What to know to kick off high school football season

Wayne WR L’Christian “Blue” Smith. Lakewood St. Edward defeated Wayne 45-35 in the Division I high school football state championship at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Wayne WR L’Christian “Blue” Smith. Lakewood St. Edward defeated Wayne 45-35 in the Division I high school football state championship at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

The high school football season begins with three area games Thursday, the bulk of the Week 1 games on Friday and a few others on Saturday and next Sunday. Here’s a rundown of teams to watch and things to know.

Changes: Most important, this season marks the debut of the Ohio High School Athletic Association competitive balance initiative. The good news? It has doused a hot-button topic and possible split between public and private schools. The getting-used-to part is that affected sports/teams will be adjusted annually in the spring.

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There are varying calculations for each sport and the divisions for each affected sport. In its simplicity, the competitive balance formula accounts for total students grades 9-12 and where those students reside. Those two factors determine a numerical number assigned to each team. That determines a team’s postseason divisional alignment.

Teams are affected by their own adjusted count or by other schools that have bumped up or down a division.

It's a first: Coaching turnover has been a recent trend, especially in football and basketball, sports that traditionally feature veteran figureheads and staffs. Four more new coaches will make their GWOC debuts this season in Brent Ullery (Centerville), Greg Bonifay (Stebbins), Derek Hauk (West Carrollton) and Trace Smitherman (Stebbins).

If Ullery sounds familiar, he should; he’s the son of former Centerville coach Ron Ullery, now an offensive line coach at Springfield for Ryan Wilhite. Brent taking over the Elks was a shocker, not because it’s his first head coach job but because Rodney Roberts resigned after just three seasons.

Bonifay comes to Stebbins from Southeastern and succeeds Smitherman, who answered the call at Xenia to succeed Bob DeLong. Hauk is the latest to try and resurrect the West Carrollton program. He succeeds Doug Hatcher.

Division I: No surprises here in Wayne and Springfield of the Greater Western Ohio Conference National East and the entire GWOC National West. Wayne, 11-1-1 last season, has played — and lost — in three D-I state titles games since Braxton Miller's senior year in 2010. Coach Jay Minton's Warriors seemed to be in prime position to bid for another title shot but were derailed 17-14 by Pickerington Central in a Region 3 final.

Wayne’s offense will reload around junior quarterback Rashad McKee and senior receiver L’Christian “Blue” Smith. McKee was an unexpected sensation as a first-year sophomore starter, throwing for 2,257 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Smith, 6 feet 5, is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Among the most recruited players in the Midwest, he’ll announce his commitment live on ESPN during Wayne’s opener on Sunday, Aug. 27 at Pine-Richland (Pa.) in a nationally televised game at 1 p.m. Ohio State, Cincinnati and Kentucky are his final teams.

Wayne’s defense also appears loaded with senior defensive end and three-year starter Alex Reigelsperger (Kentucky) and senior linebacker Antwuan Johnson, a transfer from Dunbar.

GWOC National East teams Lebanon (7-4), Springboro (7-4) and Miamisburg (10-3) all qualified for the postseason last year. But Miamisburg has since bumped up from D-II. This also will be the first time in four seasons the Vikings won’t have either Josh Myers (OSU) or Cody Lamb (UC) blocking for their running game.

This also is Year 2 for Fairmont coach Dave Miller. The Firebirds (1-9) were rebooted with a mostly young team last year. All those returners should make a difference.

D-II: Troy (10-2) lost twice to Miamisburg last season and will benefit from the Vikings switching divisions. But still in D-II is three-time defending state champion Cincinnati LaSalle of the mighty Greater Catholic League South Division.

It’s on Sidney (4-6) — and a healthy junior QB Andre Gordon — to make up for a season that was supposed to be in 2016.

D-III: The most loaded region (12) in the Southwest with Alter (13-1), Chaminade Julienne (6-4), Dunbar (7-3), Franklin (11-1), Piqua (7-3), Tippecanoe (7-4) and Trotwood-Madison (12-3). Those are the local teams. Also lumped in the region are Wapakoneta (9-2), Mount Healthy (8-3) and Badin, all traditional postseason heavyweights.

Alter and CJ bump up from D-IV. Just qualifying for the postseason in that regional will be a major accomplishment.

D-IV: With Alter leaving for D-III, Clinton-Massie (10-2) is the team to beat in Region 16. Valley View (10-2) also has returned to a Southwestern Buckeye League championship level.

D-V: Brookville (5-6), Carlisle (8-3) and Greeneview (9-3) will benefit from Coldwater (13-2) moving down a division, as will Miami East (7-4) and Versailles (5-5). East moves up from D-VI.

D-VI: If D-III, Region 12 is the most loaded, Region 24 is a close second. That's because Coldwater, defending D-VI state champ Marion Local (14-1), Covington (11-1), Fort Recovery (8-5), St. Henry (8-4), Troy Christian (9-2) and West Liberty-Salem (6-5) are bunched together. Covington and Troy Christian move up from D-VI.

There’s also Mechanicsburg (12-1), although this will be the first time in four seasons the Indians will be without QB Kaleb Romero.

D-VII: Fort Loramie (5-5), Lehman Catholic (7-4) and Minster (10-5), the D-VII state runner-up last season, all should benefit from the D-VI reshuffling.

Thursday's openers: Beavercreek at Xenia (ABC 22 / FOX 45, Ch. 45.2, Ch. 995 (Spectrum), mytvdayton.com), Alter at Fairmont (OhioSportsline.net/, WPVW-AM (1660), 1610.info) and Belmont vs. Dunbar at Welcome Stadium. All are at 7 p.m.