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Season Preview: Columbus City League

By Danny Fogarty, 08/16/21, 8:55AM EDT


A look at the football season ahead in the City League

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a 2020 season that was shortened, confusing, and in some ways disappointing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming 2021 season hopes to return high school teams and fans to normalcy this August.

Central Ohio is filled with countless teams with different levels of hopes and dreams come the regular season.

Some teams may search for all-time glory in a state championship, some are searching for their place in Ohio high school football, and others are more concerned with how the sport brings communities together every Friday night.

Whatever the goal is, high school football is back and the staff at 270 Gridiron is looking forward to all the coverage we will provide for our fans this year.

This preseason guide is the first of many articles we plan to write this year.

The guide covers all of the teams 270 Gridiron covers in the Central Ohio area, and features information garnered from research, coach interviews, and social media.

Without further adieu, I present this year’s 270 Gridiron Regular Season preview with a close look at the Columbus City League.

City League North

Whetstone (D-II)

2020 Record: 4-3 (2-0)
Offense: 14.7 PPG (91st in area)
Defense: 22.1 PPG Allowed (50th in area)
Key Players: Tylee Johnson, WR/RB; Antonio Morris Jr., FS/WR; Austin Haas, DT/G; Kiefer Young, WR/OLB
Game to Watch: Week 5 vs. Beechcroft

While the Whetstone Braves won the conference title last year, the shortened season left much of the team’s potential up in the air as they were unable to play against the more competitive teams in the City North Conference.

This is why the Braves’ Week 5 game against Beechcroft will be telling as the Cougars also went undefeated in the conference and the fans did not see this matchup last year.

A win for Whetstone in this game would solidify them as the team to beat in the conference while also showing that their undefeated conference schedule last year was not a fluke. 

The Braves would likely need to improve on offense as they were only able to score 14.7 points per game last year versus fellow City North member Linden Mckinley’s 19.7 points per game.

Defensively Whetstone was the best in the conference only allowing 22.1 points per game.

Beechcroft (D-III)

2020 Record: 3-3 (3-0)
Offense: 15.7 PPG (83rd in area)
Defense: 22.5 PPG Allowed (54th in area)
Key Players: Ibrahim Camara, OLB/P/RB; Deshannon Butler Jr., QB/SS; Demetrius Haynes, WR/OLB; McConnell, WR/FS; Paapa Yeboah, MLB/TE
Game to Watch: Week 3 vs. Big Walnut

Much like Whetstone the Cougars of Beechcroft were inhibited from showing their true potential by the short, 6-game season.

This regular season Coach Humphrey Simmons and his team will hope to show that they are competitive not only within the City North where they went undefeated last year, but also outside the conference.

The Cougars’ Week 3 game against Big Walnut would be an opportunity for just that as Beechcroft faces a team that ranked in higher than 20th in both points per game (30.0) and points per game allowed (12.9).

An early-season win against Big Walnut would give the Cougars a morale boost and prepare them to play against the teams in their conference like Whetstone and Northland.

Northland (D-II)

2020 Record: 3-4 (3-1)
Offense: 14.9 PPG (86th in area)
Defense: 26.9 PPG Allowed (75th in area)
Key Players: Correy Craddolph, DL/OL; Isaiah Jackson, QB/DB; Robert Dorsey, WR/DB; Amir Brown, RB/DB; Gentry Ross, DE/WR; Japhrone Chapman, WR/DB; Rayvon Ivery, RB/LB; Aven Garrett, RB/LB; Darvon Jeter, WR/DB 

Game to Watch: Week 4 vs. Whetstone

The Northland Vikings began last season slow with a 1-4 start but ended on a high note winning two of their last three games.

Coach Ryan Sayers said that every play will be crucial in how his team will play, but also stresses to his team that they must worry about their own specific duties.

“We want to control the game and win every individual battle,” Sayers said. “If we all do our job and fly around great things will happen.”

An important game for the Vikings will be Week 4 against Whetstone as the Braves won the City North title last year, so to take down the conference leader would be a morale boost for Northland.

Sayers said his staff has tried to connect his team with the community and is also confident his team is prepared for Week 1.

“We have done multiple things to create a family atmosphere around our program,” Sayers said.  “Come August 20, the Vikings will be ready to go!”

