by Michael Leonard
Cuyahoga Falls -- The 2015 Suburban League football season -- the league's first as a two-conference, 15-team league -- was a big success.
The Suburban League sent six teams to the playoffs and saw Stow-Munroe Falls and Hudson progress to the state semifinal round.
Little wonder then why league officials and coaches are champing at the bit to start the 2016 season.
The Suburban League got into the spirit as it hosted its second annual kickoff luncheon July 28 at the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium.
Cuyahoga Falls athletic director Tom DiFrancesco hosted the event and let the coaches know the reputation of the Suburban League continues to grow.
"It has been great for all of us to be part of this league," DiFrancesco said. "Believe me, we are well recognized throughout the state for our football."
DiFrancesco playfully pumped up his own school, referring to Falls as "The Cuyahoga Falls High School" and decking the tables out in Black Tigers' black and gold.
DiFrancesco also noted the championships won outside of football in the first year of the league and introduced the All-Sports Championship trophies for the National and American Conference.
League commissioner Keith Walker said the trophies were created just this year by Crown Trophy. Each year, the school with the most success across all sports will have the right to engrave its school on the trophy and keep it for that school year.
Hudson won the all-sport title in the National Conference for the 2015-16 school year, while Copley won the title in the American Conference. The trophies will be formally presented at the league's principals meeting in September.
Coaches say league is strong 'top to bottom'
Among the constant themes expressed by league coaches were the overall strength of the league and the respect and growing friendships between coaches.
Aurora head coach Bob Mihalik, who led the Greenmen to a co-championship in the American Conference, noted his team will have its hands full again.
"We were very fortunate to get a co-championship in the league with Copley," Mihalik said. "Certainly, it was a step up in competition from the CVC [Chagrin Valley Conference]. We're playing with some of the best teams in the area every week. The competition level is unbelievable."
In the National Conference, Stow-Munroe Falls' best season in school history coincided with the Bulldogs joining the league.
Stow offensive coordinator Martin Poder said the Bulldogs face a big challenge if they hope to repeat.
"I think last year proved, week in and week out, that it's a competitive conference," Poder said. "Every coach had got his program moving in the right direction at least. Our first goal is to win the Suburban League."
Three league teams will have new head coaches this fall, including Tallmadge with Alan Vanderink. A former assistant at Copley, Vanderink knows all about his conference opponents.
"This league is very tough," Vanderink said. "I think that's a great thing for everybody. You're only going to be better if you're able to play the best."
At Hudson, Jeff Gough becomes head coach, albeit on an interim basis. Gough said he knows the Explorers will have to get better to continue their recent runs of postseason success.
"I think the league, top to bottom, has a lot of talent and a lot of great coaching," Gough said. "The success speaks for itself. We've got to compete every single day, especially in this league."
Nordonia coach Jeff Fox wished the players and coaches "Happy Football season." He echoed his fellow coaches' opinions, as the Knights also look to return to the playoffs.
"Our respect for the league is confirmed," Fox said. "There's a lot of respect for each other, as you can see here [July 28]."
Twinsburg struggled in its first year in the league. Tigers coach Mike Bell said his team is in a much better place this year, even if that doesn't translate to wins.
"It's a tremendous league in all areas," Bell said. "Top to bottom, this is the most challenging league I've ever been associated with. For me and my guys, it's an inspiration to get better."
Falls coach Sean Flaherty saw his team also struggle in its first year in the league.
"It's pushing us to be a better team," Flaherty said. "We're committing ourselves to improving as a program every single day."
Kent Roosevelt coach Tim King said he has a good feeling about 2016, noting the Rough Riders had won league titles in 1986, 1996 and 2006.
"The league is a great football league," King said. "For us to move up, we've got to be able to finish some more ballgames."
Week one of football season is scheduled to begin Aug. 26.