A lot could change in the Allen County Athletic Conference just because of graduation. A lot more could change just because of younger players from last season being more seasoned.
And some stuff, well you will see that some stuff won’t change.
ADAMS CENTRAL FLYING JETS
The Flying Jets have lost a lot of familiar names from the 2021 Class 1A runner-up team, mostly because those guys were part of the rotation for two to three years. But have no fear, the ACAC frontrunner (again) still has a lot of guys that have been important parts of the team, including five offensive starters and six on defense.
Last season, so much of Adams Central’s high-powered offense came on the ground, but that is a place where it may have lost the most to graduation. As the Jets continue to try to open up holes for a new group of running backs, it helps to have three guys back along the offensive line in guard Zac Wurm and tackles Brayden Moon and two-year starter Cody Lautzenheiser. Trevor Currie also returns at tight end to help in those blocking schemes.
So who will get the call to run the ball? It will likely be by committee again. but maybe a bigger committee with senior Gavin Cook and juniors Keegan Bluhm, Ryan Tester and Max Hamilton (22 rushes, 111 yards). Quarterback Ryan Black (883 yards passing, 634 yards rushing) will contribute on the ground as well in his third year as QB1; Black is the team’s top returning rusher.
The defense of a year ago limited opposing teams; the Flying Jets gave up just 86.1 rushing yards per game and 78.9 passing yards per contest. Of the six returners on defense, five of them are part of the expected group on offense as well with Wurm (51 tackles) and Currie (30 tackles) along the line, Tester (78 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles) and Bluhm (105 tackles) at linebacker and Cook (108 tackles, 4 forced fumbles) in the secondary. Jackson Becher (56 tackles) will also return at defensive end.
So we know what comes back and those names are both familiar and effective. But what will the Flying Jets line up with new to push them back to postseason contention again? On defense, Cam Smith (two interceptions), Jack Hamilton and Max Hamilton will be at defensive back with Lain Lengerich at defensive tackle. Like the returners we know, expect most of these guys to play on both sides of the ball with Quincy Beer and Lengerich adding to the O-line and Jack Hamilton and Smith expected to line up at wide receiver.
“We will be successful if we are able to build off on our state qualifying run in 2021,” Adams Central coach Michael Mosser said. “We definitely lost a lot to graduation; however, the kids we have returning and the ones coming up from JV are all kids with great talent and determination. These kids love to win and know what it takes to do so. They had great examples in how to lead from the 2021 seniors and my hope is that this bunch of seniors will do the same. We need several players to step up offensively.”
SOUTH ADAMS STARFIRES
South Adams followed up the best season in program history in 2020 by having to replace almost its entire team, then dealing with long-term injuries for the only two major returners from the state finals squad. Yet somehow, the Starfires still managed a 10-3 season and a sectional title a year ago. That is a big success for the boys from Berne, several of whom are back as they take another crack at the top of the ACAC after falling big twice to rival Adams Central a season ago.
One of the guys forced into a starting spot due to 2021 injury was Owen Wanner, who took over at the quarterback position and found solid success, throwing for 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns and showcasing that his arm is strong. He will have to find a new top target and it looks like Silas Loshe (286 rec. yards) is the guy willing to shoulder that load. Alongside fellow seniors Brady Beall (All-ACAC at TE) and Hunter Kongar, Loshe will give Wanner an athletic and quick target downfield.
Beall will also work out of the backfield some, but Mav Summersett (565 rushing yards) will lead the way there for the second straight season. South Adams will return three starters on the offensive line, two of which were All-ACAC last season in Clayton Trausch and Thomas Murphy, with Mav Campbell also returning.
The defense is bolstered by experience from last season. Gavin Myers (109 tackles/4 sacks), River Toledo, Luke Bauman and Trausch all return along the line with Beall (151 tackles) and Summersett (139 tackles/3 forced fumbles) lined up as linebackers. Kongar will return to lead the secondary with Burton LeFever, Matt Steiner and Colton Bollenbacher.
“We come off three straight sectional titles and want to keep that run going,” South Adams coach Grant Moser said. “That is now the expectation. We have six straight seven-win seasons; we have a lot of kids back who were forced into starting roles dueto injuries last year. I am excited for this year.”
Rebuilding has come with aches and pains for Heritage, but things are starting to click in Monroeville and the Patriots could make some waves with a team that is still fairly young.
The biggest waves should come from Rylan Whitacre, who posted a monstrous 103 tackles, including 65 solo and three sacks last season. Whitacre is one of the key players in the entire league and his effect on the game should rally the entire Patriot defense. Senior Dalton White is another linebacker going into his third season starting after having 40 solo tackles, four sacks and two interceptions last fall. Landon Hicks (44 tackles 2 interceptions) will lead the secondary at cornerback along with safety Jaxon Love (30 tackles). All in all, there are 13 players on the Heritage defense with solid varsity experience.
Kobe Meyer will look to lead the team under center this season after throwing for 264 yards in an injury-shortened 2021. Meyer only got four games in last season but is expected to take the QB1 spot back with fellow junior Caleb Abbott moving back to running back; he rushed for 229 yards and four touchdowns in 2021. Mar Mat Ra Fee will add to the rushing depth after going for 156 yards in 2021. As far as Meyer’s potential targets, Preston Fields (110 rec. yards) is back for his third season while Ibrahim Williams (316 rec. yards) is the top returning pass catcher for the Patriots. Tanner Whitman caught 20 passes for 238 yards from the tight end position and Hicks and senior Adam Whitman will be used for depth.
