As we continue to look ahead to the start of the 2020 season (hopefully), Outside the Huddle is keeping its eyes on five teams that will have some extra motivation on the field come Week 1 and beyond.
Fresh off a season in which it lost just three times, the fewest for the program since 1982, the Tigers have plenty of momentum heading into 2020.
But closer examination is revealing. The top two programs in the ACAC currently are South Adams and Adams Central, a pair of teams that beat Bluffton a combined 74-7. Add in a 20-point loss to Fairfield to open sectional play and you can see that Coach Brent Kunkel’s team has some work to do to be considered a threat in both league and sectional play.
While First Team All-ACAC standouts Kain Thornton, Ryan Thompson and Cam Coleman have graduated, the Tigers bring back quarterback Hayden Nern (1,599 yards passing, 13 TDs) and running back Cody Middlestedt (over 1,000 total yards), a studly offensive duo to build around.
But where the Tigers will have to excel to close the gap with Adams County teams is on the defensive side of the ball, particularly at the point of attack. Getting a push up front to disrupt Adams Central’s rushing attack and South Adams’ spread is key.
The Bulldogs have not been a factor in the fight for an NE8 championship in the first two years of Coach Jimmy Linn’s reign, but that could change in 2020.
Coaches around the conference are high on junior quarterback Jakar Williams, who is on track to be a breakout star this fall. As a sophomore, Williams threw for 1,345 yards and 15 TDs and rushed for 254 yards and four scores.
But Williams won’t be alone. Dre Wright has the potential to be one of the best two-way players around at running back/linebacker. While the wide receiver spot is in flux with the graduation of Jamarr Hutchins and Nijae Fields-Lewis, there is talent in the pipeline.
Between 2013 and 2017, New Haven won a combined three league titles – one in the Northeast Hoosier and a pair in the NE8. The goal in 2020 is to return to that level.
Through his first three seasons at Wayne, former Generals head coach Derrick Moore won a total of seven games (zero in 2015, two in 2016 and five in 2017). In 2018, Wayne erupted for nine wins and fell to eventual state champion Bishop Dwenger by a single point in the sectional championship game.
Moore’s first trio of seasons almost exactly mirrors the same amount of time for North Side coach Mike Brevard – zero wins in 2017, two wins in 2018, four wins in 2019. With a lot of talent returning on both sides of the ball, 2020 could be the year that the Legends make some noise in the SAC.
It begins on the offensive side of the ball. North was shut out three straight weeks to begin the year in 2019, including a 36-0 blanking by Bishop Dwenger in Week 2. The two teams met again in the postseason, with the Saints holding off a pesky Legends team 36-22.
The growth over the course of the season in 2019 was impressive for North. With a highly-athletic QB in Duce Taylor and some confident swagger being seen off State Blvd., the Legends could be in for a standings jump.
However, the schedule is still daunting, with Snider, Bishop Dwenger and Carroll on tap the first three weeks.
Whitley County had plenty to cheer for through the first four weeks a year ago, with Columbia City winning its first four games by an average of 23 points.
But as the schedule toughened, the Eagles struggled, earning only one more victory on the year – a three-point edging of Norwell.
Much like Bluffton, Columbia City showed that while it is at the level to be the “best of the rest” in its conference, it has a ways to go to hang with the big boys.
That is the drive for the Eagles this summer as they look to close that gap with the likes of East Noble and Leo.
Columbia City returns quarterback Greg Bolt (1,768 yards, 21 TDs), its leading rusher in junior Abe Barrera and its second-leading receiver in T.J. Bedwell. That coupled with a beast like Landin Markins anchoring the front line of the defense gives the Eagles a lot of talent to bring to bear on opponents.
Is it enough to survive another brutal second half of the schedule?
The Knights won just three games last season, the fewest for them since 2013. Without a significant improvement, Bishop Luers could suffer its first back-to-back losing seasons since 1993-94.
One aspect of the Knights in 2019 that jumped out was their lack of explosiveness on both sides of the ball. Bishop Luers is known for having at least a few athletes per season that can change a game in an instant. They didn’t possess that last year.
Some of the issue above is on the players up front, with the Knights having issues matching up with the upper-echelon teams in the SAC in the trenches the last few years.
While the sophomore class is stacked, it will be up to guys like quarterback Carson Clark, running back Cecil Hale and behemoth two-way lineman Ben Rectanus to avoid the dubious mark that hasn’t been set by the program in over 25 years.