The Ohio Crush began laying the groundwork in their inaugural season in 2011 for what has turned into a developmental football dynasty in The Buckeye State over these past several seasons.
Since Tony Martin took over as offensive coordinator four years ago, the Crush have posted a very impressive record of 42-3 and they don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
“We’re really excited about this year,” Martin said. “Coming off the championship from last year, we went down to Florida for a bowl game and things didn’t work out for us down there. We had a tough go, we lost our quarterback on the second play of the game. We were a AA league champion and we played a AAA league champion. It’s been one of our best off-seasons with recruiting. It comes down to whether or not the chemistry is there, but from a talent standpoint this will be probably our most talented team.”
Martin was promoted to head coach last year and the Crush ran the table with a 13-0 record and an Ohio Football League Championship. In 2015, they had a one-loss season as they were upset in the playoffs. Prior to that, the Crush fell short in the league championship game three consecutive years.
“Our biggest obstacle in my mind is really us,” Martin told Developmental Football USA. “I know that’s cliché. I think we’re very talented and we hold each other accountable, that’s one of our biggest strengths and it’s going to come down to the chemistry. When we go against each other in practice, I think that’s going to be the toughest guys we face so it’s going to come down to us putting it all together.”
Ohio is perfect so far this year with three pre-season games under their belt. The Crush knocked off the Dayton Oilers 34-20 and the Lima Warriors 41-7 in April and then shutout the Butler County Broncos 41-0 earlier this month.
Beginning Saturday, the stakes are even higher for the Crush as the defending champions kick off OFL play versus the Kings Comets, with a target on their backs.
“I’d say the Kings Comets are going to be very tough,” Martin said. “They’re coming off an undefeated season and league championship last year in the league they were in. Now, they’re in our division and we play them twice. There’s a lot of history between their guys and ours, so we expect them to be an obstacle.”
The North Division of the OFL isn’t lacking in competition either, as those top teams are eyeing the Crush’s seat at the top of the league.
“The other conference is loaded at the top,” Martin said. “Strabane, we beat handily in the championship last year, but they’re reloaded and they’re stacked. The Ohio Broncos, they’re loaded and they’ve put themselves in a position to be really competitive this year.”
Offensively, the Crush will continue to lean on veteran quarterback Jon Mason to get things going and spread the ball around.
“A lot of guys regard him as one of the best in our region,” Martin said. “He had a great year last year with 47 touchdowns and 6 only picks. He completed about 67 percent of his passes and led us to an undefeated season.”
Mason is joined in the back field by a stable of running backs, including veteran Tristan Murray.
“Just his vision and balance are impeccable,” Martin said. “He just comes from a pedigree of winning. He was a Division III player at Wittenberg, which is a Division III powerhouse. He’s probably the smartest player I’ve been around, just a winner.”
Look for 6-foot-5 wide out Lamar Taborn to be on the receiving end of many of Mason’s passes once again in 2017.
“He’s phenomenal, definitely a match-up problem for a lot of teams,” Martin said.
“I mention those three guys, but we’ve got so many guys that have been with us for four years or more. So, it’s more about the continuity of being able to build. I’ve coached since 2005 and some of the guys have been with me since 2008. The system guys have continued to grow up in the system and get better and better at it.”
Defensively, look for 2016 Championship game MVP James Ross to have another big year as a linebacker and defensive end as well as veteran cornerback Robert Redd.
“Robert has played some quarterback and wide receiver for us,” Martin said. “He played some wide receiver in the NFL and Arena 1 for a while, now he’s a converted cornerback, kind of a shutdown corner for us.”
The defense is led by defensive coordinator Nick Wilke.
“He’s in his second year here and third overall,” Martin said. “That defense has an edge to it, he brings that and they bring it all the time.”
These five guys aren’t the only ones that will be making plays for the Crush inside Roger Glass Stadium in Dayton, Ohio.
“We’ve got a number of guys that have played college ball, more of them would be smaller college ball,” Martin said. “We’ve been able to take guys from quality programs. The University of Dayton is an FCS school here in Dayton. We just had an offensive lineman that fell into our lap, he was a three-year starter there in a very good program. We get the cream of the crop in our area and we recruit and land guys in about 100 mile radius. We get guys from Columbus, Cincinnati, and Northern Kentucky. We’re able to pull guys in that want to play here.”
A big reason the Crush has been able to recruit so well is their winning tradition and the positive atmosphere it has created throughout the organization.
“For us, it’s always been bigger than football and we always get guys to buy into that and make it more than football,” Martin said. “At this level, there’s nothing binding the guys together. They’re not on scholarship, they’re not getting paid so what makes guys want to stay around? We do a lot together outside of football. We average probably 50 guys at practice, guys understand we’re going to compete every week and that brings out the best of the group. Constant competition creates a great atmosphere.”
While the Crush have grown into a regional power and a nationally known team, things didn’t start out that way in Dayton for the Orange and Black.
“Woody Bowers is the owner of this team,” Martin said. “He had a vision of this team when they started of just a hometown team of about 30 local guys. When we hooked up about four years ago, it was about trying to make the highest quality of organization in this area. He’s been a great owner to work with, he allows me to coach and us to coach and we always make it a point to do things the right way and represent the team the right way.”