There are a handful of area teams we pay attention to at Outside the Huddle that fit out-of-area conferences.
So today we check in with those teams, some established and one brand new.
The Braves will take to the field for their first season of 11-on-11 after a highly successful debut for the school in 8-on-8 a year ago. That said, more changes are abound than just the number of players on the field, including the enhanced toughness of a schedule that includes reigning Class 1A runner up Adams Central.
Blackhawk Christian will rely on a freshman to lead things under center in Chip Bennett, but he will return a running back who ran for 737 yards and 13 touchdowns last season in Gage Bennett. The wideouts will get new looks with Avery Merchant looking to lead the way alongside tight end Jaylen Strong. Johnnie Arrington and Johnny Plant return to the offensive line.
Defensively, it again is Gage Bennett who takes the lead after totaling 96 tackles, 17 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 8-on-8 play a season ago. Arrington and Plant will also line up on the defensive line, joined by Strong and Roman Mayer. Chip Bennett will see time at linebacker while Merchant can play linebacker or cornerback for the Braves.
“Our strength will be in our running game,” said Blackhawk Christian coach Brice Bennet. “We have three very strong and talented runners. We have a freshman QB who will take time growing in the passing game. We will have a strong defensive presence up front with some returning players who are very good against both the run and pass. Our secondary is young but we have some speed.”
The return of Coach Eddie Fields to the area adds some significant intrigue to Manchester. The former South Side coach takes over a program that hasn’t seen a winning season since 2009. Coach Fields brings back junior quarterback Logan Eastgate, who spent time at wide receiver last season; he only attempted four passes last season but completed three of them.
The backfield will be headed up by sophomores in Mason Rooney and possibly Reiss Gaerte. Rooney ran for a team-best 738 yards during the 2022 season while Gaerte was primarily used in the pass game with 376 receiving yards, the top returning total for the team. Gaerte is also the top returner defensively with 81 tackles while Eastgate had a co-team best two interceptions.
Wabash should be in a good place on the field to start this season under second-year head coach Ryan Carmichael after the inevitable growing pains of having a new coach to start 2022. Izaak Wright returns as the quarterback for the Apaches. He will lead an offense with experience at every position as they try to compete in the TRC. Wright threw for 1,835 yards and 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions last season. Trevor Daughtry (696 receiving yards) was the top target a year ago and will return for Wright to get the ball to.
Keaton Fields is back at running back for a squad looking for a more run-based game after emphasizing the passing game more in the past; Fields ran for 457 yards last fall. He will look for a pair of returning offensive linemen to help open holes as Kale Richardson and Caden Carmichael return. They will be joined on the line by Trevor Wuensch, Cam Ewing and Sawyer McNally.
Richardson will help the lead the way on the defensive side at linebacker with Wuensch (91 tackles) and Fields (86 tackles) also back.
One of the area kings of the run game, Warsaw has some replacements to make but some credible options to fill in voids. That starts with Drew Sullivan, who returns under center as the leading returning passer (154 yards) and rusher (525 yards). Reed Zollinger is back as well after rushing for 315 yards last season, as is Ethan Egolf who saw some time out of the backfield. Those three will run behind six guys who have starting experience on the line, headed up by senior Harrison Stofer at tackle, who was IFCA Jr. All-State a year ago. Fellow tackle Chase Carl also has a year of starting experience under his belt, while Aiden Williamson, Kam Kauffman, Jae’vion Lawson and James Leiter all saw starting time along the offensive front.
The Warsaw defense is stout, returning nine starters, including multi-year starters linebacker Jette Woodward (38 solo tackles, 40 assists), linebacker Eric Pohl (24 solo, 24 assists), lineman Isaac Beam (44 tackles) and defensive back Colt VanHouten (30 tackles, 1 interception). Other defensive returners include Nathan Rosas, Mason Gabrich, Ethan Egolf, Corbin Johnston and Cohen Heady.
The Warriors have quite a bit of experience back, including running back Brian Kelley (364 rushing yards) as the team looks to be more physical than they were a season ago. Mason Shoemaker, who split time at quarterback last season, will take over those duties fully after completing 55 percent of his passes for 556 yards. He will look to reup his QB/WR relationship with emerging junior standout Bradyn Pike. But Pike is far from the only receiver back. That group is headed by senior Hunter Tinkey (404 yards), who was the Warriors’ leading receiver a season ago.
Defensively, the Warriors have a lot of guys back on the defensive side that can make an impact. Kelley led the team in tackles a season ago with 75. He and Derek Bontrager (54 tackles, 2 interceptions) will lead the Wawasee defense. Tinkey will return to the defense as well after picking off three passes in 2022.