The era under Coach Luke Amstutz at East Noble has seen expectations (and results) rise dramatically.
So while a six-win campaign may sit well for most programs, last year’s 6-3 record for the Knights was their lowest amount of victories in close to 15 years.
And while names like Nick Munson, Kainon Carico and Rowan Zolman are gone, East Noble is primed to compete in the Northeast 8 and beyond again.
Five starters return on offensive from 2021, headlined by junior quarterback Zander Brazel. It was very much a learning season for Brazel as a 10th grader last year, but he still put up solid numbers, including a 14:4 TD to INT ratio and 1,209 yards through the air. He also rushed for six touchdowns.
The top three rushers from a year ago have all graduated, meaning junior Michael Mosley (20 carries, 220 yards, 3 TDs) is the most productive returner in the backfield. He will be joined by fellow junior Tyson Reinbold, who saw some limited action last season. Seniors Damon Bentley and Josh Bailey will also factor in to the run game, which averaged over 240 yards on the ground last year.
Wideout was also gutted by graduation, with the leading receiver returning a sophomore with two catches – tight end Alex Brennan. Junior Keegan Corbin saw a few starts defensively in 2021 and will be a primary target of Brazel. Fellow junior David Sturdivant will have an opportunity to step up, as will senior Trevor Marcellus and sophomore Logan Hatton.
Trevor Conley will be a valuable safety net at tight end as a senior in addition to his defensive line duties.
While the skill positions have had massive turnover, there is plenty of experience up front. Despite the graduation of Chris Hood, the Knights return multi-year starters Easton Brown, Nate Terry and Zack Leighty. When looking at what will be a strength offensively, up front is where it’s at for East Noble.
On defense, just a few starters return on that side as well as the top six tacklers are gone. The secondary was particularly hit hard with graduation, although senior Cory Biddle and the junior Corbin have experience. Hatton and Marcellus will also slot in in the secondary. That group will need to gel quickly as it looks to offset the departure of Zolman and Munson.
The linebacker spot has some returning starters in seniors Bentley and Conley. Sophomore Dylan Krehl saw some time as a freshman and is a player to watch, as well as junior Conner Liens and sophomore Jacob Ramey.
Studs Brown and Leighty will also hold down the defensive front, with the junior Mosley as well. East Noble does not return a single player that had more than one sack in 2021.
The steady Nik Klein will handle punting and kicking duties.
The continuity within the program that Coach Amstutz has cultivated means that there is no significant drop-off between one season and the next. While East Noble did lose a lot to graduation, this is a squad that was No. 3 in the league to Leo and Norwell in 2021. Might a new crop of stars emerge that propel East Noble back atop the NE8? Coach Amstutz is extremely high on this group, so why shouldn’t we be?
WHY NOT HIGHER?
When you look at the order of things in the NE8 with the ‘top 3,’ one squad is has changed coaches and schemes, another graduated a ton of production and the final one returns almost every player of consequence from last year.
Factoring those things in, No. 5 smack dab in between the other two NE8 power teams feels like a comfortable spot for the Knights.
“This team will be talented, but inexperienced,” Amstutz said. “If our young players can fill in key spots, we will continue to be in very good shape.”
Week 6 vs. Norwell
East Noble has lost two straight to Norwell over the past two years. While the rivalry with Leo is huge and will be played just one week earlier, it is this showdown that OTH has circled.
This one very well may decide the league, but it hinges on the inexperience of East Noble and how the youth grow up and settle in over the first few games of the season.
Zander Brazel, junior
While just a junior, Brazel must become the leader that East Noble needs offensively with a wealth of new faces in the huddle.
While Brazel was on a learning curve last year when it came to starting at QB at the varsity level, he will have teammates looking towards him for guidance, particularly in the backfield and at wide receiver.
If Brazel can perform on the field and be a leader to help turn inexperienced players into solid contributors, this offense will be able to hang with anyone in the conference.