Do we start with the half-full or the half-empty for Carroll?
Last season, no offense was more prolific in the SAC than the Chargers. Seven games saw the team eclipse the 35-point market.
But the defense struggled against some of the top teams in the league – allowing 48 points to North Side, 31 to Bishop Dwenger, 70 to Homestead and 42 to Warsaw in the playoffs.
Will Carroll’s 2021 modus operandi be different?
Defensively, the Chargers bring back plenty of production. While First Team All-SAC linebacker Hunter Mertz is gone, senior Tucker Steely is back, and veterans Liam Ottenweller, Aaron Jacquay and Mark Murray all return up front.
Along the defensive front, Carroll struggled to get any type of consistent push. Ethan Klinger was a solid defensive tackle but will need to replaced. That unit will go a long way towards helping a secondary that struggled to defend the deep ball in 2020. Junior middle linebacker Dylan Bennett has the physique and desire to develop into one of the best at his position in the area.
Carroll is young at the starting safety spot with junior Jorge Valdes and sophomore Braden Steely, but both have enormous potential. Corners Aaron Stewart and Ethan Beaupre must be better in man coverage and the safeties need to be adept at helping out over the top.
Jeff Becker is the centerpiece on offense. Everything will run through the senior quarterback to the extent that Carroll will trust him to call audibles and RPOs on his own at the line. The South Dakota St. commit threw for close to 2,600 yards and 33 touchdowns a year ago, while also rushing for 550 yards and 10 scores.
At times last year, the Chargers became a one-dimensional offense. Senior Luke Carmody will be the primary ball carrier and while not overly fast, he is exceptional at patiently waiting for holes to open up and then accelerating through.
Mason Englert’s 1,206 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns have graduated, as have four of Carroll’s top five receptions from a year ago, putting senior Jameson Coverstone (43 receptions, 717 yards, nine TDs) in line to ascend to WR1. He will have help in the slot from senior A.J. Lazoff and junior Gabe Starks. Look for sophomore Hansen Haffner to also be in the mix.
Up front, tackle Max Malcolm and guard Tyler Wiersma are the two returning from last season. Carroll will need some newbies to step up to protect Becker and open up holes for the run game.
Seven wins in three of the last four seasons have proven that Carroll is a mainstay in the upper half of the SAC. The Chargers have the depth and talent to compete with anyone in the league, with the offensive firepower to match anyone in the area, even with the losses to graduation.
Coach Doug Dinan’s squad has a lot of additional excitement around it due to the brand new athletic complex it will host games at this year, complete with top-of-the-line field turf, a light show after touchdowns and state-of-the-art amenities.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Outside of Bishop Luers, Carroll did not beat a single team last year that finished the season with a winning record. In a way, the Chargers were the “best of the rest” with Homestead and Bishop Dwenger fighting it out for the SAC title.
While the potential is there for Carroll to be a true threat for a league title at the end of the season for the first time since it joined the SAC, it needs to earn that respect with some big wins.
Oct. 1 vs. Homestead
Carroll has dropped seven straight games to its rival, including last year’s 70-41 scoring bonanza that bordered on the ridiculous at times. While the Chargers have been a tough opponent consistently, they have also watched the Spartans win back-to-back SAC Victory Bells.
It is time that Carroll gets back in the win column against Homestead. This one is crucial, no matter where these teams are at that point in the season.
Jorge Valdes, junior, safety
Carroll’s pass defense has to be better in 2021. Valdes was thrust into the lineup last year and was pretty effective as a sophomore, but gave way to more experienced teammates when it came to leadership.
Now, Valdes is a seasoned junior who has been through the wars of the SAC. If he can elevate his game and, in turn, elevate his mates in the secondary, the Chargers can be a serious threat for a league championship.