East Noble Knights
For a full preview on East Noble, keep an eye out for our continuing Top 10 Preseason Power Poll where they will come in within the top 5 teams in the area. But it is only fair to give a little tease here for the team that has won at least a share of four NE8 titles in the conference’s six seasons.
The Knights have a really good group with a heavy senior class, many of whom know the feeling of being in a state finals when they were sophomores. Having guys around who remember that moment doesn’t hurt and can help the hunger of being a win away from the pinnacle of high school football success. There may not many teams in the area in the last several years that bring back as much as this year’s East Noble team does.
The entire offensive and defensive lines return and that is gigantic for East Noble, led by a gigantic guy on the offensive line in Ball State commit Chris Hood. Next to him on the offensive line will be Bryce Charles. That returning group will continue to open holes for running back Kainon Carico, who steps into the primary running back role. New quarterback Zander Brazel, a sophomore, will try to follow the underrated season from graduated Cole Schupbach. Rowan Zolman (26 receptions, 484 yards) and Nick Munson (41 receptions, 532 yards) will be huge targets for him.
On defense, the team graduated four of its top six in terms of total tackles, but its hard to think that way when they bring back so much anyway. Carico registered 93 tackles last year and continues to drive home why he may be the conference’s most underrated player heading into 2021 and is joined on the defensive line by Trace Holliday (8 sacks) and his 81 tackles from a year ago as well as Charles and his 46 tackles and Hunter Pfeiffer (57 tackles, 6 sacks). Zolman comes back at free safety for his third year and has really continued to develop each year to become one of the best defenders in the area (53 tackles, 9 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries in nine games).
There isn’t much to say about Leo that has not already been said as you can catch them inside our top 10 teams Preseason Power Poll.
But for the sake of a quick recap, you have to look at everything starting with the real power of having two high-level talents up front in Landen Livingston and DJ Allen, who have grown to be two of the very best players in all of northeast Indiana. Both guys are headed to play Division I football after this season and for good reason. They will be aided on both lines by Collin Butler.
The Lions bring back a ton of players of consequence. Their game plan of run, run, run, grind, grind, grind just plain works and it really limits the time that opposing teams have the ball. That can be super frustrating for opposing squads but if something works so well, why try and fix it? Kaeden Miller (689 yards) really emerged as a threat out of the backfield last season not only because he could get those 3-5 yards every carry and keep the clock and chains moving, but he was also able to find his way through some great blocks and jet his way through for some major yardage on the other side. A healthy Mason Sheron splitting time in the backfield gives Leo even more of a threat this season after he missed most of 2020 due to injury. And then there is Ethan Crawford (503 rushing yards) and Max Loeffler (352 yards) so there is a lot of hype around this backfield.
It will help the Lions that they have some throwing options too. Known as a run heavy team, they bring back one of the area’s top receivers in Rylan Crawford (20 receptions, 356 yards, 5 touchdowns) and third-year starting quarterback Jackson Barbour has really continued to develop his foot speed, strength and reads.
Defensively, we’ve already noted Butler, Allen (3 sacks) and Livingston’s contribution, but linebackers Carson Hoeppner and Tanner Jackson are huge weapons and you better not throw much in the way of Crawford (5 interceptions) and his defensive back group that includes Loeffler and Kamden Zeisloft. Again, a healthy Sheron – All-State defensive end as a sophomore – will go a long way.
New Haven Bulldogs
The Bulldogs want respect and they aren’t shy about letting anyone know. With the consistently high level of play of Leo and East Noble in the last couple of seasons though, the Bulldogs are just going to have to take that (lack of) respect. It won’t come easy but New Haven does at least fit pretty even with those teams in returning a high level of physicality and talent.
Kyle Booher steps into the head coaching role to look and get New Haven its third conference title since the NE8’s inception in 2015. It helps him significantly to return nine offensive and eight defensive positions with starting history behind them.
The offense is again in the hands of Jakar Williams at quarterback (103-228, 1,758 yards, 22 touchdowns passing) and his ability as a playmaker and always-growing IQ is something that New Haven is pleased about. He is clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and the fact he can rumble downfield so efficiently too (97 carries, 460 yards) is huge. He won’t be alone in running the ball though as Jarrell Jackson (455 yards) and Quantri Sanders (273 yards) are also back. They will come in behind the mostly new line that does return tough tackle Connor Cannon and guard Avyon Creach.
