By Charlie Warnimont

Sentinel Sports Editor

DHI Media Sports Editor

COLUMBUS GROVE — Columbus Grove football saw the third leading rusher in school history graduate last spring.

While that was a significant loss for a team that likes to run the football, Bulldog head coach Andy Schafer may have be more concerned with what his team graduated in its secondary.

Three of the four defensive backs the Bulldogs had on the field last season received their diplomas in May leaving some huge question marks as to who would fill their roles entering the 2022 season.

“The biggest question mark we had entering the season was defensive backs,” Schafer said. “We had to replace three players so that was pretty big to our defense. Shep Halker was our only returning defensive back and he is certainly a good one, but that is a lot of holes to fill in the secondary. The 7 on 7s were very important, but 7 on 7s don’t show how well you can tackle. I felt this summer we had some athletic guys, but we needed to know how they could hit.

“The first scrimmage showed us some things and hopefully the second scrimmage will show us some more. This was certainly a big question mark.”

Finding solid replacements in the secondary will be key for the Bulldogs to round out a defense that returns several starters. These returning starters were part of a Columbus Grove defense that was one of the best, statistically, in school history last year.

The defense will be led three talented linebackers in seniors AJ Schafer, Tadd Koch and Landen Schroeder. Schafer received first team all-Ohio honors last year in Division VI as a linebacker, while Koch was a second team all-Northwest district selection.

“The key to our defense is the linebacking corp,” Schafer said. “Tadd Koch and AJ Schafer are two of the top players, I feel, I have coached in 26 years, two of the top players I have seen in 26 years and they are two of the top linebackers in the state in Division VI. Landen Schroeder gets kind of lost next to those two, but I think he is just as good. Those three are very, very dangerous and to have all three linebackers back is big.”

Koch and Schafer will both be four year starters for Columbus Grove.

In front of them will beJunior Kyle Lathrop and senior Lawson Maag are back on the defensive line as ends. Schafer says both players have a very high motor. Sophomore Kylan Mayes and senior Dillan Bryan will be the defensive tackles for the Bulldogs.

“Our front seven is extremely solid, probably the most solid unit I have had,” Schafer said. “Our biggest question is the secondary. We’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully the pressure our front seven gets up front will make them play even better in the backfield.”

Offensively the Bulldogs will show a slightly different look this season as they look to take advantage of the physicality they have in the backfield.

With the graduation of Colin Metzger at running back, coach Schafer is currently looking at two different players to replace one of the top backs in school history. Metzger took his talents to Heidelberg University to be a running back.

Sophomore Trenton Barraza will be the starter for Grove at running back, while Landen Schroeder will also get some carries.

“Trenton Baraaza, a sophomore, is extremely talented, very athletic, very fast. He definitely gets the start,” Schafer said. “We would like to mix in Landen Schroeder, a backup a guy the last few years. Landen will help carry the load.

“In the past, since I’ve been at Grove, we’ve had that one back and used that one back, I think this year will be unique. We are going to use those two along with AJ Schafer and Lawson Maag, trying to get more people touches in the run game and make it harder for teams to defend us. We want to use them in a variety of ways as their physicality gives some different options whether we have them in the backfield or have them on the edge when we go with an empty backfield.”

Senior Brenton Renner returns at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Renner worked hard in the off-season to improve his standing as the Bulldogs quarterback.

“At the end of the school year I kind of challenged him. Honestly I told him I was considering going in a different direction, but I would give him a shot,” Schafer said. “I told him he had to get better at his longer throws, running and get bigger. In all three areas he improved because he added 20-25 pounds and he can clearly throw the deep ball and he has some speed. There are two ways a kid can take that conversation and he could have taken it as a negative, but he used it as motivation to work hard in the off-season.”

Another key offensive loss for the Bulldogs was Jacksen Schroeder at wide receiver. Schroeder was an all-Ohio receiver last season.

Senior Shep Halker and junior Zach Reynolds will line up at receiver for the Bulldogs along with junior Zane Stechschulte. There are several younger players the coaches feel are close to getting in the mix at receiver for the Bulldogs this season. Their playing time for the upcoming season would be decided on what the coaches saw in the two scrimmages.

On the offensive line for the Bulldogs will be Koch and junior Ethan Johnson at the tackle positions, Lathrop and junior Loudon Auchmuty at the guard spots and Mayes at center. Auchmuty was part of the Grove offense last season as a fullback.

Bryan will be the Bulldogs sixth offensive lineman this season as they look to rotate a fresh body in with a lot of the starters going both ways. Bryan was a starter last season and can play any position on the line.

Another key loss for the Bulldogs was kicker Rece Verhoff, who is at Marshall University this season. The Bulldogs are still working on who will handle the kicking chores this season.

While the Bulldogs will be looking to add to its string of success in the Northwest Conference, Schafer says he hasn’t started preparing for that as of now as they have three tough non-league games to get through. The Bulldogs open the season with rival Pandora-Gilboa, they are at Liberty-Benton before hosting Patrick Henry in their final non-league encounter.

Columbus Grove opens NWC play on September 9 as they host Delphos Jefferson.