Blair Vanlandingham was a leader for the Red Devils.
In many ways, he was the leader for Richmond’s football team, both on the field and off.
Never was that more evident than Richmond’s senior night, when the linebacker donned the jersey of classmate Nathan Flannery, honoring a friend who could not play this season because of an injury.
Vanlandingham led by example, and by his actions. He was a hard-hitting, consistent defensive force who racked up 85 tackles, five interceptions and five sacks as Richmond repeated as champion of the North Central Conference.
“Blair was a tremendous leader of the team, in general,” said RHS coach Matt Holeva. “Set the tone every day, as far as working hard and trying to do the right things.
“We had a lot of great athletes there on the defense, but I think he comes back and really kind of solidifies that defense and was truly the leader out there of that group.”
Vanlandingham is the Palladium-Item’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. National Trail’s Garrett Griffin is the Offensive Player of the Year after a season that saw the junior quarterback lead the Blazers into Ohio’s playoffs for the first time ever with 3,098 passing yards and 49 total touchdowns.
There was another first in Fountain City, as Northeastern earned a share of the Tri-Eastern Conference championship. Coach Mike Roeder has built a steady level of success for the Knights over the past several years, with the program finishing .500 or better in seven of its past eight seasons.
Roeder is the Coach of the Year. Holeva, who guided Richmond to back-to-back NCC titles, also was heavily considered, as were National Trail’s Tony Sonsini and Winchester’s Mike Jones.
The Knights finished 9-3 and put a scare into Class A powerhouse Eastern Hancock in the Sectional 45 final.
“It’s the players,” Roeder said. “When you have years like this, it’s always the players. I say players and assistant coaches make these kinds of years. When we do well, that’s the reason.
“We have some good ones, and we have some good ones coming back.”
Northeastern overcame early adversity from injuries to stop Winchester 28-14 in Week 2 of a critical TEC matchup that featured the two teams that would go on to share the league championship.
The Knights finished the regular-season with a flourish, too. They held off Union City 16-14 in the final seconds of a thriller, then went into tournament play with momentum, knocking off both Tri High and Monroe Central on the way to the sectional final.
Northeastern gave Eastern Hancock its toughest challenge in the sectional, leading in the second half before the Royals rallied for a 57-36 victory. Eastern Hancock is playing for the Class A state crown.
“I’m kind of the overseer,” Roeder said. “We have never got a first down on our own, never made a tackle and never scored a touchdown. It’s the kids. We’ve been blessed with great football players to try and execute our plan.”
One of those players, junior Kelsy Kirkland, is Northeastern’s all-time leading rusher. Kirkland, Richmond receiver Matt Morrow and Winchester sophomore Kiante Enis were also considered for the Offensive Player of the Year award.
Griffin’s numbers were staggering. He tied an Ohio single-game record with nine passing touchdowns, and also rushed for 337 yards and another 11 TDs.
Griffin tossed just nine interceptions to 38 TDs, and Sonsini said eight of those interceptions happened over two games.
“He had a very outstanding year, obviously,” Sonsini said. “One of his best attributes is he’s able to read the defense and pick up presnap reads, and knows where he wants to go with the ball before it’s snapped. That’s a big reason why he’s able to put up such good numbers.”
Those numbers helped the Blazers earn a school record eight wins and punch their ticket to the Division IV playoffs for the first time.
“He’s a great kid, on and off the field, a great student-athlete,” Sonsini said. “He’s everything you want in the quarterback position.”
Vanlandingham’s strongest challenge to the Defensive Player of the Year title came from teammate Nate Trawick.
Fitting, since Vanlandingham was quick to credit his teammates for the Red Devils’ success.
“We all worked hard and fought hard all season,” Vanlandingham said. “We can look at each other and know we didn’t give up on each other.”
One of Vanlandingham’s fondest memories from this season was Richmond’s senior night, when the Red Devils downed Logansport 28-14 and clinched their second straight outright NCC title.
“We had a good class of seniors who cared about the team and the underclassmen,” Vanlandingham said.
“I had a lot of good guys around me. It was good to get to bond with those guys, the seniors I played football with since the Hub League, good to bond with those guys one last time.”