New Haven has plenty of other offensive playmakers though as it returns over 400 yards receiving in Nick Myles, Jamarcus Smith, Mylan Graham and James Hardy IV.
The defensive line will need to gain some experience quickly with Creach and Jackson being the top returners, paired with newcomer Jordan Dewalt. At linebacker, New Haven boasts one of the conference’s most underrated in Isaac Carswell (59 tackles, 8 tackles for loss), who just plain hits hard and will be joined on the inside by Michael King (15 tackles). Sanders (27 tackles, one interception) and Smith take over the secondary next to Trevien Thomas (45 tackles, 3 interceptions) and Kamari Clopton.
A year like 2020 can really change the momentum and the direction of a program. That happened to Norwell, tallying 10 wins and sitting that one early-season loss away from a conference title and one end-of-season defeat away from a sectional title. That is a big jump for a team that had not seen double-digit wins since 2006. The question now is did that great season engrain the culture of winning enough with the graduation of 16 seniors, including do everything All-Area talent Eli Riley?
If Norwell is trying to set a tone of being rough and rumble, look no further than junior All-State lineman Brody Bolyn, who is as tough as anyone in the area, which says a lot with the area’s linemen being some of northeast Indiana’s top players overall. Cole Patrick is another guy who can be really tough on both lines with Trey Bodenheimer and Luke Graft both expected to play tough as linebackers.
Lleyton Bailey will take over the reigns at quarterback from the graduated Riley and Norwell coach Josh Gerber has not been shy in the preseason about saying that they will play to Bailey’s strengths and allow that to change a little bit about what they do on the offensive end. Graft and Bo Morgan are major threats on both sides of the ball because of their speed and their hands. Both can be top pass catchers for Bailey and pass defenders on the other side. Jon Colbert will handle some of the duties out of the backfield in 2021.
Norwell has talked a lot about how much guys got into the weight room and put in a ton of work in the offseason. If that kind of mindset holds true, then Norwell really is looking to maintain and build off the culture of 2020 and not completely reset its focus. It does seem that 2020 made these returners hungry and that could be pretty spicy to watch.
Columbia City Eagles
Where will the Eagles fall this season? It always seems to be a big question. The schedule is backloaded with the Northeast 8’s best again, but that could be beneficial as they have a lot of room to grow and prepare. Greg Bolt is back yet again, season No. 4 as a starter, for another year at quarterback but he is going to have to see some development at the skill positions around him. Bolt threw for 1,685 yards and 21 touchdowns last season while running for 789 yards and another nine scores. But 1,132 of those yards through the air graduated, mostly with TJ Bedwell, so Hunter Herron (23 receptions, 415 yards) is going to have to play out of his mind to help make up the gap. Freshman Stratton Fuller will also line up wide for the Eagles.
Abe Barrera (366 yards) and Ethan Sievers (192 yards) will lead the touches in the backfield and will work behind a veteran line headed by three All-NE8 second team performers in tackles Cole Mosier and Hunter Strack and guard Ian Clifford; center Jack Maley is also back..
“Having four out of the five offensive linemen back is a huge strength for us,” Columbia City coach Brett Fox said. “Those guys are used to working together and add another piece to it with a senior [Camdyn Judd] stepping up to fill the open spot.”
Most of the work and change will really have to come on the defensive side where Columbia City returns less than a handful of impactful players. Herron will see some of that pressure at defensive back and the linebacker group is strong, albeit small in returners with Ryan Elsten (64 tackles), Josh Arntz (32 tackles). Defensive tackle Riley Tucker is also back for Fox’s defense.
“There are a lot of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, yet at the same time we are bringing back our two solid linebackers and a couple defensive linemen that played really well for us last season,” Fox said. “A lot of the other positions on defense will be filled by committees, but each one of them have varsity ability and talent.”
The defense will add heavy rotation from linebacker Brody Barker, defensive end Jackson Moore and four faces in the secondary with defensive backs Colten Pieper, Ben Christen and Max Moehle and safety Dominic Chacon. And, of course, the Eagles bring back one of the area’s top kickers in Garrett Klefeker, who hit 32 of 33 extra points in 2020 and was 3 of 5 in field goals with deep makes from 42 and 44 yards.
Experience and size are going to work against DeKalb as we kick off the season but second-year coach Seth Wilcox remains optimistic and is still in the process of growing his culture, so some growing pains have to be expected again this season after going 2-6 last year.
