Located in a football-rich state, the city of Cincinnati is one of Ohio's hot spots for prep talent. Eleven Warriors recently spent a couple of days in the Queen City and will bring you a series of Ohio State-related stories over the coming weeks. Come along for the ride, won't you?
CINCINNATI — Over the last 10 years, four times has the state champion in Ohio’s largest division of high school football come from the Cincinnati area. In Ohio’s second-largest division, six times in the last 10 years the state champion came from the Queen City.
Quite simply, this is a place where some of the state’s best prep football resides.
“Our region is unbelievable,” says John Rodenberg, the two-time state-title winning head coach at Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller. “It basically comes down to if you can survive the region.”
Easier said than done, of course, with so many powerhouse programs in the Cincinnati area.
Led by Rodenberg since 2008, Moeller is just one of the many perennial state-title contenders in this city. The Crusaders have nine state championships on their resumé, second all time in Ohio’s storied history.
|2017||Jerron Cage||Winton Woods|
|2016||Drue Chrisman||La Salle|
|2015||Justin Hilliard||St. Xavier|
But there are also programs like St. Xavier, Elder, Colerain, La Salle, Anderson and more that make Cincinnati-area football some of the best, not only in Ohio but all of the country.
“I think it’s culture,” said Steve Specht, the three-time state-title winning head coach at St. Xavier. “You can look at every state and you can understand what the culture is. If you go to Indiana, it’s a basketball culture. Kentucky is the same way. In Ohio, there’s a culture when kids are growing up, especially in Southwestern Ohio, that it matters and it’s important."
“Football, right, wrong or indifferent, it’s important down here and it starts at the early ages.”
It shows not only in the quality teams the city produces every year but in the individual talent, as well.
In the 2017 recruiting class, five of Ohio's top-15 players according to 247Sports’ composite rankings came from Cincinnati-area programs. Those players signed to play college football at Ohio State, Penn State, Clemson and Michigan State. Other Power 5 programs like Louisville, Iowa State, Kentucky, Nebraska and more landed prospects from here, too.
“I don’t know what it is, man, but every team we play has somebody if not three or four somebodies,” said Aeneas Hawkins, a four-star defensive tackle prospect in the 2018 class from Cincinnati Moeller. “I don’t know what it is, must be something in the water, but it’s everywhere.”
As the marquee college program in the state, it’s hardly surprising Ohio State recruits the Cincinnati area as hard as anybody. The Buckeyes signed a pair of players — Amir Riep from Colerain and Jerron Cage out of Winton Woods — in their 2017 class and it goes back further than that. Ohio State signed at least one player from the Cincinnati area in every year since Urban Meyer’s arrival in Columbus — from Adolphus Washington in 2012 out of Cincinnati Taft to Riep and Cage in this most recent class.
It doesn’t look like that intends to slow down anytime soon, either. Not with players like Hawkins, Jackson Carman (Fairfield), Christopher Oats (Winton Woods) and Xavier Peters (Lakota West) in the 2018 class and Jowon Briggs (Walnut Hills) and Steven Faucheux (Lakota West) in 2019.
"Football in Ohio is so important," said Larry Cox, who has been the head coach at West Chester Lakota West since 1997. "In this area, it's just survival of the fittest. ... There are a lot of good teams, there really are. There are so many schools to pick from."
Another high school football season in Ohio will begin in August and again, Cincinnati will have some of the top prep teams in the state. That's almost a given. History has shown some of the best teams and players came from the Queen City.
It's always been that way and, for the foreseeable future, will continue to be as such.
“I do think it has something to do with tradition,” Rodenberg said. “There’s a lot of great coaches who created this tremendous tradition, this tremendous buzz about football in Cincinnati and it’s just continued to grow. People really respect those guys. I think we just feed off the tradition of what’s been created.”
Added Specht: “Kids grow up and the high school they hope to attend, they’re going to those games and they’re wearing those colors. It’s a part of the fabric of Southwestern Ohio and really Ohio in general. I think that’s why you see year in and year out so many kids coming out of this area. It matters and they work at it.”