Conventional wisdom tells you that when you graduate your best player, many skill position players and large chunk of your line, it is rebuilding time. But if you have seen Luke Amstutz build a team, you should know that East Noble isn’t so conventional in that area.
Look for East Noble to do many of the same things it did last year, it will just be by more of a committee. Justin Marcellus ran for 1,100 yards before an injury took him out at the state title game, but Kainen Carico and Jacob VanGorder are still hard chargers behind him. If a mostly new offensive line holds up, the run game is going to be solid with Marcellus being a go-to and Carico, by many accounts, being impressive to this point.
East Noble lived up to its own lofty expectations a year ago and played with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Don’t expect that outlook to change.
When it comes to a chip on its shoulder, Leo is right there. The Lions know they are capable of winning an NE8 title after just a pair of losses last season – both to East Noble. Someone or someones will have to replace the offensive firepower of Peyton Wall. When all else failed, Wall was a gutty back that could gain yardage and move the chains. Where does that yardage come from this fall? Will Jackson Barbour be relied on to throw the ball more?
Leo’s defense should still be stout. Its returning edge and linebacker corps will help the Lions get a leg up quickly against a lot of teams who may try to get going on the run.
The Bulldogs are big and physical and are going to try to pound through people, probably with good success. The front end of their schedule last season didn’t do them favors and they had to battle back from there. If they can start fast this season, they are more dangerous.
Lane Woodson III is a not-talked-about-enough athlete on both sides of the ball. If stout quarterback Jakar Williams is going to air it out, Woodson is going to be important. If any of the other really solid group of NE8 quarterbacks also choose to air it out, Woodson is going to have to be a stopper there too. Quick and physical is how New Haven is going to win ball games.
Look good, feel good, play good. Will a new stadium and new turf help make that come to fruition at Columbia City?
While you wouldn’t put them “in the thick of things” as a title contender, don’t count out the Eagles ruining some Friday nights, messing up the top of the NE8 and finding themselves in shouting distance of a title. Gregory Bolt has a big arm and as he finds new or enhanced targets, the Eagles offense will flow. The secondary is talented and will be a hallmark of Columbia City’s defense.
This is another team that could catch some of the top dogs if they aren’t on their A-game. Eli Riley can take it to opposing defenses if his offensive line is strong. There are spots to replace along that line, but Zach Christianson will be a good leader in making sure things are up to standards. This team had some very good young players, including freshmen last season who are now experienced and will be relied on heavier to keep Norwell in the NE8 race.
The offense will go back to the hands of Corey Price, but it is the defense at DeKalb that is important this season. There were games where they couldn’t stop opponents from scoring last season, even if they put up a bunch of points of their own. In the Barons’ three losses last season, they gave up five or six touchdowns each time.
Tanner Huff is going to be a big piece of that defense with his experience. Linebacker Curtis Martin, who was recently named a team captain and the wearer of the No. 1 jersey by team vote, doesn’t return a lot of stats but clearly has the good leadership for this group.
The Vikings won just three games last season, but a sectional win over an SAC opponent (South Side) is something nice to grow on. Second-year coach Bob Prescott now has his system in place and with four starting offensive linemen back, the run-heavy look of the Vikings should be cleaner. Garrett Johnson returns to be the primary rusher after running for 415 yards last season.
The first two weeks are a wash for the Braves as they will not play due to Covid-related issues. They will try to play catch-up beginning in Week 3 with a very new coach due to the late summer exit of their previous one. That said, Coach Nick Hall knows how to win at Bellmont as a player and, in time, the expectation is he will do so as a coach.
Getting in the win column with less games will be a focus and there will be some pressure on junior quarterback John Ulman to be a leader.
Chris Hood, junior, East Noble: One of the most talked-about linemen in the area this off-season, Hood is getting more mobile and will be efficient on both sides of the ball when call upon. On the offensive line, he will need to take quite a bit of the responsibility on getting a new group up to speed on how hard the Knights play.
Landen Livingston, junior, Leo: Another offensive lineman that will have more weight to pull initially is Livingston, who is now a primary anchor on both sides of the ball. Improving weekly at this point, he can really impact the game from the offensive line.
Dre Wright, senior, New Haven: Defensively, Wright is one of the smartest linebackers in the area. He is football knowledgeable and it shows on his reads both defensively and when the ball is in his hands as a rusher.
NE8 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
- East Noble
- New Haven
- Columbia City
- Huntington North
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