There is a lot of optimism around junior quarterback Tegan Irk, who had some really nice displays late last season and showed that DeKalb has a good leader with talent to take control over the next couple of years. He was 61 of 94 last season for 520 yards. Despite losing three of his best, most experienced targets to graduation, Irk will have back juniors Donnie Wiley (94 yards receiving) and Logan Schultz-Montoya (78 yards) to pair in the rotation with Isaiah Hamblin and Cy Young and tight end Derek Overbay. Mitch Snyder will take over running back duties while playing both ways.
That defense will see Snyder (42 tackles) take some lead at outside linebacker and Guillermo Camarena at defensive tackle. They may not be as big up front as they have been in recent seasons, but depth will come as the year goes. Landon Armstrong, Liam Marzolf and Nate Adams will join the defensive line starters and Nate Williams (68 tackles) will return to lead the secondary.
“We will be very young going into this season. This summer has been a great opportunity to grow and compete. The key to a successful season is the growth of our young guys,” Wilcox said. “We do have a lot of very talented young athletes that will get the chance to compete to get on the field on Friday nights.”
Huntington North Vikings
Things have been on a balanced front for Huntington North since Bob Prescott took over two seasons ago and it will be looking to make movement in that in 2021. The Vikings were awfully close many times last season so that has to keep them positive with three losses in 2020 being determined by a touchdown or less.
Cam McCarver will get to see some heavy carries, especially with the loss of Aden Dennis to transfer. While McCarver tallied 261 yards on 22 receptions last season, the Vikings will need him to lead their run-heavy charge in 2021; he will be assisted in the backfield by Garrett Johnson and Lucas Thorn. Instead of relying on McCarver to haul in his passes, new quarterback Keagan Landrum will use the hands of tight end Bailey Landrum more, as well as speedy Noah Wagner out of the slot.
The defense too will be aided significantly by McCarver and Keagan Landrum, who are both really tough at linebacker, and defensive lineman Bailey Landrum. With the Northeast 8 trending more and more to being a passing league, the Huntington North secondary will have to be efficient with Prescott needing to look at Alex Gallegos to step up big in that area. Josh Hill will join in with the linebackers.
COVID and a severe rebuild hit Bellmont hard last year under head coach Nick Hall, who took over the program far too close to opening kickoff. This is still a very young team that will have to work to get out of the NE8 basement, but with that means they didn’t lose a ton in graduation.
“We are looking to get into the win column this year. The kids have been working really hard all off season and we’ve been seeing a lot of buy in into what we are doing,” Hall said. “We are a young team who could end up starting four sophomores on the OL; three of those sophomores played last year as freshmen though.”
That offensive line work will be headed by seniors Dalton Robinson and Bryce Roop. The sophomores in question for Bellmont are Dylan Velez, Braylon Braun, Keagan Martin and Cole Mendez. They will be protecting returning quarterback John Ulman and running backs Aiden Ford and Jamison Rumple. The Braves will return a trio of receivers that all belong to the senior class. Kobe Baker, Trevor Walker and Isajaha Thatcher will all line out wide for Ulman to work with.
The defensive line for Bellmont will look a lot like the offensive line with Rumple, Ford and Martin then playing linebacker and Ulman handling defensive back duties with Chase Lenegar.
Kainon Carico, East Noble
East Noble has a lot of weapons, but Carico is one that more people should probably see coming. A big part of why they should be aware is how well he played against Concordia Lutheran in the preseason scrimmage. He just churns and churns, working his way upfield and his play on the ground is really going to open things up for the Knights offense.
Jakar Williams, New Haven
Built like a linebacker and with the toughness of one to boot, Williams sure doesn’t move like an LB. He rambles down the field with a ferocity that is tough to match and tougher to take down. Williams has been through the wringer as the New Haven quarterback and his experience is just as big as his playmaking.
If New Haven competes for a Northeast 8 Conference title, mark down Williams as probably the biggest reason why.
Lleyton Bailey, Norwell
Just be Lleyton Bailey, don’t try to be Eli Riley. That seems to be the overwhelming focus for Norwell’s new quarterback this season. Bailey can be a real grinder and that is important for this team to have a blue collar attitude. This team has a lot of guys to follow, but if Bailey can step in and take advantage of openings he sees and build his offensive IQ, the Knights are not out of the title picture in the NE8 or their sectional.
NE8 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
- 1. East Noble
3. New Haven
5. Columbia City
7. Huntington North
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