OTH FOOTBALL PREVIEW 2021: Blitz’s ACAC breakdown

Adams Central’s Nick Neuenschwander checks his positioning with an official prior to the snap in a September 4, 2020 game against Eastside.


Adams Central Flying Jets

Could it be? Are the Flying Jets back to rule over the county and conference? Truth is, Adams Central was never very far out of reach although they were edged out the past two seasons by rival South Adams. With so much back from a strong and somewhat overlooked 8-3 season, we have to look at AC as the class of the league until someone proves otherwise.

The senior class is stout and the junior group isn’t that far behind, but the seniors are intriguing because some may forget they were part of a 2019 semistate team as sophomores. Together with the juniors, they have not one, not two and not even three “two-way” studs to lead the way with the top 7 being guys you should be well aware of with years of experience on both sides of the football. But perhaps the most intriguing is the defensive side. The team was 1-3 when giving up 28 or more points in 2020. but don’t expect it to be that easy to put up big numbers on them this time around.

Corbin Hirschsy returns to anchor a defensive line that will add some new faces, but it is that second and third wave that will really clog up opposing offenses. The linebacker group is led by Blake Heyerly; once upon a time someone told Blitz that a sophomore version of Heyerly would end up being the best player in the conference and here we are in his senior season and look who is at the top of the conference after picking up 93 tackles a year ago. He will be joined by junior Ryan Black and sophomore sensation Keegan Bluhm with Ryan Tester for a hard-hitting linebacker group. Want to avoid it and go to the air? Good luck. That is where speed will kill with seasoned seniors Alex Currie, Nick Neuenschwander, Joshua Mosser and Braysen Yergler able to work the edges and angles in the secondary at a really high level. Gavin Cook and Trevor Currie will add depth in the secondary.

The names are basically the same on offense, as you will often find in a small school like Adams Central but they are just, or maybe even more, dangerous on the offensive end. They are going to look for more consistency from Black at the quarterback position where he spent last year with a heavy learning curve. What we do know is he has a strong arm, which helps when you have guys like Currie and Neuenschwander who can just burn opposing players with speed and did often in 2020. Mosser and Tester also add depth in the receiving world. And if all else fails, put the ball in the gut of Heyerly and let him power through opposing defenses.

Up front, Hirschy returns on the offensive line as well for what seems like the 20th season. His consistency and poise is important in sealing defenses. He will be aided by Cody Lautzenheiser, Zach Wurm and Brayden Moon.

“We are going to be successful if we do not play timid as we did in some of our games last season. We do have skill and ability and many returners coming back; however, if we fail to use our skill and experience aggressively to get after our opponents we will fail,” Adams Central coach Michael Mosser said. “Our success is truly up to how serious our seniors take their job of leading this team. How they go will be how we as a team go. If they want to win they will have to lead the young players in following their example.”


South Adams Starfires

“Culture doesn’t graduate.” That is the catch phrase that South Adams football pushes through social media and within its program heading into the 2021 season. If they can get a new wave of players to buy into that and the culture that has been built, then you shouldn’t see a complete fall off from a program that graduated 12 all-conference performers from their Class A state runner-up team.

That transition starts heavily with Aidan Wanner, who will take on his fourth year as a starter, though now with a different kind of load as the team’s full-time quarterback. Expectations will be high as he follows 2020 OTH Player of the Year James Arnold, but Wanner is familiar with being counted upon, which is why he is the program’s all-time leading scorer. While he will still be part of the secondary (62 tackles/6 interceptions in 2020), he may also still line up at receiver (40 receptions, 951 yards in 2020) some and handle kicking duties, Wanner is no stranger at QB either as he has filled a relief role on and off each of the past three seasons.

AJ Dull and Mav Summersett will step in to work out of the backfield, while Wanner will have some experience to throw the ball to in Trey Schoch and Jordan Hinshaw with Brady Beall and Owen Wanner lining up wide to give South Adams some of that diversity its thrived with in the past. Two-year starter Sam Plattner will anchor the offensive line at center, but it will be up to a mostly unproven bunch around him to try and keep the Starfires explosive offensively. They will get to do that with seniors Ken Richardson, Collin Subler and Parker Bryan as well as juniors Gavin Myers and Thomas Murphey and sophomore Deisel Zigler. That may be a lot of new names and faces to think about, but as long as culture doesn’t graduate, South Adams should be alright on the offensive end.

