Before we get to the Outside the Huddle All-Area Team and our end-of-year awards, Blitz wanted to take some time and take a last glance at area conferences and hand out some league-only hardware.
Next up is the Northeast 8.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: MASON SHERON, LEO
Following a lost junior season due to injury, Sheron bounced back to be the most consistent offensive threat for Leo, which blew through the NE8 with a 7-0 conference mark.
Sheron was extremely difficult to contain, no matter the situation. He rushed for 1,375 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season, scything through defenses for long gains time and again. He averaged close to 11 yards per carry.
The senior wasn’t all big plays, as he had no issue fighting for tough yards and moving the chains methodically. He also added four pass receptions for 92 yards and three scores in the Lions’ rush-heavy offense while also picking up four sacks on defense.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rowan Zolman, East Noble; Landen Livingston, Leo.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: ROWAN ZOLMAN, EAST NOBLE
From offense to defense to the punting game, Zolman was an asset for East Noble all season long.
A multi-year starter, Zolman’s football acumen, talent and intensity made him one of the top talents on the field in northeast Indiana over the last few seasons.
In 2021, he hauled in 24 receptions for 540 yards and five touchdowns in an offense that had a multitude of weapons. Still, Zolman commanded the most respect from opposing defenses.
On the other side of the ball, Zolman was once again one of the best safeties in the region and perhaps the state. He always seemed to be around the ball on every snap, whether it was coming down to play the run or dropping in coverage. He finished with 91 tackles and an INT. The single pick evidence that teams simply refused to throw his way.
HONORABLE MENTION: Leo offensive line; Greg Bolt, Columbia City; Nick Munson, East Noble
BREAKOUT PLAYER: LUKE GRAFT, NORWELL
Many expected Norwell to fall back to earth in 2021 after a double-digit win campaign last season. But all the Knights did is do it again.
Graft was a big part of that and a huge asset in a junior class that will have the Knights one of the preseason favorites in the league in 2022.
Graft was a two-way stud for Coach Josh Gerber’s team at running back and linebacker, being named IFCA Class 3A Junior All-State earlier this month.
Offensively, the junior rushed for 1,723 yards and 20 touchdowns while hauling in 13 passes for 97 yards and three scores.
Graft was a terror on defense as well, amassing 65 tackles, nine tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and an INT.
HONROABLE MENTION: Mylan Graham, New Haven; Donnie Wiley, DeKalb; Dylan Velez, Bellmont; Josh Arntz, Columbia City
COACH OF THE YEAR: JARED SAUDER, LEO
Some folks had plenty to say in the postseason when Leo fell to Northridge in the sectional final, but, ya know, sour grapes.
What you can’t argue with is the fact that Sauder’s Lions have now captured back-to-back league championships with perfect conference records.
Most everyone was “running clock’d” by the start of the second half, with East Noble the only team to put up a fight in clean field conditions.
Leo has now won seven or more games in 14 straight seasons under Sauder, an astounding number.
HONORABLE MENTION: Josh Gerber, Norwell
REGULAR-SEASON GAME OF THE YEAR: Leo 40, East Noble 32, Week 5
Fighting back from a 20-point deficit at the break, East Noble came back to tie the game with eight minutes left in regulation. But Leo put together one of its patented sustained, time-consuming drives capped by a Kaeden Miller touchdown that put the Lions back in front.
East Noble was able to drive down into the red zone but could not punch it in, with a fourth-down pass pass attempt from the 11-yard line falling harmlessly incomplete with 11 seconds remaining.
The regular-season showdown between these two would be surpassed by the sectional matchup, also won by Leo in dramatic fashion.
EARLY PICK FOR 2022 NE8 CHAMPION: NORWELL
Coming off an 11-win season and returning plenty of production in the junior and sophomores classes, Norwell looks primed to be the team to beat in the conference entering 2022.
Lleyton Bailey should take a step forward in his QB development, while Graft gives him a back to count on. Fellow 1,000-yard rusher and two-way stud Jon Colbert will also be back, as will most of a huge offensive line anchored by Brody Bolyn and a defense that will also be loaded.
The usual suspects will be lurking, but Norwell looks to be the team to beat next fall in the NE8.
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