Despite having the SAC’s Victory Bell on the sideline for part of this season for the first time ever, 2022 will be one to remember for another reason for the Carroll football program.
On June 7, the Chargers family and the northeast Indiana football community lost Owen Scheele, who battled cancer for a short time before passing away. The senior was set to be QB1 for Carroll, and his impact locally, despite being only 17 years old, was widespread.
So bigger things than just football will be on the minds of Carroll this season, but the Chargers will be pretty darn competitive on the field as well.
After going 10-2 last season and winning a sectional crown for the first time since 2014, a total of nine starters return, although just three on offense.
Jeff Becker and his 2,325 total yards at quarterback have departed for South Dakota St. In slides Jimmy Sullivan, a sophomore transfer from Homestead that is fully cleared for varsity competition. It has been a crash course for Sullivan on learning Carroll’s spread scheme, 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, including Becker and Luke Carmody. 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, despite losing leading receiver Jameson Coverstone. Cooper Rudolph (26 receptions, 372 yards, two TDs), Hansen Haffner (17 receptions, 160 yards, 4 TDs) and Gabe Starks (12-117-3) will give Sullivan a solid stable of pass catchers.
The biggest target could be Bishop Luers transfer Jayden Hill, who caught 41 balls for 549 yards and six touchdowns and will be a threat in both the short passing game and downfield.
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, Carroll appears to be in better shape with six starters back from a team that allowed just 17 points over a six-week stretch late in the early, including shutouts of Homestead and Warsaw in sectional play.
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.
At the point of attack, junior Ashton Pesetski saw starting time last year. Senior Joseph Shiffler will also line up in the trenches on defense.
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.
With a mix of proven playmakers and perhaps the fastest defense in the SAC, the unit led by defensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is going to be a strength. The back seven in particular can match up against any team in the area in terms of productivity and playmaking ability.
After climbing the ladder of the SAC in capturing its first-ever league crown a season ago, there is enough in place to say that this Chargers squad could make it two in a row.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Starting a sophomore quarterback can mean some growing pains in any league, let alone the SAC. While Sullivan showed promise at Homestead, the fact of the matter is that he has yet to start a single varsity game. With Carroll starting the season off with Bishop Luers, Snider and North Side, Sullivan doesn’t have much in the way of easy contests to find his footing.
That said, Sullivan was in the QB1 mix at Homestead for a reason.
In all honesty, the only thing separating the top two teams on our preseason countdown is a veteran quarterback.
Week 2 vs. Snider
Last year, Carroll opened its home schedule with a loss to Bishop Luers in Week 1. The Chargers do not want to repeat that as they take on the Panthers in the first home game of the year.
It is tough to say that an early-season matchup could decide the conference, but many are pointing to this showdown as one that pits the top two squads in the league against one another.
Last season’s game was epic, with Owen Scheele getting his first and only Carroll start for the quarantined Jeff Becker. All Scheele did was lead Carroll to a 29-28 victory, the first of 10 straight wins.
With Scheele still on the mind all season long, this game could be as good as last year’s.
Jimmy Sullivan, sophomore
As one Carroll assistant coach commented to Outside the Huddle, “We are a different team with Jimmy at quarterback.”
The cool, calm and collected sophomore will need to be ready for the spotlight on Fridays if the Chargers are to achieve their goals. Sullivan impressed in limited time last year at Homestead, with the fact that he dressed varsity as a freshman indicative of his potential.
There are going to be some growing pains and ‘WTF’ moments, but if Sullivan can lead the offense effectively and be on more than he is off, Carroll can challenge for the Victory Bell.