CANTON -- The Fitch High football team made quite the impression in its first season playing in the Federal League in 2004.
So much so, that the three Federal League coaches representing their respective teams at the 25th annual Stark County Football Preview at St. Haralombos Church in Canton, all tabbed Fitch as one of the top contenders for the 2005 league crown.
"I expect Fitch to be right there again this year," said Canton McKinley coach Brian Cross, whose team lost to the Falcons 22-0 at home in 2004. "It did not surprise me at all that they were so successful in their first year in the league.
"They've always had numbers, good kids and great coaching," Cross said. "Even back when I played at Warren Western Reserve, Fitch was tough and gave us a hard time. They have some kids to replace from last year, but they'll be right there."
In 2004, Fitch finished 9-2 and won the Federal League title with a 6-1 mark. Whether the Falcons will come in and handle the competition in a league that's expected to be more balanced across the board is uncertain.
But Canton GlenOak coach Jack Rose was the first to say that Fitch's program is reloaded and will show that 2004 was not a one-hit wonder.
"When you come into the Federal League and shutout McKinley at home, you are the real deal," Rose said. "They won some big games last year and I think between Fitch, McKinley and us, there are at least three teams that can be very good.
"The league is so balanced this year. North Canton will be improved, Lake will be better and I think Boardman will be much improved. I was impressed with how hard they played us last year."
The Falcons were one of five Federal League teams to advance to the playoffs last year, with the others being Canton McKinley, GlenOak and Massillon Jackson in Division I and Lake in Division II.
Massillon Perry coach John "Spider" Miller thinks Fitch will have a shot at the postseason again, but hopes his squad will be able to join the league's playoff caravan in 2005.
"We played Fitch in the early 1990s and they were always a dominant team and had tough kids," Miller said. "Nothing has changed. They will be very competitive in this very competitive league. We'll all test each other every week."
Other Stark County football coaches offering previews of their 2005 squads included Alliance's Ron Kuceyeski, whose team will move from the Metro Athletic Conference to the Northeastern Buckeye Conference; Central Catholic's Lowell Klinefelter; Massillon's Tom Stacy; Timken's Steve Turner; Canton South's Elmer Schuetz; and Fairless' Ed Cybak, a former Fitch standout.