Kurt Tippmann isn’t going to equivocate. Snider is a team who sets out to be champions. Period. End of conversation.
“Our goals are the same every year, to win a conference championship and to win a state championship,” the Snider head coach said. “We know that is a daunting task; we know that is hard to do because of the talent and the coaching that is prevalent in the SAC. But that is our goal and we are going to work our tail off to try and accomplish that. If our kids embrace that work ethic, if our kids embrace that the team is more important than themselves, I think we have a chance to do that.”
After a back and forth summer of guessing which class the Panthers would play their postseason in to chase that state title, it is back to 6A and significantly more daunting run through the postseason. But first, eyes are on the SAC where the Panthers fell just short a year ago despite that marquee win over Bishop Dwenger.
Jon Barnes Jr. will return to quarterback duties as a senior after a stellar summer. He is a highly intelligent kid so no surprise that he is a highly intelligent and reliable pass thrower. Barnes’ IQ for the game is only growing and you could see that every Friday night during his junior season. Barnes completed 61 percent of his passes last year, throwing for 1,402 yards and 15 touchdowns versus nine interceptions.
“He gets better everyday, he is a kid that doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He just learns, he’s intent on learning, he’s coachable,” Tippmann said. “He tends to the details of the quarterback position that you need him to do to run the offense, making decisions, analyzing, studying the opponent.”
The speed of Alonzo Derrick is going to be Barnes’ primary weapon. Last season, Derrick caught a team high 37 balls for 407 yards. Derrick is a quick cutter who beats most defensive backs with his first steps to create space. Drew Sims will be the next best returner after going for 118 yards as a junior. Snider will get a chance to turn to basketball crossovers Dillon Duff and Michael Eley, who join the squad for the first time. Duff, in particular, looked in the summer like he could help fill the gap of graduated Simon Dellinger.
“He catches everyone and we are excited to have him. Michael Eley is another basketball guy who is playing football. Two great athletes that love to compete and they are going to help us. They are having fun,” Tippmann noted.
On the ground, Snider will turn to senior Lenny Bennett, who earned the program’s coveted #1 jersey. Garrett Siebert wore the #1 jersey last season [the original version of this story said that nobody wore the jersey]. Bennett ran for 517 yards as the second Panther option on the ground last year, but will replace near 1,300 yard rusher A’Nyis Lockett, who scored 17 of the team’s 31 rushing touchdowns. Barnes ran for another 270 yards and four scores.
Blocking for them up front will be a line that is centered by Randy Holtz, even though he doesn’t play center. The 6-foot-7, 312 pound tackle is perhaps the area’s best offensive lineman this year and is a force in getting things started offensively. Like last year’s Outside the Huddle Player of the Year Joe Tippmann of Bishop Dwenger, Holtz’s impact won’t be seen on the stat sheet weekly, if ever. But he does enter the season nonetheless as one of the most impactful and watched players regardless of position.
“He’s a monster,” Tippmann noted succinctly about Holtz.
Tippmann says that the offensive line may be smaller than in past seasons overall, despite Holtz’s stature. Yet, the Snider head coach is still happy with the technique and quickness the offensive line has and what he says they need to be effective.
“We know for any kind of championship team that we look to have, it is going to have to begin in the offensive and defensive fronts,” Tippmann said.
The defensive front looks just as fearsome at the front led by Gianini Belizaire and Jalen Wiggins. Belizaire was the team’s third leading tackler in 2018 with 61, including 50 solo tackles and 15 tackles for a loss and a team high eight sacks. Wiggins added a pair of sacks and 25 tackles. Defensive ends Jovan Franklin and Elijah Perry continue to add to the line’s depth.
“It is a good start. We need size and speed defensively. Defensive line wise, two guys that will return in Gianini and Jaylen that have a load of experience,” Tippmann said. “A quick, strong defensive line is a good start.”
Sometimes linebacker, sometimes secondary helper Nick Pezley will be an important piece to the thriving defense. He had 62 tackles last season and will be the top returner in that category. Cameron Miller (18 tackles) is also back at linebacker. In the secondary, Snider will rely on Jayshawn Underwood (4 interceptions) and Tavian Rucklos (11 tackles, one interception) to add quickness to a pass defense that will be more critical as the SAC gets more aerial.
And the biggest key for Snider? Nearly everyone you’ve seen listed is part of a massive 38 player senior class.
“We are excited about the multitude of seniors this class has which just equates to a lot of experience, not just returning starters but kids that have been in the program four years. They understand our expectations, they’ve seen what it takes to be successful,” Tippmann said.
Because Snider is gearing up to be the greatest show on turf, or at least try to be. The turf additions around the area are great for a number or reasons: look, longevity, moral being among them. The turf at Spuller means we get to see one of the area’s fastest programs get even faster and tougher.
Snider football hasn’t had a losing season in any of their players lifetimes and then some. Dating back to 1994, their worst season was 8-2. Worst. That was their worst. People dream of having a record like Tippmann’s 106-24 going into this season. Snider is, and for a long time will be, the standard. And that sheds no disrespect towards anyone else. The have done enough in their program to deserve a top three standing every year regardless of any other fact. This season, they just happen to return a ton of guys at a variety of spots leaving holes in their lineup so very few and far between.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Snider’s two losses in the regular season last year give some pause. Game comparison and conventional wisdom say that Snider should have been able to beat Wayne. They certainly should have been able to beat Carroll. Is it a lack of killer instinct? More importantly, WAS it a lack of killer instinct.
Teams get up for playing Snider. Everyone deeply desires to beat them. Does Snider have that same desire, rooted deep down to beat everyone no matter their record or status? Last year’s group is, in many ways, the same as this year’s group. What did they learn in their misfortunes both against conference teams and eventual state runner up Carmel? Can this Snider team get as nasty as teams are willing to get against them?
Week 8 versus Bishop Dwenger
It may be cliche, but again here is Dwenger on someone’s critical game log. But by playing the Saints, the other SAC blue blood, so late in the season, it is fair to mark this down as perhaps the de facto conference title game. It is also fair for other teams to think it won’t be. Either way, Snider and Dwenger is almost always a lot of fun and now that we know we are only getting it once this year, it will be a night to cherish. Also, week eight is late enough that we are talking senior night and that is a big deal for this Panther group, who came up together at Lane and Blackhawk Middle Schools. In fact, the two schools battled for city title bragging rights back when this senior class in junior high, only ever beating each other on the way to their title showdowns.
Snider has won three in a row in this series and seven of the last eight games against the Saints.
Senior night. Dwenger. A bell on the line? We are down for that battle at Spuller.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Dillon Duff, senior, wide receiver
Is it justified for so many eyes to be on Duff? We won’t know that fully until we get into actual games. But on the surface, he’s a 6-foot-5 athletic kid with big hands. Seems like a perfect fit to put the ball up to in the end zone. He has shown as much during some 7-on-7 play. His physical stature will catch people’s attention in games like the notion of the Panthers’ top basketball player transitioning to the gridiron has in thought alone.
Is Duff a guy that can help Snider make a run? We’ll see. But as far as guys to watch go…everyone will certainly be paying attention.