With six weeks between now and the start of the 2022 high school football regular season, it is about that time to start previewing the upcoming campaign in northeast Indiana.
While every team has visions of a winning season, some have more motivation that others.
Here’s a look at five area squads with something to prove in 2022:
Just a few years ago, there was talk about how Class 4A Angola had outgrown the small, largely rural environs of the Northeast Corner Conference. Over the course of 2017 and 2018, the Hornets rolled through the Big Division with back-to-back titles and winning their first 12 games in each campaign before falling to Bishop Dwenger (twice).
But since then, Angola has gone 11-17 over three years. Last year’s 2-8 mark was the fewest wins for the program since 1995 went the Hornets went 0-9.
However, the promise of talented classes coming up have had Angola fans hopeful for the future, including 2022. The Hornets may be small on experience at certain positions but high on skill and potential.
Angola wants to prove it is headed back to owning the NECC Big Division.
Four wins may not sound like much, but when a program hasn’t had that many victories in six years, it’s a big deal.
That’s where Heritage is in 2022, fresh off a 4-6 campaign that continued to breathe life into the Patriots.
Coach Casey Kolkman’s process to build from within, lay the foundation and grow incrementally is working. The team is still young at quarterback, but three underclassmen saw playing time there last season. Junior Kobe Meyer is returning from injury and may get the initial nod as QB1.
While the Patriots lost their top two rushers, the three most productive wide receivers are all back, led by junior Ibrahim Williams (24 receptions, 319 yards, three TDs).
Defensively, the top six tacklers are all back, and senior Rylan Whitacre is once again poised to be one of the best defenders in the area no one talks about.
The ACAC is laying out about the same this year, with Adams Central and South Adams atop the league, then everyone else. What is preventing Heritage from being that third-best team? Perhaps only themselves.
Early indications have new coach Jason Doerffler opening up the offense compared to the previous regime under Coach Jared Sauder.
While some Leo faithful will be pleased with that news, there is no doubting the fact that Sauder’s approach worked, considering he won 76 percent of his games with the Lions.
Some are expecting a regression of sorts as Leo switches regimes and transitions along the line of scrimmage, losing the likes of D.J. Allen, Landen Livingston and Sam Htoo. But this is still Leo, a two-time defending conference champion and the 1A (or 1B) with East Noble as the power programs in the NE8.
The Lions will not be hurting for talent, as a new crop of studs is ready to step up with the likes of seniors Ethan Crawford, Truman Wirtz, Collin Butler and Drew Baker, but could growing pains be evident in Doerffler’s inaugural season?
The Legends seem to have an annual place on this list. Why? Well, the expectations are always set so high when you break down the roster of individual talent. But when it comes to coming together as a team and executing? That’s when things can go awry.
Take last year for example. North won the summer OPS 7v7 Summit City Shootout in convincing fashion, but it ended up being one of the few highlights in a 2-7 campaign.
Fresh off another Summit City Shootout title, the Legends are looking to prove how good they can really be in the fall.
A lot of the pub revolves around four-star stud Brauntae Johnson, and for good reason. He is a tough matchup offensively, a dynamic returner and a long, rangy defensive back. Helping the cause in 2022 is quarterback Bohde Dickerson, a transfer from Bishop Dwenger that saw starting reps with the Saints last year and gives North a true QB1.
But per usual, success or failure in the SAC will come down to line play. Mitch Vargovich is a terror along the defensive front and Jordan King is a pure immovable object.
But how will it all come together? Can North survive on and off the field with the annual Weeks 1-3 gauntlet of Snider, Bishop Dwenger and Carroll?
Johnson and the Legends are out to prove they can not only survive, but thrive.
This season is all about (finally) gaining respect in Ossian, which is odd considering Coach Josh Gerber’s squad is coming off back-to-back 10-plus win seasons and a sectional championship in 2021.
Yet here we are, with NE8 talk still dominated by Leo and East Noble (a team that Norwell has beaten two straight years).
The senior class is loaded. Luke Graft. Brody Bolyn. Kyle Zeddis. Jon Colbert. All are First Team All-NE8 honorees that are returning. Add junior Cade Shelton and that’s five First Team dudes back for the Knights.
In terms of returning production, no one in the NE8 is in a better spot than Norwell, which makes the Knights an easy pick as the pre-season favorite in the league.
Fall expectations haven’t been this high in Ossian since the mid-2000s, with a deep run in the Class 3A playoffs a hope among many.
Can the Knights deliver?