Three county schools look to defend their conference crowns from a season ago, but with new personnel for each of them, it’s a whole new ballgame. Sectional realignment has also shaken things up for each school, making for what should make for an interesting and unique postseason.
Coming off the program’s third nine-win season in the last four years, Bulldogs coach Brett Comer has plenty of new faces in what he calls a “program year,” one that he hopes will display its depth.
“This year our team has a new feel with several key players getting their first chance under the bright lights,” said Comer, who enters his eighth season at the helm. “It will be exciting but a great challenge to maintain our high level of play.”
Brownsburg returns seven offensive starters, including fullback Toks Akinribade, who ran for 889 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman last year.
“We are very aware that teams now know who wears No. 44 for us and they will game-plan to stop him,” Comer said. “However, when defending our offense, that is where most teams start regardless of who is manning the fullback position.”
After earning all-conference at outside linebacker last year, Jacob Lambert will start at quarterback.
“He has worked very hard this summer to regain his confidence in running our offense and has done well,” Comer said. “Jacob is more of a runner than passer, but certainly has the ability to throw the ball for us as well.”
Other primary offensive contributors are running backs Devontae Allen, Daniel Ferguson and Tyler Welch; wideouts Isaiah Hightower, Jalen Hall and Michael Klayer; and linemen Evan Mallory, Dustin Dowers, Jake Shelley, Kent Craig, Bryce Tolle and Justin Davis.
Five starters are back from a defense that gave up just eight points per game last season. On the line are Nathan Ramsey, Mac Dutra, Colton Voyles, Justin Lazaro and Brandon Webber. At linebacker are Zach Carlson, Avery Holmes, Riley Isch, Johnny Dotlich, Stone Neese and Brooks Bireley. Manning the secondary are Jamar Conway, Brad Guilinger, Mike McCoy, Connor Nichols, Caleb Cooley and Tyler Kirtz.
“Defensively we will be very young, but we do have some ability and some athletes who are confident in what they can do and will play with effort and enthusiasm,” Comer said.
On special teams, junior all-stater Brandon Dowers returns at placekicker and Nathan Ramsey will again handle punts.
Brownsburg, which will play on a new turf field in a redone home stadium, won the Hoosier Crossroads Conference championship outright last year after tying for it the previous season.
“The HCC is a meat grinder,” Comer said. “It does not matter who you play or where you play them, it will be a difficult ball game. There are great athletes at every school and the teams are very well coached.”
At 7-3 last season, the Warriors claimed a share of the Sagamore Conference crown and finished with the program’s best record since its run to regionals in 2007.
“We have seen our program grow leaps and bounds in the direction we were hoping,” third-year Danville coach Russ Sumner said. “Competing for a conference title is now an expectation instead of a hope. Our weight room participation is one area that has dramatically improved and that directly translates into better performance on the field.”
After graduating 20 seniors, Danville has just eight this year, but Sumner feels his system of personnel rotation will help fill the void.
“We will be a young team this year, but we will have quite a bit of experience back because we two-platoon,” Sumner said. “That provides us with quite a few players who saw significant playing time as sophomores last year. We will have the same scenario again with several sophomores stepping into starting positions.”
While now the smallest school in Class 4A, Danville posted a 3A-best 3,139 rushing yards last year, 1,246 of which came from returning senior fullback Autry Pickens, who also scored 17 TDs.
“His role will be expanded, but that also means that our other running backs will touch the ball a bit more with teams keying on Autry,” Sumner said. “This makes us less predictable since we run the option.”
After accounting for 596 yards and four TDs last year, Ben Jones is expected to start at quarterback, but could share time with freshman Christian Schabel.
Back on the offensive line are James Banich and Ryan Miller. Nick Hunt, Braxton Hudson, Luke Broderick and Christian Spurlock will also contribute.
Tanner Holland, Nick Hall, Jonathan Curtis, Nick Gilliam, Dylan Boyd, Austin Scammahorn, and Kody Caudle will lead the defense.
Sumner expects Logan Knotts, Jonathan Muse, Trevor Schubert, Connor McGovern and Tanner Hubbard to be among the Warriors’ top first-time varsity players.
Along with moving to 4A, Danville received no favor in its sectional realignment, as the Warriors have Chatard and Roncalli in their bracket, teams with a combined 39 sectional titles.
