The bell is back on the line and with the SAC, things change but stay the same. A lot of the same teams are looking at making a run this season, the final in the nine-conference game format. A lot of offensive firepower in the conference begs the question: who has the best defense to defend the playmakers?
And who could pull off an upset or two to throw a wrench into those best-laid plans of the traditional conference powers?
Are the Panthers fully back in control? Were they ever really out of it? With seven offensive starters back and seven more on the defensive side, the Panthers are loaded with experienced talent. That begins at the quarterback position where Luke Haupert will be heading into his third season under center. Haupert completed 93 of 142 passes last season with 11 touchdowns. His weapons at receiver are quick with two-year starter Kamari Juarez (33 receptions, 500 yards) and another 2021 starter Kedrell Billingsley back. Jordan Lee and Ke’Ron Billingsley will also contribute out wide as will two-year tight end starter Lincoln Firks. Langston Leavell ran for 581 yards in 2021 and is leading the way in the backfield with Uriah Buchanan and D’alcapone Veazy. Brandon Stuckey and Carter Wilson, both guards, are the only two returners along the offensive line.
Defensively, Snider returns Kent Burkhead, Ammarion Moore and KJ Eldridge along the line. Eldridge will also see time at linebacker alongside another returner in Nick Talamantes. Lukas Rohrbacher is another name to watch at linebacker after some breakout play during the 2021 season. Four guys return to the secondary to bolster the Snider defense – Jason Pierre-Louis, Donte Sanders, Austin Ganaway and Kedrell Billingsley. Talamantes, who was IFCA All-State at kicker/punter last season will handle the kicking duties again.
“We are going to be successful if our senior class cares more about the team than they do themselves, they embrace the attitude of hard work and value it as the key to our success and they become servant leaders in our program,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said.
It has been a crash course for recent transfer Jimmy Sullivan on learning Carroll’s spread scheme at quarterback, but it is not altogether different than what he ran at Homestead, so the learning curve should not be steep. Over 87 percent of the rushing yardage from last season has departed, the top returning rusher is sophomore Nate Starks, who rushed for 217 yards and three scores on 51 carries as a freshman. The wideout spot has the most returning production anywhere on the offense with Cooper Rudolph (26 receptions, 372 yards, two TDs), Hansen Haffner (17 receptions, 160 yards, 4 TDs) and Gabe Starks (12-117-3) back. Every year, Carroll seems to have a breakout receiver so don’t expect it to be different in 2022. With those three and Luers transfer Jayden Hill (41 catches, 549 yards), there are a lot of options. The offensive line has some pieces to replace, although starting guard Johnathon Scott is back. Senior Aiden Hunley will man a tackle position as will sophomore Caiden Abbs.
On defense, senior Dylan Bennett leads a talented mix of returners at linebacker. The Class 6A Junior All-State selection led Carroll with 84 tackles, 12 TFL and four INTs in 2021. Also back at linebacker are seniors Max Wiard (14 tackles, five TFL) and Solomon Oduma (seven tackles) as well as junior Justin Anderson (23 tackles). The secondary has two of the top players in the area when it comes to the defensive backfield. Senior Jorge Valdes has seen significant playing time over the last few seasons and had 48 tackles and a pair of INTs last year. Fellow safety Braden Steely, a junior is primed for a breakout season.
Sebastian Lopez will handle kicking and punting duties once again after being named All-SAC and Junior All-State last year, putting Carroll’s special teams in good hands.
Quarterback Peyton Slaven is one of five offensive starters that are back. Slaven threw for 1,893 yards and 19 touchdowns a season ago while also rushing for 245 yards and five scores. It helps them that junior Brett Fuchs (90 rushes, 432 yards, six TDs) is back as the Spartans leading rusher next to Kam Johnson, who saw some time in the backfield and scored three rushing touchdowns in 2021. The offensive front lost some, but does return Eric Williamson at tackle, junior Jackson Bell at guard and senior Carter Werth at center. After the loss of 1,600 receiving yards, the top returner senior receiver is Mason Auxier (11 catches, 128 yards). Gavin Cozad (two catches, 31 yards) and Zac Zolman (one catch, eight yards) will also contribute as will 6-foot-7 Grant Leeper.
The defense lost the top seven tacklers and nine of the top 10. Senior lineman Jackson Christmon, is one of the best at his position in the state and is the returning leader in tackles. 6-5, 400-pound John Waddell will join Christmon after having 15 tackles and two TFL last season. The linebacker unit is completely new with seniors Gavin Weible, Tyler Litwinko, Braxton McLaughlin and Justin Goskowicz all penciled in to handle the duties at the second level.