East (D-IV)

2020 Record: 1-5 (1-2)
Offense: 11.7 PPG (103rd in area)
Defense: 39.2 PPG Allowed (107th in area)
Key Players: Kwabena Woods-Laws, RB; Deo Samuel Pierre, WR; Jawon Edwards, T; Antonio Smith, OLB; Savonte Coleman, RB
Game to Watch: Week 2 @ Centennial

The East Tigers experience a disappointing 1-5 2020 season, but will hope to improve this year with new starters and experienced veterans.

One of the main problems for the Tigers is beyond their control as they technically played no games at their home stadium in 2020.

This season the Tigers have an even split between home and away games, so the team should play better getting a boost from their home fans half of the season.

The Tigers’ Week 2 matchup against Centennial will be crucial because it will show whether they can win on the road as they will need to against Northland and Whetstone in the two weeks following this game.

This early-season win would also give them a boost of confidence going into conference play.

Linden McKinley (D-IV)

2020 Record: 2-4 (0-1)
Offense: 19.7 PPG (68th in area)
Defense: 28.0 PPG Allowed (83rd in area)
Key Players: L.A. Walker, WR/CB; Keshawn Davis, LB/QB; Gene Sutton III, DE/TE; Chris Towns, QB 
Game to Watch: Week 9 vs. East

The Panthers will hope to bounce back this year after a disappointing 2020 season in which two games were decided in the final minute.

Coach Eric Valentine said that nearly the entire coaching staff has changed in the offseason, yet he does not view this as a reason to panic.

“I think we've got a fairly good shot this year of turning the corner and making serious progress as a team,” Valentine said.

Valentine said that he wants to keep the team’s character consistent from last year, including their continued focus on a balanced offensive approach between rushing and passing.

The Panthers’ final regular season game against their rival East High School will be crucial not only to possibly secure a playoff spot, but also to avenge the eight-point loss Linden Mckinley suffered to East last year.

Mifflin (D-II)

2020 Record: 0-5 (0-2)
Offense: 9.2 PPG (106th in area)
Defense: 31.4 PPG Allowed (95th in area)
Key Players: Thaddeus McDuffie Jr., DE; Elijah Lee, WR; Josh Burgess, OLB; Antonio Ramos, DB; Braylan Duerson, WR
Game to Watch: Week 1 vs. KIPP Columbus

Mifflin’s Punchers will hope to put a winless 2020 season behind them as they look toward a hopefully brighter 2021 both in terms of the pandemic and their record.

Like their fellow City North team East the Punchers were not able to play at their home stadium in any game last year.

This season will be similar as most of Mifflin’s seven games are on the road.

Yet a win in Week 1 at home against KIPP Columbus would boost the team’s confidence for the rest of the season.

The Punchers’ following four games are away, so this would be a chance for them to know how it feels to win and bring that feeling into their road games.

Centennial (D-IV)

2020 Record: 0-5 (0-3)
Offense: 8.0 PPG (108th in area)
Defense: 28.4 PPG Allowed (85th in area)
Key Players: Andre Baldwin, SB/CB; Donavan Chislom, OL/DT; 
Azyiah Taylor, MLB; Dellen Welcome, G
Game to Watch: Week 1 @ Grandview Heights

Centennial struggled to get its footing last year, but will look to put that behind them as they come into a more normal 2021 season.

While the team had trouble on offense the Stars’ defense performed better than some of their City North counterparts.

Whereas Centennial allowed 28.4 points per game, the City North Conference’s East and Mifflin averaged upwards of 30 points allowed per game.

The Stars will look to show off this defense in their Week 1 game against Grandview Heights.

If Centennial can pull off this Week 1 road win, it will give them momentum for when they play competitive teams like last year’s City North runner-up Beechcroft in Week 4.

It was only two years ago that Centennial rolled through the City North on their way to the state playoffs.

City League South

Walnut Ridge (D-II)

2020 Record: 6-3 (3-2)
Offense: 24.6 PPG (47th in area)
Defense: 19.0 PPG Allowed (38th in area)
Key Players: Paris Lyons, QB; Jabar Sellers, DB; Calvin Giles, NG; Navarion Adams, DL; 
Game to Watch: Week 7 @ Eastmoor Academy

Walnut Ridge began last season with a 2-3 start but soon found its footing ending with a four game winning streak - redeeming itself from a home loss against Eastmoor Academy to knock off the Warriors in the COVID-special City League title game.