“We believed our sectional would work out the way it did,” Sumner said. “One way or another, we would potentially have to play the best in the state. We believe we can compete with anyone if we execute our assignments and play to our potential. As long as we maximize our potential, then I am happy with any result that may occur in a game.”
An 8-3 record and co-Sagamore Conference championship last year has the Bruins ready to take another step forward.
“I think last season had an impact on this group through the offseason and I think it left us feeling good about Tri-West football in general,” eighth-year Tri-West coach Chris Coll said. “But now that we are about to kick off the 2013 season, it will be up to this team and it’s leaders to establish itself and create momentum.”
Junior Jake Hendershot, who has started since his freshman year, returns at quarterback. Hendershot had 2,463 total yards and 30 TDs in a sophomore campaign that saw him earn junior all-state, all-conference and all-county honors.
“His knowledge of the game has increased, his leadership has increased and he has physically improved,” Coll said. “So the challenge for Jake this season will be our need for him to make those around him better … (and) based on the summer and preseason, I believe he is doing that.”
Other returning starters at the skill positions are sophomore running backs Colton Jobe and Wes Cook, and wideout Ryan Riehle.
Leading the offensive line are two senior returnees at tackle – second team all-conference and third-year starter Andrew Saunders, and JT Williams.
Key newcomers on offense include wideouts Jerriontai Ragsdale, Casey Coll and Peyton Hendershot; and linemen Theo Parker, Peyton Simons, Luke Hatton and Austin Staton.
Seven starters are back on a defense that Coll anticipates seeing in full action.
“We are excited about our defense,” Coll said. “We feel like we have some guys that stepped up this offseason with leadership and work ethic.”
Returnees include three at linebacker, with leading tackler, sacker and interceptor Rick Perry outside, and fellow seniors Ross Cooper and Andrew Pullum inside. Also back are senior Bryce Hill and Drake Stahl at defensive end, senior Carlos Branson at tackle and senior Kyle Cook at cornerback.
New defensive contributors will include linebackers Johnny Broshears, Zach Parks, Keith Poland and Marcus Anderson; DBs Kyle Rose, Aaron Rose and Reed Watson; and lineman Michael Roberts.
While punter was undecided as of press time, Thomas Tintera returns at placekicker.
With Chatard now out of Tri-West’s sectional, the Bruins have a good shot at bringing home the program’s first title since 2005. Still, Coll said that wouldn’t enter their minds until after the regular season.
“The first thing we have to do is to compete and win in the Sagamore Conference,” Coll said. “If we can do that, then we have a chance to compete in the tournament.”
The Orioles advanced further than any other county school last season and ended with a 7-5 record. However, Avon suffered through some inconsistencies throughout the year and that’s something coach Mark Bless hopes to remedy.
“I believe our football team understands what our expectations are and why we fell short of those expectations last year,” he said. “This group of seniors have been a part of a sectional championship, an HCC championship as well as a team that didn’t do as well as we would have liked. We think we can learn from the lessons of the past and hope to build upon those.”
Through attrition, Avon lost key contributors on both offense and defense and those are holes that must be filled.
The Orioles are reloading at the offensive skill positions with quarterback Richie Steinmetz taking control of the offense. David Griffith, David Schall and TiJuan Johnson look to fill the void at running back.
Receivers Sam Bloom, Cress Kimbrough, Nick Etienne and Cole Rightley all have impressed Bless.
The biggest help to Avon’s offense will come up front as they return four of five starters in Jake Higginbotham, Angelo Allen, Ryan Willis and Zach Ryan.
“Still trying to come up with the right combination offensively, but we love the effort that we are getting from our players,” Bless said.
On defense, Avon lost leaders at each level of its 3-3 stack, but Bless said that group has come along nicely.
“We feel like our front seven defensive players are very solid,” he said.
Mack Duffin, Isaiah Robinson, Chad Scaggs, Joe Belden and Rashawn Brent will lead the line while TJ Wilson, Chad Piatek, Ryan Kelly and Zach Williams have impressed from the linebacker spots.
Avon returns Griffith, Ryan Bradley and Gabe Lakstins to the secondary and each return with varsity experience. Bless also said Drew Shayotovich and Nick Handlon will both see time in the secondary.
Senior kicker Nyles Edwards won a couple of important games with his foot last season for the Orioles and returns with a wealth of experience and confidence.
