JEFFERSON — Lakeside, Edgewood and Grand Valley aren’t the only county schools changing football conferences this season.

Jefferson will take part in the inaugrual Northeast 8 Conference, along with Girard, Niles, Hubbard, Lakeview, South Range, Poland and Struthers.

Last season, the NE8 formed and played all sports, except football, which remained as part of the All-American Conference.

This year, the NE8 is full with the addition of football.

Despite the switch in conferences, the teams Jefferson will face are hardly strangers. 

The Falcons played Girard, Niles, Hubbard, Lakeview, Poland and Struthers as AAC schools. 

South Range had previously been set to join the newly-created Eastern Buckeye Conference in 2018, but then received an invitation to join the AAC Blue Tier.

At the same time they were invited to join the NE8. With three league invitations, South Range decided to join the NE8.

“It will be a big challenge,” Falcons coach Ed Rankin said. “Football is important in those communities. The passion for football in the NE8 is unmatched. They have established teams and established coaching staffs.”

Last season, Girard advanced to the Division IV state championship game, before falling to Cincinnati Wyoming 42-14.

Hubbard reached the third round of the Division IV playoffs, while Struthers and Poland attained seven and six wins, respectively.

“Struthers always stands out, South Range is always ready to play,” Rankin said. “I’m very familiar with all those teams, in the towns of the NE8, football is the most important thing.

“You can say it’s not, but go to a game, go watch a practice, go walk down the hallway or talk to the community members. We have people at the diner in Niles in a bad mood because their high school football team lost, we’re talking like 60-70-year old men.”

Rankin, who coached at Niles and South Range, believes he has a better pulse of the Falcons after a year on the job.

“There’s a comfort level and now I have the ability to focus on football,” he said. “Having been in the district and being more established, we know the kids and what they’re good at and what they’re weaknesses are.

“We know what to expect ... we expect hard nosed, passionate football.”

Jefferson is seeking its first win since Sept. 1, 2017.

While Rankin will prepare his team for an opponent each week, he said the ultimate goal is for Jefferson to improve.

“The answer for Jefferson football is

to get better,” he said. “We feel we’re getting better, but it takes

time. We feel we’re

getting better every day.”

The Falcons start the season against three county schools — at Grand Valley Aug. 30, at Geneva Sept. 6 and home to Edgewood Sept. 13.

“That makes our schedule more challenging,” Rankin said. “(Conneaut) Coach (Rocco) Dobran told me when you play a county school, everybody is amped up. It’s just different, so now we have like three blood rivals where everybody is gonna play with their hair in on fire. A team may be down, but you know you’re gonna get their best game.”

Lakeside, Edgewood and GV are joining

the Chagrin Valley

Conference.