2 sacks) are the top returners for the Roughriders.
New London will be led by first-year coach Brad Pickens, a 2006 Western Reserve graduate. The Wildcats were 6-4 (4-3 FC) a year ago, and return a wealth of starters at the skilled positions, led by three-year starter Josh Hamilton at QB. Julian Molnar and D.J. Yates are returning receivers, and Nate McIntosh is back to anchor the offensive line and linebacker positions for the Wildcats.
At Monroeville, first-year coach Scott Stecher inherits a 1-9 team in his first year guiding the Eagles. QB Mitchell Ott returns for a third year to help Stecher in his debut season.