Typically when a program loses five First Team All-SAC players from the year before, as well as their best statistical quarterback in team history, expectations would be lowered after a 10-win campaign.
But this is Bishop Dwenger. There is no such thing as rebuilding.
That’s why the widespread belief is that the Saints are expected to be in the SAC title mix despite plenty of new faces being inserted into the lineup. After all, Bishop Dwenger is looking for its fourth straight season in which it has not lost more than one game in-conference.
The question in recent weeks (or even months) has been who takes over for Brenden Lytle at quarterback? The three-year starter rewrote the Bishop Dwenger record books in his career, and still doesn’t seem to get the props he deserved. The Saints are going with senior Evan Springer to open the season, with junior Bohde Dickerson perhaps the long-term answer at the spot in the coming years. Springer grabbed control of the huddle over the final few weeks and is “the guy” behind center.
Springer will have plenty of help as the top five pass catchers from last season return – including one of the area’s best wideouts in senior Rocco Ciocca (38 receptions, 752 yards, nine TDs). He will be complemented by senior Henry O’Keefe (33-586-4) and junior Sam Campbell. Even K.J. Tippmann out of the backfield and Jack Tippmann from his tight end spot will be prime options for Springer
Vinny Fiacable is in Bloomington, leaving a void up front both physically and in the leadership of the offensive line. Joe Fabini has also moved on, making both the center and quarterback new starters in 2021.
K.J. Tippmann returns after leading the Saints in rushing last year. While do-everything back/defender Devon Tippmann is gone, senior Aziz Dixon showed flashes in 2020 as did classmate Gavin Groves.
Defensively, it is tough to ignore Jack Knight at d-tackle, Callan Stauffer in the secondary and Devon Tippmann and John Michael Fabini at linebacker all gone. However, the Saints always have replacements prepared for the pressure of Friday nights. Keep an eye on senior Joe Eddy as a prime breakout candidate up front.
Groves will see most of his playing time on the defensive side of the ball after leading Bishop Dwenger in tackles last season. Also back is plenty of production in the secondary, led by seniors Adam Lee and Colin Vance, as well as the junior Campbell.
Senior Simon Garrett will continue the punting duties while one of the top kickers in the state, Joe Bulanda, returns as well.
Despite some holes left by graduation, there is no indication that Bishop Dwenger is going to regress in any way. While there is a new quarterback and some inexperience along the line, you can bet that the program has prepared these guys to be “next men in.”
The Saints may look sluggish early on purely because of the new faces, but there is more than enough experience and talent to carry the load while the newbies get comfortable.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
When you look at what our No. 1 team is bringing back compared to Bishop Dwenger, you have to give the nod to that “other” SAC team not more than a few miles away from Dwenger’s campus.
That’s not to say that the Saints won’t be able to move up during the course of the season. At this time however, we feel comfortable with where Coach Jason Garrett’s team is ranked.
Oct. 8 at Snider
Six straight matchups between these two teams have been decided by single digits, including last year’s 17-7 win for the Saints. With Snider’s expected resurgence, this Week 8 showdown could be what decides the SAC this season.
At the very least, it is Round 1 for a pair of Fort Wayne powerhouses that now reside in the same sectional after Bishop Dwenger was bumped to Class 5A due to Success Factor.
Buckle up, Oct. 8 at Spuller Stadium will be big, as usual.
Rocco Ciocca, senior, wide receiver
Ciocca is phenomenal at cutting off his routes or reading the quarterback and coming back to the ball to notch completions. He was Lytle’s biggest security blanket a year ago, as well as his top playmaker. With a new face behind center, someone who has not been through the battles of the SAC at the varsity level, Ciocca’s skill will be able to bail Springer out of trouble at times, while at other times will be a guy who can be a calming presence in the offensive huddle. The defense will be stout per usual, so a few big plays on offense per game may be all that stands between a loss and a win for Bishop Dwenger.