A pair of seniors in Ian Griffin and Cozad will hold down the back end as well as juniors Wyatt Little and Michael Welch.
We look at the Saints defense as a strength heading into 2022. Senior Ethan Pflueger returns up front after amassing 20 tackles, six TFL and 2.5 sacks in 2021. Lining up alongside will be senior Preston Ross and junior Caleb Lehrman. Two-way junior linemen Wyatt Tippmann, Joseph Schenkel and John Paul Henry will also see time in the D-line rotation.
Four offensive starters are back – guard Ashton Skarie and tackle Elijah Douge along the line of scrimmage and junior Carter Minix (22 receptions, 181 yards, TD) at wideout. Senior Nate Reith will be up front as well as handle the long snapping duties. Sophomore Pete Thiel and freshman Andrew Trahin, both two-way linemen, could see some important time. At quarterback, Sam Campbell is a veteran and knows what’s expected within the program, though he did throw just one pass last season. Campbell could help in other areas offensively as well, so sophomore Braxton Bermes could be one to watch if Dwenger deviates at the quarterback position.
Teddy Steele will be RB1, but we will surely see others emerge from the cadre of backs the Saints have in the pipeline.
Everyone with a pulse knows that the Legends are loaded on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they will look to take better advantage with the transfer in of Bohde Dickerson, who threw for 1,000 yards, rushed for over 200 more and accounted for 16 total touchdowns in 2021 at Bishop Dwenger. While Brauntae Johnson (29 receptions, 207 yards) is the lone returner among North Side’s top five receivers from 2021, that is still a. pretty great target for Dickerson to work with. Look for senior Jaylen Ellis and sophomore Jamari Pearson to be in the mix when Dickerson is looking for targets other than Tae. After a breakout 2021, senior Jontae Lambert (703 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns) is back. The run game could open up a lot with a quarterback like Dickerson taking snaps, allowing Lambert and juniors Dominick Malone and Jamie Roy to get big chunks of action,
With all the talent at the skill positions, North still must be strong in the trenches. Coach Ben Johnson returns four of his five starters along the offensive line, including junior Jordan King, who holds an offer from Ball State. Senior Khristion Stalling and two-way standout Mitch Vargovich are also familiar names back up front.
Big D1 prospect Johnson will be stout at safety and corners Bravon Bassett and Michael Dye are both experienced and battle hardened. Look for sophomore Tristen Newsome to be in the mix for significant playing time on the back end in the secondary. The linebacker corps got a big boost when Da’Von Doughty transferred over from Bishop Luers. Doughty will be joined by a pair of juniors at linebacker – Jamie Roy and Ashton Newsome; sophomore Josh Masasu is a youngster to watch on the second level. Brashawn Bassett will also see action on defense in a variety of roles. Bassett’s multi role ability could be something that benefits North Side significantly.
Charlie Stanski (7-of-13 for 98 yards) will take on one of the toughest replacement roles in the SAC this year by replacing Carson Clark at quarterback. Junior Kohen McKenzie is also in the mix if the need arises for the Knights. Either way, there are options for them to get the ball to. Seniors Brayden McInturf (17 receptions, 221 yards) and Nick Thompson (7-119-1) are back. Juniors Isaac Zay and Cadell Wallace will be asked to take on a more commanding role. R.J. Hogue (30 carries, 225 yards, six TDs) and Gio Jimenez (18-164-2) will take care of things on the ground for the Knights.
Along the offensive line, Bishop Luers is a mix of experience and new faces. Seniors Jaden and Jordan Sykes are back as two of the SAC’s top returning offensive tackles. Freshman Zack Wall could be the Week 1 starter at center, while sophomores Michael Brough, Kam Walters and Paul Cotter are all in the mix at guard.
The defense is in a better spot with eight returning starters, headlined by a dangerous secondary held down by Thompson and fellow senior Jackson McCullough. Juniors Jimenez, Zay, Smith and Wallace will also be utilized as DBs. At linebacker, Mickey Daring is back after being an All-SAC Honorable Mention selection in 2021. Seniors Kolin Jolas and Qwenton Roach are also players to know at the second level. Hogue is back at D-end and hybrid d-end/outside linebacker Sam Koehl also has starting experience. Jordan Sykes will see time up front on defense as well, with Wes Javins and Damiun Jackson also in the rotation.
Roel Pineda will handle kicking and punting duties. He hit all three of his field goal attempts and 51-of-59 PATs last season.
