When looking at which program outside of the SAC can be labeled a “football factory,” there is no ignoring what has been going on up in Kendallville for the better part of two decades.
Started by Tim Able and grown exponentially by Chris DePew, the Knights’ program has been on solid footing for quite some time. As Coach Luke Amstutz begins his 10th season at the helm, we can look back and see the impact he has made for a decade.
Entering 2021, East Noble has finished with a winning season in each of the last 18 years. Fresh off a trip to the state championship game two years ago, the Knights repeated as sectional champions in 2020 before falling to Marion.
Expectations do not ebb and flow in Kendallville with each season. They remain a constant – win.
The Knights will try to retake the Northeast 8 title after a one-year hiatus with a roster that Amstutz calls perhaps his most talented of his tenure. While primary running back Justin Marcellus is gone, senior Kainon Carico turned a lot of heads in the scrimmage against Concordia Lutheran with his abilities in the offensive backfield. Look for Carico to break out in a big way.
After a few years with experienced upperclass quarterbacks in Bailey Parker and Cole Schupbach, East Noble turns the offensive reigns over to sophomore Zander Brazel. The 6-foot, 185-pounder shows plenty of potential and wouldn’t be thrust into the spot if he wasn’t capable. But it wouldn’t hurt for the Knights to have an exceptional run game to help ease Brazel into Friday nights.
Up front, the line will be solid, anchored by senior Chris Hood. Bryce Charles, who was voted All-NE8 Second Team as a junior, is back at guard.
Also a plus for Brazel is the fact that the top four passcatchers from last season are back – led by senior Nick Munson (41 receptions, 532 yards, three TDs) and stud athlete Rowan Zolman (26-484-10). Also in the mix are two more seniors, Ethan Nickles and Damien Williams.
An underrated weapon could be tight end Brett Christian. While a tough blocker, Christian has soft-enough hands to be a good outlet for Brazel.
Defensively, Zolman is the centerpiece and will direct the unit from his safety spot. No player in the area has a better sense of the ball and where it is going than Zolman, who breaks to the ball as quick as anyone. He amassed an ungodly 11 interceptions last season, while the rest of the East Noble defense combined for seven.
In the trenches, East Noble’s top five sack leaders have returned, with Trace Holliday – a First Team All-NE8 defensive end – back to wreak more havoc. Carico will see some action up front as well after amassing 93 tackles, 12 TFL and five sacks last season.
Jacob Van Gorder has departed, but senior Nolan Rhodes is one to watch who could replace some of the production lost at linebacker. Junior Damon Bentley will also be in the mix.
Junior Nic Klein takes over the kicking duties for the Knights and has earned high praise over the summer from Amstutz, who believes Klein is the best kicker in a decade at East Noble.
After being tripped up twice last season in the NE8, East Noble bounced back in the playoffs to earn a revenge victory over Leo and capture a sectional title.
While there are some pieces who need replaced, some heavy hitters return to the Knights on both sides of the football. There is talent in depth throughout the roster with a senior class that experienced earning a place in the state championship game as sophomores.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
East Noble has proven that it will play anybody at anytime, but with no non-conference games in the SAC, we cannot see a matchup like that until the playoffs. That said, East Noble has not played an SAC foe since 2013, a 20-point loss to Bishop Dwenger.
Entering the season, OTH believes the Knights are the best non-SAC team in the area. That’s saying something, although perhaps not surprising when you consider the ascendency of the program over the last 20-plus years.
Sept. 17 vs. Leo
Barring something unforeseen, this is the game for the NE8 championship. Both teams are stacked with talent and experience, with the two splitting a pair of meetings a year ago.
The fact that these two also reside in the same conference also breeds a lot of contention. As Leo learned last year, just because you win the first meeting doesn’t mean you will capture the rematch. That said, there will be a packed house in Kenda;ville for this one.
Zander Brazel, sophomore, quarterback
Look, Brazel doesn’t have to be a do-everything stud10th grader for East Noble to achieve its goals. But he does need to make the right decisions and the right reads in the right situations. He will have playmakers around him with a line to protect him, all Brazel needs to do is manage the game and perform at a reasonably high level while protecting the football.
Its a lot to ask a sophomore to start, let alone for a team with high aspirations. But Coach Amstutz wouldn’t have tabbed Brazel QB1 if he didn’t think he could handle it.