“Nyles has demonstrated is ability for the last two years as a solid punter and kicker for us,” Bless said.
With the new 6A Class that was formed in the offseason, Avon was placed into a very difficult sectional. County and conference rival Brownsburg along with Pike and Ben Davis make up the four-team sectional.
“Our sectional is what it is,” Bless said. “There wasn’t much you could do with sorting out these four schools. The problem is, it might be the toughest sectional in the state. It will be extremely challenging.”
After recording winning records in his first five seasons with Plainfield, coach Brian Woodard posted a losing record in 2011 and the Quakers finished 5-5 last season.
Will this be the year Plainfield gets back above .500?
“I certainly hope so,” Woodard said. “I think every coach goes into the season with a great deal of hope and optimism, however, our main focus is being prepared for Columbus North in Week 1.
“The most important factor for us looking ahead is simply staying healthy. That has been the biggest issue we’ve faced in the past two seasons.”
Workhorse running back Auggie Blevins, who rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns, is gone and replacing his production will be at the forefront of the Quakers’ tasks.
“You hope the ‘next man up’ style of program building and thinking pays off,” Woodard said.
Backs Josh Miller and Jacob Maple along with fullbacks Drew Thomas and Tristan Southwood will try to fill that void.
Senior quarterback Brady Nichols saw limited action last season but Woodard said “he has been in the program for a long time and I’m looking forward to him having a great senior year.”
As targets, Garrett Patton, Kris Clark and Ricardo Dubecky each return with varsity experience. Gabe Burkhardt comes back at the tight end position.
Tyler Garzinski, Edwin Harris, Bobby Jensen and Kyle Roy each have started a year on the offensive line and should provide a good push up front for the Quakers.
“Anytime you have experience at these positions it’s extremely beneficial,” Woodard said.
Defensively, Plainfield returns five starters, but has changed the terminology while working different coverages and alignments.
“(Terminology) has been a growing pain for the defense,” Woodard said.
Woodard pointed to Grayson Goodbar (DE), Evan Schneider (LB) and Josh Miller (DB) as his defensive leaders at each level.
The Quakers will need to work through some issues with depth on their line and some inexperience at key offensive positions and grow together as a team to achieve their goals for the season.
Woodard said the team wants to play for championships and have success in the postseason.
Cathedral finally was moved from Plainfield’s sectional due to the new IHSAA rule, but Indianapolis Chatard, a perennial football powerhouse, replaced the Irish.
“I’m used to talking about sectional No. 13 or No. 14 and now we’re No. 22 so that is a change as well,” Woodard said. “However, what hasn’t changed is a very competitive sectional that will be a meat-grinder for anyone to come through.”
Going into his second season, Cadets coach Jason Thompson has seen increased participation and enthusiasm within the program.
“One thing that has definitely changed is the number of players we will have this year,” Thompson said. “We had 37 at the end of last season, and we will start the season with 47. The summer went really well, attendance was good and we were able to get a lot accomplished.”
It is a major step forward for a program that struggled mightily after former coach Derek Moyers left for Pike following the 2006 season.
“We made huge strides last year in winning three games, compared to the nine the previous five years,” Thompson said. “So believing in themselves is our main focus right now. The potential is there to have a good season.
With the loss of four-year starter Colin Smith, Sawyer Donovan will take over at quarterback.
“He has worked his tail off all winter and spring attending camps and has really improved from last year,” Thompson said.
After having 636 yards and five TDs as a freshman, Zac Butler returns at running back.
“I expect Zac to continue where he left off,” Thompson said. “He obviously will have more confidence than he did last year, and that will show in his play.”
Wideouts are AJ Parsons, Zach Batts, Brock Stevenson and Austin Gates, and Chris Howard is at tight end. Michael Browning, Dirk Bosworth, Sean Bayse, Lucas Stoutenour and Nick Evans are on the line.
Cascade will play its share of ironman football, as Parsons, Butler, Batts, Stephenson, Howard, Stoutenour, Evans and Gates are slotted to go both ways. End Michael Bodeker, lineman Chance Webb and linebacker Daniel Wheat round out the starting defense.
As Thompson attempts to rebuild the program, he expects steady improvement in year two.
“I believe with a year under our belt the players will be more comfortable with the offense and defense,” Thompson said. “Hopefully it will translate into more wins, but football is a weird game at times.”