Rossford football coach Chris Werbylo is a realist when he talks about the Bulldogs' chances against Genoa when the two teams face each other in the season opener Aug. 28 at Rossford.
"Genoa will be the favorite in this game," the Bulldogs' sixth-year coach said.
After all, third-year coach Mike Vicars' Comets finished 13-1 and won their second straight Suburban Lakes League title last season. They then advanced to the Division IV state semifinals.
Rossford, meanwhile, is coming off an 0-10 season that included an 0-7 mark in the Northern Lakes League.
The Bulldogs, who opened against Delta last season, have 34 players on this year's roster and return four starters on offense and three on defense.
Genoa, which opened the 2008 season against Mohawk, has 20 returning lettermen and is the favorite to win a third straight SLL crown.
The Comets have six starters back on defense and five on offense, including three-year starting quarterback Matt Bassitt. Genoa has 43 players in grades 10-12 and 29 freshmen.
Vicars was the head coach at Delta before moving to Genoa. His Delta squad faced Rossford "three or four times" and never lost to the Bulldogs. Vicars said he is "pretty familiar" with what type of offense and defense Werbylo runs at Rossford.
"When I was at Delta, he became the head coach at Rossford and at the time they were running the spread," Vicars said. "I haven't played against them since they've played the wing-T. I saw them play in a scrimmage over the weekend against Toledo Christian and Libbey. It's hard to say in a scrimmage, but they pretty much did what I expected and they were working hard at the fundamentals of that."
Vicars said the Comets looked good in a scrimmage against Clyde last weekend.
"It was a typical first scrimmage for us," he said. "It was their second scrimmage. We had some fundamental tackling issues like you always do in a first scrimmage. We were able to run the ball and throw it fairly well. We were pretty aggressive and fast to the ball, so I was pretty happy about that."
What will Vicars be looking to see from his squad against Rossford?
"You have to get back at it from what you were," he said. "There are high expectations and those types of things. We're hoping to limit our mistakes and play exceptionally hard. Rossford has a unique stadium in that there are no visitor's stands. It's a cool place to play football. That will be a new experience for the kids and we'll see what happens."
A win over the Comets would be a huge boost for the Bulldogs' program. Werbylo, who taught at Delta when Vicars was the coach there, said last year's winless season was a combination of several factors.
"We just weren't that talented," he said. "This year our attitude is much better. Last year, halfway through the season we had four two-way starters who either were asked to leave the team or they quit. When those guys left, the attitude really changed.
"Injuries were a big part of it, too. We got pretty banged up. Kind of everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The kids this year have a great attitude. Our four returning starters on offense, they were all on our offensive line last year. That's where our strength is going to be, on the offensive line. Our skilled kids have some talent, but they're very green."
Rossford has 10 players who were on the varsity roster last season.
"We have a lot of sophomores playing and kids who haven't played since their freshman year because of injuries or whatever," Werbylo said. "We have two seniors where this is their first year playing."
Rossford runs the same offense as Genoa, the wing-T, and utilizes a 5-3 defensive alignment. The offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Justin Robinson, who played offensive guard last season.
"He was a pudgy kid through junior high and he's grown up a little bit, to 6-2, 195," Werbylo said. "He's a sophomore and a very good athlete. We're keeping things relatively simple. Last year we didn't really have a tight end. The wing-T is a thick playbook, so we're adding some things this year.
"We made some strides in our scrimmage and the kids have a real good attitude. You couldn't ask for a better work ethic. It's a tight group of kids. They're not going to back off of anybody."
Werbylo said he knows his squad will get all it can handle from Genoa.
"Mike does an excellent job there," Werbylo said. "They're going to run the ball very well. They ran the ball well against Clyde in a scrimmage. They have multi-faceted talent there. They are wing-T for the most part, but they are spreading it out. His trademark wherever he's at is a real strong run game. If they wanted to, they probably won't have to throw the ball for a few weeks."
The Comets and Bulldogs will play another non-league game next season before both schools join the newly-formed Northern Buckeye Conference in 2011.
At one time, Genoa and Rossford were both members of the NLL, and a rivalry existed then. Werbylo said he was "definitely in favor" of moving from the larger-school NLL to the NBC, like Genoa did when it moved to the Surburban Lakes League 37 years ago.
"We're going to be playing schools our size," Werbylo said. "When we get a couple of good classes put together, we can compete for the top. When we're good, we'll be able to compete with Genoa and Eastwood. When we're average, we'll finish in the middle of the pack or at the bottom. It will be a good fit for us, not only in football but in all the sports."