While many counted down the days until football returned during the winter and spring months, players and programs were putting in work with 7v7, showcases and offseason workouts.
As Outside the Huddle kicks off its month-long 2022 High School Football Preview, we look at six players who have helped their stock rise considerably over the last several months.
OL/DL Johnny Cruz, junior, Bluffton
A lot is made about the skill-position players at South Adams and Adams Central, but competing with those teams in the ACAC begins in the trenches.
Bluffton has one of the best in Cruz. A two-way returning starter, Cruz is a “weight room freak” as described by Coach Brent Kunkel. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 270 pounds, isn’t your typical lumbering high school lineman.
Cruz plugs up the middle at either nose or tackle on the defensive side of the ball, allowing linebackers to roam free of bigger blockers. An offensive tackle as well, he can bench 385 lbs and squat 500, evidence of his strength that helped him win a sectional title at heavyweight in wrestling and a shot put crown in track sectionals.
Cruz isn’t flashy and won’t pile up stats in the box score, but he will be a massive lift to Bluffton up front once again.
QB BOHDE DICKERSON, SENIOR, NORTH SIDE
The last time we saw Dickerson in action, he was struggling against a ferocious Zionville defense in regional play which forced the then-Bishop Dwenger quarterback to throw a pair of interceptions, lose a fumble and complete just 12 of 30 passes.
Now at a new school in a new system, Dickerson injects an aura of real QB1 ability into a North Side offense that has the weaponry to be dangerous, it just needed a facilitator to make it run smoothly.
With the Saints, the pass game was always secondary, which makes sense when you can run the ball for 200-plus yards a night on the regular.
But with the Legends, Dickerson will take center stage. He has been handed the keys to the offense, and with it some real expectations for a team that has a lot of individual talent.
It is now Dickerson’s job to show he is up for the challenge.
QB LUKE HAUPERT, SENIOR, SNIDER
It seems like we have been waiting for a few years for that breakout season for Haupert. We may be on the verge of seeing it.
Haupert’s 196-yard, three-touchdown effort against Bishop Dwenger in last year’s sectional loss showed that he could be that guy to sling it all over the field and make plays, he just hasn’t needed to. But he still finished with barely 1,100 yards passing and 11 touchdowns through the air. The backfield tandem of Tyrese Brown and Langston Leavell was enough to carry the offense most nights in 2021.
With Tyrese Brown and offensive coordinator Quentin Brown gone, it leaves Leavell, Haupert and some dangerous talent on the perimeter.
OTH has heard that the Panthers could look to go more vertical in 2022, thrusting Haupert into the limelight. His mobility isn’t elite, but it is an asset that will keep defenses honest.
TE BROCK SCHOTT, SOPHOMORE, LEO
Envision a high school tight end’s body type and Schott fits it to a T. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Schott is a quarterback’s dream, capable of being everything from that last-resort checkdown to a mismatch against a corner on the outside.
While the physicality of Schott still needs refined, his role in Coach Jason Doerffler’s offense fits his skill set. He is big and tall, but quick enough to beat defensive backs in coverage.
There is such confidence in Schott already at Leo that he is lining up at times at the Z wide receiver spot on the outside, sometimes finding himself in motion pre-snap.
Look for Schott to burst on the scene as not only one of the top pass catchers in the NE8, but the entire area.
S BRADEN STEELY, JUNIOR, CARROLL
With brother Tucker gone to graduation, Braden looks to be the next Steely prepped to be one of the top players nobody ever seems to talk about.
Braden is fast. Like track star fast. He will be a key component to the Chargers’ defensive unit on the back end for a defense that is poised to be the best in the SAC this fall.
While he is predominantly a safety, don’t be shocked to see Carroll utilize the rising junior in a variety of ways offensively – from be a running back or pass catcher to being a return man, something he was when he returned a punt 95 yards against Warsaw in sectional play.
QB JIMMY SULLIVAN, SOPHOMORE, HOMESTEAD
At present, we still do not know which direction the Spartans will go when it comes to their quarterback position.
On the one hand, they have Peyton Slaven, who threw for close to 1,900 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior last fall while also rushing for 245 yards and five scores.
On the other hand, the Spartans have the sophomore Sullivan, who saw limited action last season but looks the part as one of the top signalcallers in his class in the state.
Slaven and Sullivan have been alternating possessions all summer long, through the OPS Summit City Shootout and scrimmages, as well as practices. Does Homestead continue this practice into the season? Does Coach Chad Zolman and OC Bill Skelton settle on one guy?
The fact that Sullivan is challenging a senior with a proven track record in Slaven is impressive in itself. Sullivan looked more polished at the Summit City Shootout, but 7v7 prowess doesn’t mean someone is ready for the bright lights of Friday nights.
Regardless, Homestead has a multi-year starter in Sullivan. Whether it is this year or next remains to be seen.