The Woodridge football team has reached the playoffs seven times in the last 10 years.
The Bulldogs hope to continue their impressive run against a solid program from the Eastern Buckeye Conference.
Woodridge is scheduled to make its 2019 debut against Beloit West Branch, which finished 6-4 overall and 3-3 in its conference last year.
Jeff Decker, a native of Deshler in Northwest Ohio, will begin his sixth season as the Bulldogs head coach. Under his direction, Woodridge is 45-11, highlighted by consecutive 11-1 seasons in 2015 and 2016.
Both teams will be competing in Division III this season. The Bulldogs finished 6-4 last season.
"Our JV (junior varsity) teams played each other and that was a game between evenly-matched teams," Decker said. "The coaches discovered (both teams) had an opening for the first week (of 2019) and we talked, and a (two-game) series was scheduled."
West Branch, which will travel to Peninsula for this season's contest, replaces Parma Padua Franciscan as Woodridge's opener. Padua, which competes in the same North Coast League big-school division as four-time reigning state champion Akron Hoban, defeated Woodridge last season.
"We think West Branch is a good team for us to play," Decker said. "They have a good program, they're the same size as us and they're in the same region. It also will be fun and challenging to play somebody new."
Before Decker was hired, Woodridge became one of the top regional middle-division football powers under head coach Eric Ervin, making the playoffs in 2009, 2012 and 2013. When Ervin stepped down as head coach, Decker sought the job, believing he was ready after spending six seasons as defensive coordinator at Chagrin Falls (2008-2013), which made the Division IV state championship games in 2009 (losing to Kettering Alter) and 2010 (losing to Columbus Bishop Hartley).
"I learned a lot working for coach (head coach Mark) Iammarino at Chagrin Falls and felt I was ready to be a head coach," Decker said. "I was looking at a good (middle division) program and I knew that (Woodridge) fit that description because we played them. Coach Ervin had a very well-run program."
Teaching and coaching weren't Decker's original professions. After earning two college engineering degrees (bachelor's from Cincinnati and a master's from Virginia), he landed a position at Worthington Industries in Columbus. One of his duties was teaching a problem-solving process class to company maintenance department personnel. Meanwhile, he also coached youth football in Westerville.
"I really enjoyed teaching and coaching and that's when I decided to change (professions)," Decker said.
Decker earned another master's degree, this one in Education,and left Worthington Industries after 11 years on the job. He spent three years as a middle school coach in the Pickerington North system before moving to Northeast Ohio and landing at Chagrin Falls, launching his high school educational career.
"I got the teaching and coaching bug and haven't regretted it, especially getting a chance to develop as a coach at Chagrin Falls and to land the head coaching job at Woodridge," Decker said. "We've had a good relationship with our youth organization and it's a well-rounded (sports) community. All of our teams are good."
Woodridge started slow last season, losing its first four games, including its conference opener. The Bulldogs, who graduated seven three-year starters from the 2017 team that finished 9-2 after losing 27-17 to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in a regional first-round game, kept progressing and won its last six games.
"We not only had a lot of new guys, but we lost our best (returning) athlete with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and our quarterback also got hurt in Game Three (against Akron Buchtel)," Decker said. "We got our quarterback back, our other kids matured and we were playing our best football by the end of the (regular) season."
With a returning cast headed by the quarterback and including four offensive linemen, a wide receiver and one defensive lineman, one linebacker, one cornerback and one safety, Woodridge possesses ample returners and well-versed athletes to make another postseason run.
"I encourage our kids to play multiple sports," Decker added. "We have mostly two-sport athletes and a few three-sport athletes and having that type of athlete has helped make our football program better."