When your program has won 19 consecutive regular-season games and 31 of its last 36 overall, many start wondering what the secret is – particularly at a school without much in the way of sustained success on the football field.
Seriously, Andy Thomas, what is going on at Angola?
“It is nothing special really,” the Hornets head coach (pictured) said. “We work hard and take it day by day. It isn’t fancy or sexy.”
Such is life in Angola, where excitement for the Hornets has arguably never been higher, perhaps only matched in the early 1990s with back-to-back sectional title teams.
But there are questions and concerns about this year’s Hornets. For the second-straight year, graduation has gutted the roster of some of its most productive players, including quarterback Jarrett Gibson and running back/linebacker Chase Schnepf.
Junior Tucker Hasselman will get the nod at quarterback for Angola, looking to be a difference maker at the position like Gibson was in 2018 and Chance Roddy was the year before.
Hasselman will have a cadre of running backs in which to help him out. Brother Finley Hasselman is in line for some carries, as well as Jacob Gibson.
Fans may do a double take when they see the familiar No. 15 that mans the back end of the Angola defense also on the field on offense. Senior Ryan Brandt, committed to Purdue, will see action for the Hornets at running back and potentially elsewhere for the first time at the varsity level.
“He does whatever we ask him to do,” said Thomas of Brandt. “He is a freakishly talented player. We are not going to wear him out on offense, but we feel like he has to get some touches and be involved.”
Junior Gage King is a player to watch at wide receiver. He will be joined at the position by fellow junior Jacksyn Nafziger and senior Daven Albright.
The offensive front also needs to be rebuilt, although 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior Kyle Trick is an unknown outside of the NECC but is an absolute beast along the line and at defensive end.
As for the defense, Brandt will be the unquestioned leader at safety. He expressed frustration at just two interceptions to go along with 72 tackles and four punt blocks a year ago, but admitted that teams shied away from his side of the field. His ability to run downhill and initiate contact with a ball carrier is unmatched in the area.
Chase Soulliere is in his second year as a starter at cornerback. He could be the beneficiary in pass defense when teams look away from Brandt. Antonio Luevanos is also a player to watch in the secondary.
At linebacker, Lucas Waite on the outside is a solid run stopper. Seniors Owen Shoup and Aidyn Book will also see significant action at the position as well.
Sophomore Brandon Villafuerte is a name to remember on the defensive line.
The goals remain the same for Angola, which now with Bishop Dwenger in Class 5A has realistic expectations to go deeper in the 4A postseason. But first, the Hornets must continue their dominance in the NECC while also navigating a new foe. After pummeling Jimtown in back-to-back years in Week 3, the Jimmies abruptly dropped Angola in the offseason. Instead of picking up an extra game in the league against a team like Fremont, the Hornets will step out of their comfort zone by hosting Orchard Lake St. Mary’s out of Michigan. Angola will return the favor and head north next season.
“We may be getting in over our head who knows, but it will be a good challenge for us,” Thomas said.
The first month of the season will set the tone. Angola opens with road games at DeKalb and Leo then travel to West Noble in Week 4 following the game against St. Mary’s. With so many new names in key roles, the Hornets will need to mature quickly.
The unflappable Thomas isn’t worried.
“We just need to continue to do what we have done the last few years, which is develop our players from the junior high level up and have them ready to contribute when their time comes,” Thomas said.
Two-straight 12-1 seasons is a good place to start. While Angola has not proven it can knock off the big boys in the area in the postseason (translation: Bishop Dwenger), the schedule is by no means easy. Winning a difficult Sectional 19 in back-to-back years is more impressive than many want to give the Hornets credit for.
Another NECC Big School title is possible, perhaps even probable. Are other programs closing the gap? There is promise at places like West Noble and Garrett, but whether they can knock off Angola remains to be seen.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
To be amongst the big boys, you have to beat the big boys. Some have brought up how Angola is much too big (and too successful) for the NECC, filled with lower-class programs. But until something opens up in another league (if ever), the Hornets will have to beef up their non-conference schedule as much as possible to prepare them for the rigors of the 4A playoffs.
Would it be great to see Angola in say, the Northeast 8? Yes, but geographically the school does not fit in the conference’s footprint.
Week 4 at West Noble
The first NECC Big School Division game of the year for Angola is also likely the one that will decide the winner. West Noble held the Hornets to a regular-season low 21 points last year, easily the most competitive game for the team in the NECC in 2018.
With Brandon Pruitt and Josh Gross leading the way, West Noble wants to prove it can knock Angola off its perch in the conference. It will get its chance in mid-September.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Chase Soulliere, senior, cornerback
As mentioned above, Soulliere could benefit when teams throw away from Brandt downfield. The senior is one of the few Angola defenders with starting experience and is confident in coverage and in playing the ball.
Do not be surprised if Soulliere is one of the NECC’s leaders in interceptions in 2019.