The defense will see a completely knew corps of linemen and linebackers starting and they are a bunch of the same guys you will see on the offensive end. Plattner, Beall and Subler will be joined by junior Chase Myers on the line while Richardson, Dull and Summersett will handle the linebacker duties. Aidan Wanner returns with three years of experience in the secondary, joined by Hinshaw, Schoch – who looked good in late season cornerback duties – and senior Conner Young.

“We come off the most successful year in Starfire football history. We were a two-point conversion away
from being State Champions. We have had 5fivestraight winning seasons and our players have bought into the culture that we have set,” South Adams coach Grant Moser said. “We lose 12 All Conference players to graduation and will have a lot of new faces but these players know that expectations don’t change.”


Bluffton Tigers

Welcome to the wide world of replacing your quarterback, something that Bluffton has not had to do in a couple of years while leaning on Hayden Nern. The good news is that senior Lukas Hunt has gotten some looks with Nern dealing with an injury part of last season. Hunt completed 16 of 35 passes for 202 yards in 2020 and has looked good this summer, especially when connecting with fellow senior Alec Reiff. Reiff was one of the guys who was impressive with his athletic ability in 7-on-7 looks this summer and had 29 catches for 486 yards and seven touchdowns last season. With Reiff taking on WR1 duties from graduated Bobby Malcolm, Hunt will get to also target seniors Chase Gibson, Carter McConnell and Gus Martinez. John Ringger could take on running back duties open with the graduation of Cody Mittlestedt (852 yards rushing, 526 yards receiving).

Two-way linemen Cameron Farmer, Jacob Landis and Garrett Pauley were all-conference on one side of the ball or the other and bring back a significant presence to keep Bluffton churning. Hunt and Ringger will also go both ways as linebackers with Kyler Rolston and Kayden King beside them on defense. The receiving group of Reiff, Gibson, McConnell and Martinez will all flip to the defensive side to also prevent catches by leading the Bluffton secondary.

It will be critical for Bluffton to get new players or guys in bigger roles to step up quickly. The new players that Bluffton will hope to lean on in the long term will provide depth and keep guys fresh and healthy. Sophomore Johnny Cruz, Sam Mechling and Lukas Gehrett will provide that depth on both offensive and defensive lines while Anthony Cruz, Tucker Jenkins and Brody Lewis all add linebacker and offensive skill position depth. Sophomore Braxton Betancourt has some diversity in what he can do on both sides of the ball, so he can be plugged in a lot of places.

“The Tigers success this season will depend on how quickly our new varsity players can step up and fill the spots left vacated off of last year’s team,” said Bluffton coach Brent Kunkel. “This senior class has a lot of experience, but many will be asked to play different or more critical roles than they have been asked to play before. I feel like a strength of this team is our leadership, we have a lot of great leaders on this team.”

South Adams’ Aidan Wanner lines up at defensive back during an August 28, 2020 game against Bluffton.

Heritage Patriots

The Patriots will replace some key positions but also return seven offensive and eight defensive starters, so that isn’t exactly a bad place to work from. It will need to start on the defensive end where the Patriots need to stop some speed across the board in the ACAC. They gave up 35 or more points on six different occasions last season and consequently lost all six of those games.

Seniors Bryce Barker and Kiel Eldridge (21 solo tackles), junior Joe Dodane (15 solo tackles) and sophomore Carson Loe return on the defensive line for a great baseline of experience. There is depth on that line too which will help whenever coach Casey Kolkman needs to make some alterations. That depth will be provided in part by seniors Adonis Carswell and Jasen Clay as well as 6-foot-4, 235 pound sophomore Logan Teichman. Junior Rylan Whitacre is clearly at the top of the argument as the best linebacker in the ACAC after setting school records for tackles in a game (15) and season (70) last year. The first team All-ACAC performer also recovered a pair of fumbles last season. Dalton White also returns to the linebacker corp for his junior season.

Seniors Payton Fields and Eric Rogers both return as starters to the secondary.

While the defensive standard is clear, so is the offensive number. Heritage scored over 21 points just twice last season and they won both of those games against Woodlan and Tri-County. Doing so this season won’t be so clean cut as there are loads of unknown moving forward. Just two traditional skill position players are back with running back Eric Rogers (51 attempts/137 yards) and receiver Preston Fields (2 catches/8 yards), although Eldridge can be an big impact player at tight end after a 12 catch/290 yard/4 touchdown 2020; White will also get touches at tight end. Jackson Bearman, Logan Werts and Howard Kaiser return along the offensive line and newcomer Ibrahim Williams could be an additional pass catcher.

