Is DeKalb ready to be a true contender in the Northeast 8 for the first time since the league’s realignment?
Signs are pointing to yes and a more potent offense could be the easy culprit. The transfer of senior quarterback Evan Eshbach from Wawasee has been a buzzworthy move this offseason. He threw for over 2,000 yards a year ago, so his huge arm is a big upside for a Baron offense that threw for less than 700 yards as a team in 2018. Competition in the way of junior Corey Price, who threw just four times last season, is something Coach Pete Kempf sees as making the team stronger.
“They both bring unique talents, leadership styles, ways to see the game and lead the game and for us, we see that as a luxury. Week by week, game by game we are going to have to see what opponents will give us,” Kempf said.
As we’ve seen the dual quarterback gameplan more often in northeast Indiana in the last few years, it could rear its head at DeKalb too. While Eshbach has a stronger arm, Price is a good runner and creator. Situational quarterbacking may be in the cards.
“They are a lot more alike than they are different actually. Corey has improved tremendously delivering the ball this summer, processing the position. He is very athletic, he can run the ball,” Kempf said. “Evan coming in, we know he can sling the ball around. We knew what we were getting with that. He also added ten pounds of muscle in the weight room. He is more athletic than we originally thought; he can run, he can move, he carries himself well in the pocket.”
Senior tight end Evan Snider could be the most consistent target, but Kempf also sees Easton Rhodes and Kai Zacharias as being key contributors due to their rapport with both quarterbacks. Snider is a true tight end that Kempf says blocks well and has great hands on the catch. Caleb Nixon, a super quick basketball standout, will be playing for the first time since seventh grade and adds another option.
On the ground, where DeKalb usually thrives, two of the top three backs from 2018 return in junior Tanner Jack (93 carries, 625 yards) and senior Landon Miller (79 carries, 524 yards). DeKalb was a 2,500-yard rushing team that racked up 28 of 32 offensive touchdowns in 2018 on the ground. Senior guard Tylar Pomeroy, at 6-3 and 270 pounds, will be key again in opening up the offense after an NE8 All-Conference season last time around, as will senior Hoyt Stafford. DeKalb also returns four junior offensive lineman that average around 280 pounds and are big up front.
“We consider ourselves nasty up front and they are going carry us. That is going to be the primary focus, we are going to run the ball,” Kempf said. “When teams start putting nine or ten in the box, we are going to start throwing.”
Miller will also make waves on the defensive end from a linebacker spot after totaling 33 solo tackles and a pair of sacks in 2018. DeKalb graduated six of its top eight tacklers, but also return Dominic Blevins (27 tackles in 2018) at middle linebacker.
Ask East Noble, which saw a less experienced DeKalb team take it to the limit in sectional play last fall. The Barons won four of their last five regular season games, dropped a 7-0 game to Leo and then lost to high-powered East Noble by one point in the postseason. That was a DeKalb team widely considered a year away from being a viable contender. This is the next year. The Barons are a viable contender in the Northeast 8 and the postseason.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
While everything that earns them this position is true, the Barons aren’t higher on the food chain just yet because ‘close’ doesn’t mean over the hump. A critical win and a winning record are in no way out of reach for DeKalb, but the program hasn’t had an above .500 record since 2007 and never under Kempf. The coach has however posted five of the best six seasons since their last winning season.
September 6 at New Haven
After a couple of weeks to warm up against perennially tough Angola and county foe Garrett, the Barons have the chance to make a huge impression against New Haven where one team can put its foot down firmly as a conference favorite. This game on the turf also launches a back-to-back that finishes with East Noble. DeKalb could come out of weeks 3 and 4 in charge of the NE8. But it starts with having to play fast on the turf against a skilled and quick Bulldog group.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tanner Jack, junior, slotback and strong safety
Jack (pictured above) surged in the second half of the season to lead the Barons in carries while being second in yardage and rushing touchdowns. Likely slated to continue a role a feature back, he could become critical as teams key in on an improved Baron passing game. His 1130-yard effort in Week 8 against Bellmont earned him Outside the Huddle Performance of the Week honors and there could be many more triple digit yard games in his future.