While some are quick to chalk up the Bengals’ seven-win season in 2017 solely as a disappointment, the team’s rookie class flashed enough in Year 1 to give reason for fans to look toward a much brighter future. Of course, first-round wide receiver John Ross, who played just 17 offensive snaps this past season, remains a question mark within the class, but his performance — or lack thereof — is an anomaly compared to fellow rookies Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis and, most importantly, Carl Lawson. A fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, Lawson exceeded expectations during his first year in the NFL, finishing his rookie campaign tied for 25th in the NFL with 8.5 sacks. Bengals, bengals.com.
2. Coach Mick Cronin
3. Kyle Washington
2. Andy Dalton
3. AJ McCarron
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum is a shrine to all things Reds and the sport’s most immersive museum outside the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Its 10 full-time galleries include “Glory Days,” a tribute to championship teams like the Big Red Machine; “The Reds Are on the Radio,” where fans can compare their own calls to those of legendary broadcasters in a recreated radio booth; and changing exhibits like the super popular Bobbleheads (which closed in February 2017), featuring more than 800 ball-park-giveaway bobblehead figurines from the 1960s to today. Among other plaques and statues surrounding the museum (which is adjacent to Great American Ball Park) stands a dynamic recreation of Pete Rose doing his famous head-first slide. Rose is both a hometown hero and villain — honor and/or disgrace his likeness while taking a picture with the bronzed Charlie Hustle then learn more about his likeness in the exhibit Red to Bronze: The Story of Reds Statues. Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown, reds.com.
Though he played just 376 defensive snaps as a true freshman in 2017, University of Cincinnati linebacker Jarell White still made a worthwhile impact as part of the Bearcats’ defense and flashed star-level potential. Dubbed a four-star recruit by Rivals and a three-star by 247Sports, ESPN and Scout coming out of Cincinnati’s LaSalle High School, White turned down offers from a number of Power 5 programs (i.e. Boston College, Iowa, Purdue, Pittsburgh) to represent his hometown as a Bearcat. In his collegiate debut, White recorded 46 combined tackles (29 solo) and 2.5 tackles for loss, revealing just a spark of his bright future with Cincinnati. White will surely receive an increased workload in 2018 because of Jaylyin Minor’s graduation, allowing him to join forces with budding star linebacker Perry Young and continue to pad out his résumé. University of Cincinnati, gobearcats.com.
A former rodeo athlete turned linebacker, the University of Cincinnati’s Jaylyin Minor took the road less traveled before becoming one of the most productive linebackers in the school’s history. With no offers coming out of high school as a two-sport athlete (football and rodeo), the Texas native opted to continue his football career in his home state at Tyler Junior College. After just eight games with the Apaches, Minor was considered a two-star recruit as part of the 2014 class and accepted an offer from UC over a handful of Power 5 programs. After taking on a backup role for his first two seasons with Cincinnati, Minor exploded as a senior in 2017, as he led the AAC and ranked ninth nationally in total tackles (125). He also accrued 4.5 tackles for loss. Now moving on from Nippert Stadium to test his talents in the NFL, Minor is training in Atlanta to prepare for Cincinnati’s Pro Day and take his story to the next level in the big leagues. University of Cincinnati, gobearcats.com.
Want a beer? How about a bike? Maybe a canoe? Find all three — and a chef-driven seasonal food menu — at Fifty West. The brewery has expanded its empire to include the great outdoors and taken over a mile-long stretch of Wooster Pike with its Production Works facility — home of a canoe and kayak rental business and sand volleyball courts — and Fifty West Cycling Company, offering bike rentals, fittings, lessons and planned group rides. Volleyball leagues and boat rentals start in spring but Fifty West Cycling, located just off the Little Miami Scenic trail, is open year-round. Social group rides take place Tuesday nights, and every Thursday “beer lovers with a running problem” can run with Fifty West. They’ve also recently started offering a Sunday morning yoga series for beginners. Drink, eat and then burn those calories right off. Fifty West Brewing Company, 7668 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, fiftywestbrew.com.
A graduate of Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard officially declared for the 2018 NFL Draft following his junior campaign with the Buckeyes, essentially punching his ticket to the big leagues. Projected as a first-round pick in some of the early circulating mock drafts, Hubbard shined bright along an Ohio State defensive line riddled with stars like Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa and Jalyn Holmes. Hubbard finished second on the team in sacks (7.0) and total tackles for loss (13.5) in 2017. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound edge product will work to improve his stock prior to the draft April 26-28.
Mason High School senior running back Matt Sora was highly regarded throughout his Comets career for a number of on-field feats, but no statistic or single-game effort outshines Sora’s 35-game start streak. The 6-foot, 200-pound Sora first took over as Mason’s starting running back as a sophomore in 2015 and proceeded to make 35 consecutive starts, rushing for over 3,000 yards and 39 touchdowns in the process. His production is a feat within itself, but his ability to maintain his hard-hitting, gritty running style for 35 consecutive games without slowing down or suffering injury speaks volumes to his toughness and character.