Austin Combs, Liberty-Benton
Liberty-Benton only played nine regular-season games in 2013, but that didn’t stop Combs from posting big numbers as a junior. A first-team All-Northwest District and All-Blanchard Valley Conference selection, Combs carried 133 times for 1,206 yards and 26 TDs for the Eagles, who fell to Huron in a first-round playoff matchup. He was also an All-BVC choice at punter after posting an average of 40.6 yards per kick. L-B will be looking for back-to-back BVC titles for the first time since it won three straight from 2006-08 and Combs will be a major factor if the Eagles hope to accomplish that and earn a favorable playoff position in Division V, Region 16.
Gavin Cupp, Leipsic
Cupp was named second-team All-Northwest District and All-Blanchard Valley Conference during his sophomore campaign in which he helped drive a Leipsic offense that averaged more than 30 points and 350 yards per game. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Cupp is a force to be reckoned with at tackle for the Vikings and will be an unwelcome sight for defensive linemen and linebackers throughout the conference. A new coach means change in Leipsic for the first time since 2008. But you can bet one thing will remain the same in 2014: if the Vikings want to sustain success, they’ll run behind one of the best linemen in the BVC.
Gunnar Johnson, Mohawk
Five of the top seven rushers in the Midland Athletic League last season were underclassmen and Johnson was the cream of the crop. He was the league’s leader on the ground as a junior with 1,617 yards on 230 carries, averaging 7.0 yards per carry, and scoring 16 TDs. Johnson also caught 10 passes for 122 yards and a score en route to first-team All-MAL and second-team All-Northwest District honors. Mohawk has a new coach and a new conference as it enters play in the newly formed Northern 10 in 2014, and Johnson will have a new position as he’ll line up at quarterback in the Warriors’ spread attack.
Bryan Powers, Carey
Powers exploded onto the scene as a junior and emerged as an all-around threat for the Blue Devils. He earned Midland Athletic League specialty player of the year after notching 864 rushing yards and 16 TDs, 21 receptions for 414 yards and five TDs, two kick returns for scores and a punt return touchdown as Carey shared the MAL crown in the league’s final season. Powers was also the MAL’s leading scorer with 24 total TDs and 14 PATs, while recording 75 tackles, nine tackles for loss and nabbing a pair of interceptions on the defensive side of the ball. What will he do for an encore in 2014? One thing’s for certain, the Blue Devils’ new Northern 10 foes aren’t excited to find out.
Austin Rettig, Arlington
Rettig was the engine that made the Red Devils’ offense go during their run to the regional finals in 2013. As a junior, he was the top rusher in the Blanchard Valley Conference with 2,168 yards, and finished first in carries (254), points scored (258) and total touchdowns (43). With inexperience at quarterback, Rettig likely will be called upon again to carry a majority of the offensive workload. If he can duplicate last season’s performance in which he earned first-team All-Ohio accolades, Arlington will be in the thick of the BVC and playoff races come October.