Coach Kurt Tippmann has not forgotten Nov. 5 of last year.
He hasn’t let his team forget it either.
After moving into a tie for the SAC championship by ousting Bishop Luers in Week 9, Snider found itself in position to win a sectional title. All it had to do was knock off Bishop Dwenger, a team it had beaten by double digits barely a month before.
Instead, the Saints dominated in the trenches and on the scoreboard – ending the Panthers’ season in convincing fashion by 22 points.
“Although we were successful in the regular season, it was the exact opposite in the playoffs,” Tippmann said. “We played very poorly in the first game (a four-point win over Northrop), played very poorly in the second playoff game and deserved to lose.
“That sticks with everyone in the program. It helps motivate you when you’re lifting in February and running in June and July when it’s hot and miserable.”
With that incentive coupled with a senior class that the staff has been excited about “since they were freshmen” per Tippmann, Snider enters the 2022 campaign as the favorite in the SAC.
Seven starters are back on offense, headlined by quarterback Luke Haupert. No player in Snider history has started more games behind center prior to his senior campaign than Haupert. As the Panthers rushed for over 2,500 yards last year, Haupert did not need to sling the ball around the field too much – throwing for a touch over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. But he did throw five interceptions, making protecting the ball a top priority in 2022.
Expect Haupert to be given more opportunities in the pass game, and for good reason. Multi-year starter Kamari Juarez is back after leading the team in receptions (31) and yards (379) last year. Fellow senior Kedrell Billingsley, who will wear the coveted No. 1 jersey, is also back with 20-plus catches on his resume from last year.
Other wideouts to watch include junior Ke’ron Billingsley and sophomore Jordan Lee.
Tyrese Brown and his over 1,500 rushing yards are gone, but senior Langston Leavell (83 carries, 563 yards, four TDs) is ready to take over the workload. At times last year, Leavell was the primary ball carrier when Brown needed a breather. He took advantage, averaging over 6.7 yards per touch.
Backing up Leavell will be junior Uriah Buchanan and sophomore De’Alcapon Veazy, who is one of the state’s top wrestlers.
Tight end Lincoln Firks is expected to command a greater role in the pass game and is a solid blocker. Junior Jack Langas will also be in the rotation.
The offensive front lost some pieces but does have a solid anchor in senior guard Brandon Stuckey, back for his third year as a starter. Junior Carter Wilson is also back at guard after starting last year. Newbies to the starting lineup include senior Noah Drew and juniors Ethan Dodson and Sam Haxton.
The defense has playmakers at all three levels of its 4-2-5 scheme with seven starters returning.
The front line is dominated by seniors – Kent Burkhead, KJ Eldridge and Ammarion Moore all have starting experience, while seniors Naveon Warren and Maxwell Malone, junior Will Kelso and sophomore Adam Blakey will all see time. Losing Markell Keal and his team-high five sacks hurts, as does Dom Moon gone at linebacker, however.
Eldridge in his hybrid role will also play linebacker, as will fellow returning starter Nick Talamantes (22 tackles, two TFL, INT). Look for senior Zyon Greene to have an increased role, as well as juniors Lukas Rohrbacher and Jake Tippmann.
The secondary returns intact as seniors Jason Pierre Louis, Donte Sanders and Kedrell Billingsley, as well as junior Austin Ganaway, are all back. The defensive back unit is especially deep as junior Levi Overholser and sophomores Brandon Logan and Jamarion Kolagbodi will also line up on the back end.
Special teams will be solid with Talamantes, who can hit long field goals (just ask North Side) as well as punt effectively. He was named IFCA All-State a year ago.
Overall, 14 starters are back for a squad that won eight games a year ago and a piece of the SAC Victory Bell. While some key pieces are gone, Coach Tippmann has praised his senior group as one that has been biding its time and ready to bust out. Remember, just because we haven’t seen some certain players in big roles quite yet doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for the big time.
When comparing Carroll and Snider, what puts the Panthers No. 1 is the return of an experienced quarterback. Haupert has been through the battles on Fridays and knows what is expected of him within the offense.
Week 2 at Carroll
We do not have to wait long for what could be the game that eventually decides the SAC race. Week 2 will see the top two squads (to begin the season) collide in Huntertown.
Last season saw an epic back-and-forth game that saw Carroll emerge victorious by a single point. Can Snider return the favor this season?
While other challenges remain on the schedule, the Week 2 showdown with the Chargers, and even the season opener against North Side, will set the tone for the Panthers and show if they are truly the team to beat in the area in 2022.
Luke Haupert, senior
The excitement surrounding Snider comes in large part due to Haupert. He already runs the offense exceptionally well, but this season Haupert will get the chance to showcase his throwing skills more often. While Leavell is a more than capable running back to dominate like Brown did last year, the Panthers taking that next step from a year ago could hinge on Haupert being able to pick apart defenses.
The defense will be solid, as will the rushing attack, but the ceiling for Snider truly is in the hands of Haupert and how well he performs.