Both the Scots’ offense and defense ranked in the top-50 in the area with a score differential of 5.6 points meaning that they were likely to beat their opponent by about 6 points in any given game.

The Scots were just shy of winning the conference, but were beat out by both Marion-Franklin and Eastmoor Academy.

Walnut Ridge’s regular season game last year against the Warriors was a nail-biting overtime loss with a score of 25-19. The Scots got revenge in the City League championship, knocking off Eastmoor 14-6.

With its longtime head coach Byron Mattox moving on and a great chunk of its staff defecting to Africentric, 2021 will be a new experience for Walnut Ridge in a division it has dominated in recent years.

Eastmoor Academy (D-III)

2020 Record: 5-2 (3-1)
Offense: 25.6 PPG (44th in area)
Defense: 7.6 PPG Allowed (2nd in area) 
Key Players: Jalen Slappy, OL; Malachi Coleman, RB; Matthew Washington, DE; Cameron Coleman, C; Ahmad Armstrong, QB
Game to Watch: Week 4 @ Granville

The Warriors of Eastmoor Academy finished first in the City South Conference last year and will hope to continue this success during the upcoming season.

The team allowed only 7.6 points per game last year which is second best out of the over 100 teams in the area.

This defensive success was not put on stage in the playoffs as the Warriors were forced to forfeit in their first round game against Granville.

Eastmoor will get a chance to prove themselves this season with a matchup on the road against Granville in Week 4.

With a win the Warriors could show that they are a true playoff contender as they defeat a formidable offense in Granville who averaged 29.3 points per game last year.

James Miranda always has tough, disciplined teams and this year will be no different. Junior quarterback Ahmad Armstrong showed off great promise as a true dual threat at the most important position on the field and should have a chance to put up great numbers once again behind the blocking of senior stud Jalen Slappy.

Marion-Franklin (D-IV)

2020 Record: 4-2 (2-1)
Offense: 20.2 PPG (64th in area)
Defense: 13.2 PPG Allowed (15th in area)
Key Players: De'Aire Summerall, QB; Chrishawn Adams, WR; Malik Ali, H-B; Israel Alexander, Tito Glass, & Terrence Whiteside, RB; Dimir Thomas, LB; Terrence Whiteside, DL; Chrishawn Adams, DL
Game to Watch: Week 7 vs. Walnut Ridge

The Red Devils will look to improve upon their winning record last year as they went one win shy of the conference title.

Coach David Lakso said that the loss of a large group of graduating seniors will affect his team, yet he is optimistic with how his players have been practicing.

“[I] feel good about the kids' work ethic and effort,” Lakso said. “We are very young this year as we had 21 seniors last year and most of them started for at least 2 years.”

The loss of these seniors will surely be felt especially on the offense as most of the 21 played on this side of the ball.

The defense will run a 3-5-3 which is the same as they have run in previous years.

One crucial game for the Red Devils will be in Week 7 against Walnut Ridge as the Scots defeated Marion-Franklin in the final regular season game last year.

Lakso and the Red Devils will look for payback and a win against an in-conference rival that could threaten Marion Franklin’s second-place standing.

Africentric (D-VI)

2020 Record: 4-2 (1-1)
Offense: 18.6 PPG (70th in area)
Defense: 26.3 PPG Allowed (67th in area)
Key Players: Daniel Wagner, WR; Kayden James, C; Kellen Whittenburg, WR; Tarrent Morrison, MLB; Deangelo Fuller, RB
Game to Watch: Week 6 @ Independence

The Africentric Nubians enjoyed program record success last year with a short in-conference schedule before making it to the third round of the Division VI playoffs. The Nubians snapped a 56-game losing streak in league play before snapping off a strong run in the state playoffs.

This year the Nubians hope to make it even further while also prevailing over powerhouse defenses like Marion-Franklin and Eastmoor Academy, both who allowed less than 14 points per game last year. The 2021 Nubians could be the breakout team in the City League, with a brand new coaching staff that should help Africentric have a chance to win every game it plays.

