A year ago, we were hard-pressed to understand where teams and players stood heading into the fall.
After all, the pandemic limited offseason workouts and saw the cancellation of various 7v7 and 11v11 tournaments and showcases.
This spring and summer has been different, a return to normalcy (somewhat).
As Outside the Huddle kicks off its previews for the 2021 football season, we begin with the players who have helped their stock considerably over the spring and summer, making the most of the opportunities that were made scarce a year ago.
Here are six of those players.
QB JACKSON BARBOUR, SENIOR, LEO
The Lions ran its way to the NE8 championship a year ago, packing in the offense and using Barbour largely as a facilitator. When he did throw, Barbour struck largely on the outside – with Rylan Crawford emerging as his favorite target in the short-to-medium passing game.
But in the sectional final, East Noble was able to bottle up that rushing attack and the offense wasn’t capable to carving up big yards through the air. The result? A 10-0 loss to the Knights and the end of Leo’s season.
Change is coming for 2021. While we won’t see Leo come out four-wide anytime soon, expect to see more variation within the offense with Barbour, now a seasoned veteran, behind center.
While still compact at 5-foot-9 and close to 200 pounds, Barbour has improved his mechanics and his vision. The expectation is that Leo will be able to work more play-action into its offensive sets and strike downfield for big gains. He threw just 60 times last season, going for 453 yards, nine TDs and five INTs.
With a stout line and proven playmakers on the perimeter, Barbour is the key to an offensive explosion in Leo.
LB DYLAN BENNETT, JUNIOR, CARROLL
If you find your eyes gravitating to the grown man on the field or on the sideline for Carroll, chances are it is Bennett.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Bennett is a physical specimen. But his body size is just half the story. Bennett’s motor runs 100 percent at all times. He is a kid that can barely be contained at times within the scheme of the defense, he is THAT fired up and hitting somebody.
As a sophomore last year, Bennett notched 31 tackles and a pair of TFL. Expect both of those numbers to rise considerably as he mans the middle linebacker spot.
A fierce competitor on the 7v7 circuit, Bennett put players on notice as a tough, hard-nosed linebacker willing to mix it up with anyone.
RB QUINN FAULKNER, SENIOR, JAY COUNTY
While his college career may be on the baseball diamond, Faulkner is set to make an impact in his final season on the gridiron with the Patriots.
The best player on a bad team a year ago, Faulkner averaged nearly five yards per rush last season with a couple touchdowns. Considering Jay County finished 0-9 and scored just eight total touchdowns on the year, that’s not too bad.
The best thing for Faulkner (and the program as a whole) was the hiring of new head coach Grant Zgunda, who has over 200 career victories with his most recent success coming at Delta.
Zgunda is going to turn this Class 4A sleeping giant around quickly. A centerpiece to the resurrection will be Faulkner, who is shifty with the ball in his hand and can run away from defenders in the open field.
OLB MARKELL KEAL, SENIOR, SNIDER
When an assistant coach in the SAC uses the word “beast” to describe someone, you should probably listen.
That’s the word used in reference to Keal, who is set for a breakout season.
Overshadowed a bit by linebacker mate Dominick Moon, the 6-3, 225-pound Keal is going to be a major problem on the edge for the Panthers.
A year ago, Keal amassed 30 tackles, seven TFL, four sacks and an INT for Snider, which struggled early on in the season but found its way, especially defensively, in the season’s second half.
Physical enough to engage offensive lineman and quick enough to avoid blocks and pursue skill players, Keal is a key piece to what could be a fearsome Snider defensive front 7.
WR DANE KILBY, SENIOR, NORTHROP
When looking for prolific passing attacks, thoughts don’t immediately go to Northrop.
But the Bruins could be sneaky good in 2021 with South Side transfer Roosevelt Norfleet III behind center with some serious wideout talent.
The best of the lot that includes juniors CJ Davis and Jordan Schmenk could be Kilby, despite being third in the bunch in both catches and receiving yards in 2020.
Kilby’s offseason was full of showing out at camps and showcases, with highlights aplenty showing off his ability to separate from defenders with both his straight-line speed and his fluidity and quickness in and out of breaks. He was described by one assistant coach at the best wideout at a four-team scrimmage that included Snider, North Central and Merrillville.
With defenses having to respect all of Northrop’s receivers, Kilby should find himself in plenty of single-coverage situations that he can capitalize on.
SB/S TREY RICHARDS, SENIOR, GARRETT
The Railroaders impressed many when it captured the OPS 7v7 Summit City Shootout Small School Division title in June. And the team’s standout player that day was Richards, who made his presence felt on both sides of the ball.
He picked off five passes on the day while lining up at safety and scored over a half-dozen touchdowns with the Garrett offense. It was a supreme effort for a player who should be a regular impact guy for Coach Chris DePew this season.
Richards had 71 tackles and 12 receptions last year for the Railroaders, but did not get the recognition he may have earned, especially on defense. But an offseason of work and the desire to be a big-time player in the area has Richards trending upward. Expect Garrett to get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways from his slotback position. His versatility is arguably his greatest asset.
By season’s end, Richards may very well be known as one of the top two-way players in the entire area.
OTHER NOTABLES: QB Luke Haupert, Snider; RB/LB Kainon Carico; Brashawn Bassett, North Side; Jordan Hinshaw, South Adams; Tegan Irk, DeKalb; Aden Dennis, Bishop Luers; Corbin Hirschy, Adams Central; Rylan Whitacre, Heritage.