Woodlan Warriors

Woodlan will be looking for consistency into Year 2 under Coach Mike Smith after going just 1-9 a season ago with a very young and inexperienced group. Now the Warriors have that experience and with a lot of two-way guys, this team will need to really dig into applying Smith’s coaching principles. Seth Mason and Isaiah Brumbaugh are two pieces that return for their senior season as linemen on both sides of the ball and all five offensive line starters have some varsity experience, which should really be a strong part of their offensive core.

Jacob Snyder will handle duties at quarterback again (1,051 yards passing in 2020) and will need to make sure that the Warriors are not so passive in the passing game. Returning to the receiving corps is 6-foot-7 senior Joe Reidy, who did not play last season after a solid sophomore year. His big target radius can only help Woodlan be more aggressive in how it moves the ball down the field. Landin Golden and Ethan Vardaman will be other aerial targets. When the air isn’t there, Jake Roemer has shown some really great flashes previously of playing at a high level and he could really have a breakthrough season at running back if he can stay healthy and the line holds up as expected.

Without a very big defensive group, the Warriors are going to have to play fast and hit hard to cut down on opposing scoring. Last season, Woodlan held opponents under 20 points just once while giving up 50 or more points on four occasions.

Jay County Patriots

The Patriots went 0-9 last season after going 1-9 the season before. How can Jay County right the ship under first-year head coach Grant Zgunda?

Jay County leaned heavily on Bailey Cox last season, but with him having graduated, other players will have to step into big roles. The good news is that some of the younger guys got quality experience last season against a tough ACAC. Zgunda’s imprint will be interesting to see as his wealth of experience (over 200 career wins) has the future looking bright for the Patriots. Sam Dunlavy is back at quarterback and although Jay County only threw the ball 81 times last season, experience is key; Kess McBride will be his primary receiving target as the offense hopes to move the ball through the air better. Quinn Faulkner (293 rushing yards) and Caleb Hale (112 yards) will move up the running back depth chart with Cox’s graduation and the pair of them will need to carry a heavy load of yardage and scoring when they take off with the ball.

Wyatt Bergman could have a solid year at defensive end and will also play on the offensive line. McBride (49 tackles) and Faulkner (39 tackles), both safeties, are the top returners in that category after being #2 and #3 a season ago.

Southern Wells Raiders

After not fielding a varsity team a year ago, the Raiders are back on the field this season. But expect the growing pains to continue as this is an incredibly young team. In fact, they were so young last year that the program wasn’t comfortable fielding that varsity team with the inexperience they had. They’ve obviously added more experience but we need to remember it was on the junior varsity level.

We will see how well the skill development went for third-year coach Mike Roeder‘s group while they had a season without the rigors and pressures of a varsity schedule. It has to help that Southern Wells has some competitive matchups with Fremont and Madison-Grant the first two weeks out. Senior AJ Wright will be important in propelling a young team who will need to do a lot of homework to be prepared for programs that they did not see last season. That too will factor in for running back Caine Clark, who will have a lot put on him to churn out yardage for the offense.

Southern Wells will need to rely on being versatile with its playcalling and defensive sets and not fall back on any set-in-stone plans. The learning curve is heavy and until we really get a good chance to see them in action, it is hard to build much of an expectation for the Raiders.


Alex Currie, Adams Central

How do you pick just one impact player from the Flying Jets? We go with Currie here because of his really strong combination of speed and IQ that really opens up the field for him. Currie can slash and move whether he lines up wide or comes out of the backfield and that makes Adams Central difficult to plan for..

Aidan Wanner, South Adams

Mr. Do It All can…well…do it all. Wanner is all-around talented and can score pretty much any way he wants to. Wanner will be fun now at quarterback and we will see how he can use his speed and consistency when throwing the ball opposed to catching the ball.

Alec Reiff, Bluffton

Reiff has the capability to be a big-time playmaker for a team that needs one to emerge. He is super athletic, plays very long and is going to go up and get the ball. He may be flying a bit under the radar in the ACAC but make no mistake he can really go.


  1. 1. Adams Central

2. South Adams

3. Bluffton

4. Heritage

5. Woodlan

6. Jay County

7. Southern Wells

These opinions represent those of Blitz and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Blitz on Twitter at Blitz_OTH

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