One thing should be clear: Lamarion Nelson is going to be an absolute menace running the ball and every opposing defense is going to have to build a scheme around at least slowing him down. Nelson ran for 1,671 yards last season, averaging 139.3 yards per game along the way. Peyton Alt returns along that line that will be looking to set Nelson up for that success. Deonte Williams will be a target consistently while the Generals look to Christian Trimble as QB1, replacing multi-year starter Aiden Meek. Trimble completed 15 passes for 151.
The Wayne defense could be something to really keep an eye on as it returns eight starters. Khalon Kelsaw (24 tackles) and Nehemiah Young (63 tackles, 5 sacks) are huge in that returning group up front. Linebacker Cayden Rockford returns after picking up 85 tackles last season, the most among all returners for the Generals in 2022. Jacob Sharin (22 tackles) and Mikelion Ragsdale (22 tackles) will also return at linebacker positions. Williams (1 interception) could help lead the secondary the same way he will the wide receiving group.
Will the tide turn for Northrop this season? New coach Quentin Bowen sure hopes so, and as a former Snider assistant, he has high expectations on having the bell at Spuller Stadium in the near future but adorned in orange.
The roster is is loaded with returners, starting on the defensive end with the power of Julante Hinton (88 tackles, 4 sacks), who comes into his junior season as one of the area’s top defenders. Look for Marcus Logan, Micah Cowherd and Omarion Rogers to fill in around Hinton. While the line around him will take shape, those behind him are stout as well. Jaylin Williams, Aaron Robinson and Bryce Madison all return in the secondary. Brenden Kitzer is a sophomore who could take the lead at linebacker next to senior Josh Taylor.
On the offensive side, Northrop will have Keone Bates Jr. at quarterback and he has a force of a target in Jayden Schmenk to work the ball to. Senior Matt Morgan and junior Davion Woods will also line up wide for the Bruins. In the backfield, Northrop has decent depth to start with as Jay Barskdale and Tavon Freemen boast some experience, though the Bruins only return two offensive linemen in Riley Murphy and Landon Chilcote. Brown notes sophomores Dicorion Pittman and Mason Wittmer as two more that could help fill the offensive line.
CONCORDIA LUTHERAN CADETS
The Cadets are hoping that experience will lead them early on as they try to get into form. The top 12 returners for Tim Mannigel‘s team are seniors and you can’t fake that kind of upperclass depth. The questions will be, what did they learn last season to get them prepared for this year? And, what things will have to change now that Mannigel is back at the helm after a one-year break from the sidelines?
“Offensively, we will lean on our experienced O-line to help carry us early,” Mannigel said. “We have to be good up front. Our QB has a year of experience under his belt so he should be ready for a big year.”
That O-line starts with big Bubba Craig, who has been in the starting rotation for three seasons. Craig is a force and has returning classmates Chance Harris and Colson Asher to help push opposing defenses around, open up holes for Tim Okeowo on the ground and give Eli Mattox time to throw. Mattox returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,682 yards and and 15 touchdowns a season ago. He loses some really important targets, but senior Henry Scruggs will be a good target, as will basketball star/athlete Ajani Washington. James Rusher isn’t a primary receiving target, but is the top returning receiver on the roster after catching 16 passes for 245 yards in 2021; Landon Kaschinske (152 receiving yards) and Maddux Wright are other options as well. Okeowo will take over primary running duties after having just three rushes last season for 36 yards as the Cadets graduated over 700 yards of ground offense.
Rusher (56 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries) has to be the most imposing player Concordia brings back defensively as he leads the linebackers. Fellow senior Tyler Mohr will join him, as will new face River Johnson. The defensive line will be anchored by Grant Hayworth (one sack) and Cameron Cage. Concordia’s secondary could be really something with its speed and athleticism, led by Kaschinske (40 tackles, one interception) and the additions of Avery Cook, Evan Stipp and Nate Falkenstern.
SOUTH SIDE ARCHERS
Five senior players return to an offensive line that will help lead South Side’s offense in the second season under Coach Guy Lee. That number is big as it will attempt to give protection to Larrenz Tabron, who returns at quarterback. Jayden Morris will be a great target for Tabron to work with as one of the team’s more athletic players. Jermaine Freemon could be the lead running back for the Archers.
Both lines will be bolstered by the strength of Michael King III, who is a powerful returner that stands at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and is known for quick pursuits of opposing offensive players. King is going to uplift this group quite a bit defensively with the Archers almost doubling the amount of players who came out for the team at lineman positions from a year ago. Dantonio Wilson will return at linebacker, as will Jeremy Irby. Adrian Macon and Isaac Lee will lead the secondary, joined by Freemon.
SAC PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
4. Bishop Dwenger
5. North Side
6. Bishop Luers
10. South Side
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