Senior wideout Dan Wagner is an electrifying playmaker that will be the best skill position player in any game he plays this season.

Africentric comes into this season with a schedule that features only teams from the Columbus North and South conferences.

An important game for them this year will be in Week 6 against Independence as this will show whether the Nubians can compete with their fellow up-and-coming City South opponents on the road.

Independence (D-II)

2020 Record: 4-4 (2-2)
Offense: 31.5 PPG (14th in area)
Defense: 23.1 PPG Allowed (57th in area)
Key Players: Jalin Sample, RB; Wadny Antenor, T; Dontae Porter, RB; Robert Lipscomb, DT; Antonio Harris, DE
Game to Watch: Week 2 @ Hamilton Township

The 76ers enjoyed moderate success last year beginning the season with a 2-1 record before losing to Walnut Ridge by a touchdown in the first round of the Division II playoffs.

A huge factor in Independence’s success was their highly effective offense that averaged 31.5 points per game which was good for 14th in the area.

This season the 76ers will be tested by competitive teams like Eastmoor Academy whose defense ranked 2nd in the area last year.

An intriguing matchup for Independence will be in Week 2 against Hamilton Township as the 76ers play an unfamiliar non-conference Division III opponent who went 7-2 last year.

Hamilton Township also averaged 28.0 points per game last year, so it will be interesting if both them and the 76ers can still play as effectively as they did last season.

South (D-III) 

2020 Record: 4-3 (1-2)
Offense: 30.7 PPG (16th in area)
Defense: 11.3 PPG Allowed (5th in area)
Key Players: Tyreese Ford, FB; Maurice McCall, OLB; Aries Pradier, G; Anthony Higginbotham, CB; Jabari Harris, QB; Darnell Berry, G
Game to Watch: Week 10 vs. Marion-Franklin

The South Bulldogs ended the 2020 season with a winning record overall yet struggled with a 1-2 record in conference play.

What that record does not show is South’s effective skill on both offense and defense.

Scoring 30.7 points per game, including a game where the Bulldogs defeated Whetstone 52-6, South ranks 16th in the area in scoring.

On defense the Bulldogs rank 5th in the area impressively allowing an average of just 11.3 points per game.

That means South’s average score differential was a whopping 19.4 which is the best of any team in the area aside from the Division 1 state runner-up Pickerington Central.

Coach George Yates and his team will hope to replicate this play on both sides this season.

Yates has revitalized the program and created something that the players can truly believe in. With great participation numbers and a 290 pound tank of a ball carrier in Tyreese Ford, the Bulldogs will look to make a major statement in the City League. That will start with locking down the neighborhood and knocking off bitter rival Marion-Franklin.

Briggs (D-II)

2020 Record: 2-4 (1-1)
Offense: 14.8 PPG (87th in area)
Defense: 25.0 PPG Allowed (61st in area)
Key Players: David Downs III, RB; Kenneth Simmons, CB; Tajh Bowers, QB; Glen Browning, C; Thierno Bah, WR
Game to Watch: Week 2 vs. Whetstone

Briggs began last season with a promising 2-1 record before the Bruins struggled down the stretch ending with a 2-4 record.  

The end of the season was especially disappointing as Briggs lost to Whetstone two weeks in a row.

The Bruins’ game against Whetstone this year will be crucial as they look for revenge while also to show how much progress they have made in the offseason.

Being that the game is early in the season, the Bruins’ confidence may boost them enough with a win to prevail over other opponents like Walnut Ridge and Eastmoor Academy.

West (D-II)

2020 Record: 0-5 (0-3)
Offense: 4.0 PPG (113th in area)
Defense: 52.0 PPG Allowed (113th in area)
Key Players: Mike JR. Griffin, RB; T'Andre Angus, T; Ziairae Little, MLB; Don'Avyn Davis, CB
Game to Watch: Week 1 vs. Linden McKinley

With all of the confusion of the pandemic, West High School struggled to gain a foothold during the 2020 season.

The Cowboys will hope to improve during the 2021 regular season and show that 2020 was just a fluke for the program.

West can surely do this by winning in its Week 1 game against Linden McKinley.

After failing to win a game last year, defeating Linden McKinley in the first week of the regular season would be an immense statement and show that the Cowboys are a new team with higher aspirations.