While many will be quick to pencil in Angola and Churubusco as winners of the Big School Division and the Small School Division of the NECC, respectively, there could be some intrigue in 2019.
After a one-year drought, can Eastside get back to winning at least a share of the Small School Division crown? Does West Noble have what it takes to knock Angola off of its Big School Division perch?
So many questions.
BIG SCHOOL DIVISION
When you have swept through the NECC unblemished for two straight years, it is tough to favor anyone else but the Angola Hornets. Coach Andy Thomas has built up a program that is in position to reload instead of rebuilt. Bunch of guys you’ve never heard of? Yeah, still good enough to win.
There may not be a better one-two punch in the league than Brandon Pruitt and Josh Gross. The two-way studs for West Noble may be the key for the Chargers to close the gap to Angola, a team they played tough in a 21-7 defeat last year. Quarterback Kyle Mawhorter may be the key here.
Garrett’s two-win campaign last year was its worst since 1999. Do not expect a repeat with Coach Chris DePew loaded with a pretty solid senior class. If quarterback Levi Follett limits the turnovers (14 INTs in 2018), the Railroaders could surprise.
Lakeland pummeled West Noble last season and fell to Central Noble in two OTs. The Lakers rushed for over 3,300 yards in 2018 but lost much of that production to graduation. Can seniors Nathan Grossman and Camryn Holbrook step up in carrying the rock?
It wasn’t too long ago that Bob Miller had Fairfield among the best in the NECC. But the Falcons have won just two games over the last three seasons and went winless in 2018 in Coach Matt Thacker’s first season.
SMALL SCHOOL DIVISION
When in doubt, go with Churubusco. While Central Noble showed signs of giving the Eagles a challenge last year, it was ‘Busco that housed the Cougars by a 42-14 final. Sam Wood and Jake Fulk are going to carry the majority of the load offensively this year.
The aforementioned Central Noble Cougars had a great defense when it played some of the lesser teams in the conference last year, but had trouble with the likes of Churubusco and Lakeland.
If the defense improves, Central Noble can close the gap with Churubusco.
How soon we forget that Eastside won at least a share of this division four straight years, a streak that ended last season. A big year out of Caleb Vanover at running back could give the Blazers a big boost as they work in a new quarterback.
Fremont once again has multiple teams from Michigan on its schedule, with the Eagles seeking opponents in which it can get some wins and momentum. Last year, Fremont had just two wins, the sixth straight season for the program in which it has won two or less games.
Coach Patrick McCrea in his fourth year at Prairie Heights, with the win total increasing by one each year since a winless campaign in 2016. Three wins would be huge for this program as it tries to find a way to be competitive on a weekly basis.
Ryan Brandt, senior, Angola: While there isn’t much in the way of big-time vertical passing games in the NECC, Brandt’s play at safety pretty much puts the kibosh on any type of consistent deep passing attacks against league opponents. The Purdue commit is as deadly against the run as he is defending the pass.
Jake Fulk, senior, Churubusco: His numbers were eye-popping on defense, 59 tackles, 17 TFL, eight sacks. Factor in over 600 yards of total offense and Fulk was a difference maker on both sides of the ball in 2018. Expect gaudier numbers this year.
Brandon Pruitt, senior, West Noble: As a running back, he put up 1,555 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior. He also had 79 tackles, 23 TFL and 15 sacks. The commit to the Naval Academy is a beast, but nice as can be off the field.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Caleb Vanover, junior, Eastside: With Joe White and his 1,633 yards passing having graduated, the Blazers will be in transition behind center. That is where Vanover comes in. As a sophomore he fell just 86 yards short of a 1,000-yard rushing season. Expect him to crest that plateau this year.
Tucker Hasselman, junior, Angola: The next man up for the Hornets at QB, Hasselman hopes to follow in the footsteps of Chance Roddy and Jarrett Gibson and lead Angola to an undefeated regular season.
Kolin Cope, junior, Garrett: Cope rushed for 773 yards for the Railroaders last year, one of the bright spots as Garrett sputtered to a two-win campaign. With inevitable improvement this year, the Railroaders should be able to help push Cope well into 1,000-yard rushing territory.
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