As we continue our look ahead to the start of the season, Outside the Huddle is keeping its eyes on some teams that will have some extra motivation come August 20 and beyond.
Some are looking for redemption, while others are looking at proving that 2020 was not a fluke. Still others are searching for some positivity and beginning a trend in the right direction.
So here are five programs in particular that are looking to for something to prove in 2021:
Three years doesn’t seem that long to some, but for Churubusco fans, it is an eternity.
After back-to-back NECC Small School Division championships in 2017 and 2018, the Eagles have found themselves looking up at Eastside the last few seasons. Coach Paul Sade and a veteran team are looking to climb back atop the division this season.
‘Busco returns all but four of its 1,395 yards rushing from a year ago, as well as all 16 touchdowns. Junior Wyatt Marks ran for over 700 yards and 11 touchdowns despite Churubusco playing just eight games in 2020 due to the pandemic. Two-way stud Nick Nondorf is back, as well as the beefy and burdensome Hunter Bianski up front on both sides of the ball.
Junior Riley Buroff is set to take a step forward running the compact, run-heavy offense, but he has the passing prowess to keep defenses honest.
Eastside isn’t going anywhere, with Laban Davis, Gavin Wallace and company shaping up to be a division favorite again. But this is the most complete Churubusco team since 2018, and it most definitely wants to end the Blazers’ reign at the top.
The Patriots are mired in one of the worst stretches in team history, having captured just one win over the last two seasons combined. The lone Class 4A program in the Allen County Athletic Conference, Jay County should be mixing it up atop the league like Leo consistently did before it departed, not finding itself winless in conference like it was in 2020.
But this could be the start of a renaissance for Jay County, and the rest of the ACAC should be worried. New coach Grant Zgunda owns over 200 career wins in his time as a high school football coach in Indiana, most recently at Delta where over 18 seasons he captured six sectional titles, a pair of regionals and a trip to the state championship in 2001.
There is no question that the Patriots have a long way to go to respectability, but with the amount of bodies walking the halls at Jay County that have not been playing football, if Zgunda can get things going then manpower will not be a problem.
In Year 1, Zgunda and this team want to show that last year’s 0-9 campaign was rock bottom and the program is headed back up the ACAC standings.
The Duce Taylor era is over at North Side.
It was quite a thrilling ride, but it is time for the Legends to turn the page on the electric talent.
That has been made easier with Coach Ben Johnson taking over. While familiar with the heroics of Taylor, he knows that Duce cannot help North Side in 2021.
The Legends were the talk of the town following Week 1 last year, a 30-point blowout of Snider (more on the Panthers later). And while North Side was fun to watch most weeks, it still finished with a .500 record and a loss to Bishop Dwenger to open sectional play.
For some, Taylor’s departure means a return to “normalcy” for the Legends, where they give way to the big dogs of the SAC and fight it out in the lower half of the standings.
Johnson wants to prove that the three-year streak in which North has upped its win total can continue post-Duce. Brashawn Bassett will be QB1 and be surrounded by talent, including wide receivers Tae Johnson, Jordan Turner and Rodney Woods as well as junior running back Jontae Lambert, who could be one of the breakout players in the entire area this season.
But questions abound up front on both sides of the ball, as well as a daunting schedule (again) to begin the year.
Will this North Side team stay together if it faces adversity in Weeks 1-3? Johnson is out to prove that the Legends aren’t going anywhere.
Quick, who finished second in the NE8 last year?
East Noble? Wrong.
It was Norwell, which beat East Noble in Week 6 to eventually claim second to Leo in the standings.
The 10-win campaign was the Knights’ first since 2006, which resulted in a trip to the state championship.
While Mr. Do-It-All Eli Riley is gone – leaving massive holes behind center and in the defensive backfield – a stout front line returns some big names, including First Team All-NE8 players Zach Christianson and Brody Bolyn. Defensive backs Bo Morgan and Luke Graft are also back, with Graft having the skill set to be a huge problem at wideout as well.
For Coach Josh Gerber, 2021 is a chance to show that Norwell is ready to play at the big-boy table of the NE8 on a consistent basis.
We heard a lot of “first time since” with the Panthers last year as they struggled out of the gate and eventually finished 5-5, the most losses in a single season since 1991.
For close to a year, Snider has had to hear all about how the 2020 team was decidedly average. It was reminded incessantly how un-Snider like the Panthers were.
Coach Kurt Tippmann’s team has taken all that criticism and turned it into fuel. Snider players have been silent on social media in recent months. No one is defending 2020, but the focus is entirely on 2021 and bouncing back.
With a massive defensive front 7, arguably the best defensive unit in the league and Luke Haupert set to break out in a big way at quarterback, Snider is set to show that it is back after a one-year hiatus from the SAC title conversation.
There is no team with more to prove this year than Snider.