Looking to Detroit


Football: Ohio hoping year 13 for Solich is lucky No. 13

Andrew Gillis / Sports Editor

It’d be easy to forget about the Bobcats in 2017.


Gone is Tarell Basham, one of the conference’s most elite pass rushers of all time. Gone is Blair Brown, who was maybe the best tackler in the conference. Gone are Jordan Reid and Sebastian Smith, two big, sure-handed receivers.


But those primed to replace the recently graduated have an abundance of experience their own. The roster may look young, but a deeper dive reveals it’s not as completely fresh-faced as it may seem.


It’s next man up time in Athens.  

Football Preview

Matt Starkey | FILE

Quinton Maxwell (7) throws the ball against Toledo at Glass Field on October 27th, 2016.


It’s a position everyone wants to study, to scrutinize, to perfect. It’s also the position that could lead Ohio to a MAC Championship in December. Or, it’s the position that could send Ohio on a downward spiral toward irrelevancy. Quite simply, the quarterback position could hold the key to a conference championship.


The quarterback spot is likely the most intriguing position battle on the roster, with what looks to be two competitors battling for the starting spot: redshirt sophomore Quinton Maxwell and incoming sophomore-transfer Nathan Rourke.


Maxwell took over the starting job in conference play last season — then lost it in the MAC Championship Game. He finished the season with 1,252 yards passing, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, but he was erratic at times


He’ll be pushed by Rourke, an incoming transfer from Fort Scott Community College. Rourke impressed in spring practice but still hasn’t taken a snap in his FBS career. Maxwell will likely start at quarterback, but expect Rourke to get his reps early on.


Lining up behind the quarterback is A.J. Ouellette, making his long-awaited return. Ouellette missed nearly all of last season with a foot injury. The running back position is probably Ohio’s deepest on the roster, with Dorian Brown and Maleek Irons backing up Ouellette. The unit ranked sixth in the Mid-American Conference with 167.9 yards rushing per game, a number that’s likely to rise.


A big reason that it’s likely to increase is the offensive line, which is headlined by redshirt senior center Jake Pruehs. Pruehs is one of the conference’s best offensive lineman, and paired with two returning starters and a host of experienced backups, the offensive line should open the way for holes throughout the season.


The wide receiver position will have to lean on new talent, with freshman Cam Odom and redshirt sophomore Elijah Ball doing the heavy-lifting. Papi White is the offense’s most dynamic player, so expect the Ohio coaching staff to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.


Ohio’s defense almost lifted the team to a MAC Championship last year. Almost.


Now, the team will return just three members of a front seven that was fifth in the country in run defense and graduated two players to the NFL. Leading the rebuild will be redshirt senior linebacker Quentin Poling, who will anchor the defense.


Poling has been projected by some as the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Basham, a defensive end, won the award last year.


Poling will be the force Ohio needs in the run game, as the Bobcats return just one defensive lineman from last year’s starting four: Tony Porter. Porter will play the one-tech defensive tackle position and will be flanked by Cleon Aloese, Kevin Robbins and Trent Smart. It would be unfair, however, to say that Aloese, Robbins or Smart are new.


All three played significant minutes last season, as the entire starting defensive line will be redshirt seniors.


Alongside Poling at linebacker will be Chad Moore and Evan Croutch, who both can pack a physical punch.


The secondary will likely be the team’s most improved unit, with Freshman of the Year Javon Hagan patrolling the secondary. He’ll be paired with talented and experienced returners like Kylan Nelson, Mayne Williams, Bradd Ellis and Grant Cunningham.


The defense will likely take a step back, but not so much of a step back to where it won’t still be a stronghold in the MAC.

Special Teams

Ohio has one of the best special teams units in the MAC.

Louie Zervos, Michael Farkas and Jake Hale will all return at kicker, punter and long snapper, respectively. Farkas was fourth in the conference in average yards per punt, and Zervos made 10 more field goals than anyone else in the conference. If Ohio can lean on one group all the time, it’s the special teams unit.


Development by: Taylor Johnston / Digital Production Editor

Landing Page

Special Projects

This story is part of a series of specially designed stories that represents some of the best journalism The Post has to offer. Check out the rest of the special projects here.