“We must continue to make ourselves uncomfortable,” Heritage coach Casey Kolkman said. “We must continue to embrace the grind of the off-season, summer and season. We must not concern ourselves with the results and focus on the day-to-day work.”
This will be a bit of a rebuilding project for Bluffton with only six returning starters and a senior class of three. Braxton Betancourt will take over quarterback duties needing to replace Lukas Hunt and his 2,000+ yards of offensive production. He won’t be alone in needing to produce as the Tigers also lost to graduation their top two receivers and the top running back.
Meaning: Bluffton is going to have to travel the unfamiliar road for a while to get settled in this season. In that time, Betancourt, who threw two varsity passes in 2021, will be looking for juniors Andrew Hunt and Brody Lewis to be guys he can lean on. They were both part of a receiving group last year but not focus guys; it does help that they have some varsity experience. As does senior Anthony Cruz, who should get his hands on the ball out of the backfield. Freshman A.J. Streveler could also get some quality touches at receiver.
Outside of Cruz, Hunt and Lewis, there are three other starters back and that could be impactful across the offensive line. Senior Kayden King and juniors Johnny Cruz and Lukas Gehrett are back on the offensive line with Cruz and Gehrett also starting along the defensive front. That side of the football will also lean on Anthony Cruz and King at the linebacker position with Johnny Cruz and Hunt at the defensive back spot.
So, even though there aren’t many returners for the Tigers, expect them to do a lot, especially early. Deontae Eskridge will join along the line on both sides of the ball with Fletcher Wenger (linebacker) and Ben Ramseyer (defensive end) seeing their expectations rise as. well.
“[We] will need to keep the ball on the ground and give our young skill guys time to develop,” said Bluffton coach Brent Kunkel. “Hopefully by the time we get to the end of the season, the growing pains of that experience at the beginning will pay off as we head into the postseason.”
The Warriors get a bit of an incomplete when looking from 2021 to 2022 because of the amount of people who will be returning from injury-riddled, injury-shortened or just flat-out injury cancelled seasons. What does a healthy Woodlan team look like in the third year of the Mike Smith era? Things could be very different with a healthy group and a deeper than usual roster, though the team will have to replace All-ACAC player Joe Reidy, who made a major impact last season.
Offensively, the Warriors will see Jake Snyder back for his third season at quarterback, which is not something you get to hang your hat on often. Snyder accounted for 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns last season so it is easy to say that how Snyder goes, Woodlan will go.
Ethan Vardaman will be a great target for Snyder and will be joined in the receiving corps by DJ Gerig, Nolan Metz and others. Ethan Roemer has had some big running moments in the past and will return for his senior season in the backfield after an injury hampered him in 2021. Sophomore Drew Fleek will add to rushing depth after little playing time last season, though he went off for 150 rushing yards in Woodlan’s sectional game last fall.
Both lines will be bolstered by a healthy Jaxon Fleek and Austin Snyder; the duo will be joined on the defensive line by Hunter Bennett and Gerig (30 tackles), while Jack Culler (20 tackles), Jake Snyder and Vardaman (35 tackles) will be critical from the linebacker spot. Dawson Lichty should add some athleticism to the lineup as he joins up as a senior.
“As we enter Year 3, this is the most complete we have been,” Woodlan coach Mike Smith said. “We have a solid OL/DL which is obviously a key component to any good team at any level. We also have 12 seniors, which is the most we have had in my short time here. We have also improved immensely in the weight room. Moreover, we have more kids out this fall than any of the previous two seasons.
JAY COUNTY PATRIOTS
Jay County won more games in 2021 than the previous two seasons combined, so that is a solid start for Coach Grant Zgunda as he heads into his second season at the helm. The tough part is now replacing a lot of the 2021 team that bought in and put the Patriots back on the right track. Brady Davis will shoulder a lot of that load offensively after running for a team third-best yardage and receiving for a team fourth-best last season. But without Quinn Faulkner and his offensive output, Davis is likely to be the guy relied most heavily upon.
A strength for Jay County is that it has put a focus on being stronger and working in the weight room so it doesn’t have a bunch of guys just stepping out there and trying to make things happen. Kadin Ridenour was the Patriots leader in tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries last season at middle linebacker and his return is key for the defense as the offense tries to catch up. Ridenour will be a welcomed physical force that is willing to get after opposing teams on defense and be someone to lead by example.
SOUTHERN WELLS RAIDERS
After taking the 2020 season off from varsity play, Southern Wells returned last season going 0-10 but ending the season with a splash of hopefulness: a 44-37 sectional loss to Taylor. While the Raiders don’t get to compete against similar sized 1A schools often, getting within a touchdown of a win is an important place to build off of. Coach Mike Roeder loses his biggest offensive producer, yet returns quite a few guys who touched the ball a lot offensively, including senior Jensen Nusbaumer, who saw time at both quarterback and receiver. Case Boxell returns after a solid sophomore campaign as Southern Wells’ No. 2 rusher with 306 yards on the ground.
Owen Wanner, South Adams
One thing that the South Adams faithful can really be happy about is that Wanner clearly is up for any challenge. He went from a wideout to a passer and back to a wideout last season somewhat seamlessly and had an impact on the game whenever he was called upon, wherever he was called upon.
Rylan Whitacre, Heritage
When you take a guy who can register over 100 tackles with more than 60 percent of them on his own, who else can make an impact like Whitacre? The Heritage linebacker is someone that every team on the Patriots’ schedule is going to look to avoid at any cost.
ACAC PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Adams Central
2. South Adams
6. Jay County
7. Southern Wells
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