OTH FOOTBALL PREVIEW 2023: No. 1 Carroll Chargers

Carroll’s Ashton Pesetski fights through two Northrop offensive linemen during a game last season. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

A year ago at this time, we were looking at Carroll as an SAC favorite once again, but a program that still couldn’t crack the code of having success deep in the 6A postseason.

Now, after a run to the state championship game by knocking off the likes of Penn and then-No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern, the expectations have risen for Coach Doug Dinan’s team.

What has us so confident? Start at quarterback, with Jimmy Sullivan back for his junior campaign after throwing for 2,203 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. While learning on the fly at times a year ago, the then-sophomore still was the best QB in the area, adding 182 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

Fellow junior Nate Starks is also back fresh off an 1,134-yard, seven TD campaign a year ago. In fact, the top four rushers from last year’s squad have returned, with Braden Steely (482 yards, 13 TDs), Sullivan and Noah Balbo.

The passing attack needs to replace Cam Herschberger (737 yards, seven touchdowns) and tight end Jayden Hill (472 yards, four TDs) as well as classmate Cooper Rudolph (218 yards, TD), but the Chargers will look to senior Hansen Haffner (479 yards, team-high 10 TD receptions) to be the X-factor.

There are no shortage of viable candidates at wideout outside of Haffner, but pay particular attention to sophomores Mason Baughman and Jaidon Van Pelt, a pair of breakout candidates.

Senior center Jake Wilson will be the anchor along the offensive line that has a plethora of bodies and talent alike.

Carroll will miss Royce Jones along the defensive front, but Ashton Pesetski is back after leading the team in tackles (84), tackles for loss (19) and sacks (12) in 2022.

Justin Anderson is back at linebacker and Steely at safety as two of the top players at their respective positions in the northern part of the state. Coach Dinan feels confident in plugging in additional personnel for those two. Junior Ethan Tranquill is one to watch at linebacker.

If there is a perceived weakness for the Chargers, it could be at corner with the underrated Michael Dierckman having graduated. There are options there, but there is a lack of size and physicality, at least to begin the season.

Expect Dominic Dempsey to pick up where Sebastian Lopez left off in the kicking game.

WHY #1?

No team was more impressive than Carroll last year, and not a single area squad looked competitive against them in summer scrimmages and 7v7 shootouts.

There are playmakers at all three levels of the defense and one of the top quarterbacks in the entire state in Jimmy Sullivan.

Can this team return to the 6A state title game? That’s a tough ask. But is this the best team in the area entering the season? No question.


Week 5 at Snider

The “A Division” (that’s weird to say) will come down to this game between the two best teams in the SAC (in our opinion).

A year ago, this one was a back-and-forth affair that saw Carroll pull out a 28-21 win. Three of the last four meetings have been decided by seven points or less, including one-point decisions in 2019 and 2021.

Sign us up for another classic.


Jimmy Sullivan, junior, quarterback

What put this team over the top a year ago was the sophomore Sullivan stepping in, grabbing the QB1 reigns and leading the Carroll offense.

There are questions around him, perhaps more on the perimeter than last year. Outside of Haffner, there is a lot to prove when it comes to the pass catchers. But elite QBs raise the level of play around them. Much like last year, if Carroll is going to return to Lucas Oil Stadium, it will be on the shoulders of Sullivan.


No. 10 Bishop Dwenger Saints

No. 9 New Haven Bulldogs

No. 8 Bishop Luers Knights

No. 7 Adams Central Flying Jets

No. 6 East Noble Knights

No. 5 Homestead Spartans

No. 4 North Side Legends

No. 3 Leo Lions

No. 2 Snider Panthers

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