Friday was Northeast Indiana Football Media Day. The event took place at the Optimum Performance Sports facility on Dupont Road in Fort Wayne. It featured over 30 teams; including teams from various conferences such as the Summit Athletic Conference, the Northeast 8 Conference, and the Northeast Corner Conference.
Three teams won a share of the SAC Title. One of those teams was Carroll. Despite an opening night loss to Luers, the Chargers went 10-2 and won the Class 6A Sectional 3 championship. It was their fourth sectional title under head coach Doug Dinan. With Jeff Becker; a three-year starter; having graduated and Owen Sheele having passed away, Carroll will have a new starting quarterback this year. At this point the Chargers still have some competition at that position. On defense, Carroll returns multiple senior leaders. That includes leading tackler Dylan Bennett, defensive back Jorge Valdes, and Max Wiard who had six tackles for loss as a junior.
“We’re very excited about our senior class, the leadership of our senior class,” Dinan said. “It’s a big class in numbers, a lot of guys returning that were starters last year, and so, the leadership is cast upon their shoulders. [We have] a lot of guys on the defensive side back, you know. And so the initial leadership has to come from that side of the ball.”
One of the other teams that shared the SAC title was Snider. The Panthers won games against marquee opponents such as Homestead, Bishop Dwenger, and Bishop Luers. This year, they return Luke Haupert at quarterback. Haupert has a year and a half of starting experience under his belt. His completion percentage, yards per game, and touchdown pass total all went from his sophomore year to his junior year. He also brings back leading receivers Kamari Juarez, Jordan Lee, and Ke’drell Billingsley.
“We [as receivers] have a good bond with our quarterback. So that helps out a lot,” Lee said. “And having the experience there, we just know what’s gonna go on in the game and we know what to do.
Leading rusher Tyrese Brown has graduated. Even so, Snider does bring back Langston Leavell, who averaged over 6.7 yards per game as a junior, and Uriah Buchanan, a junior who played in three games last year.
“Tyrese was a power runner. He had great feet. Langston is another big guy. But he’s probably a little faster than Tyrese,” head coach Kurt Tippmann said. “And so, he has more of a speed element to his game. But also, you know, he’s a 210 pound running back that can use the power part of his game too. And Uriah, you know, is not quite as big. He’s probably similar in speed. You know, we don’t have any of those scat kind of backs, but more downhill guys and big powerful guys.”
The Panthers often pride themselves in defense. Last year’s defense was very senior heavy. This year’s defensive line returns seniors such as Max Malone and KJ Eldridge. Junior Lukas Rohrbacher, who had 81 tackles last year, returns at linebacker along with seniors Zyon Greene and Nick Talamantes.
“Our defense is definitely solid,” Malone said. “We do have a lot of athletes. We have guys that are willing to work. So our defense should be solid, as it is every year.”
“In some years we’ve had really big size,” Tippmann said. “You know, going back to Lawrence Johnson and Gianini [Belizaire], those guys were just big behemoth guys, and we don’t have that size this year, but we have more athleticism. So, at linebacker [we’re] very athletic … Zyon and Lukas are very athletic guys. On the defensive line, you know, we’ll have smaller-in-stature guys, but guys that can really run and move. Max Malone, Naveon Warren, KJ Eldridge, … Will Kelso; those guys all move really, really well. So, we’ll be different in terms of our strengths. But those guys, you know, bring a lot of athleticism and speed to our defense.”
Bishop Luers was the other team that shared the SAC title. The Knights followed up a trip to state in 2020 by going 10-2 last year. They won one-score games against Carroll, Homestead, and Bishop Dwenger. Quarterback Carson Clark threw for over 2900 yards last year. Running back Sir Hale rushed for over 1100 yards. Brody Glenn racked up over 1100 receiving yards. Those athletes were all seniors last year.
“You know, if we continue to get after it everyday, continue to improve, and trust each other, if we can keep our heads up through inevitably the adversity that we’ll see on a weekly basis, this team has a lot of potential to achieve a lot of success,” head coach Kyle Lindsay said. “What that means in terms of SAC play, I don’t know. I thought, quite frankly 2020 was a successful season, not because we made it to the state championship game, but because the kids, you know, they took some early, big losses, and they didn’t let their heads get down. They kept their heads up. They kept getting better and better and better.”
Right now, Luers has some competition at the quarterback position between senior Charlie Stanski and junior Kohen McKenzie.
“[Charlie] knows, … probably, a little bit more of the ins and outs of the offense. Kohen is a very smart kid, and he’s got a heck of a work ethic. So he’s doing everything he can to catch up and the mental aspect of knowing where to go with the ball,” Lindsay said. “Charlie probably has a little bit more confidence in and around the huddle. He shows a little bit more of the intangibles at this stage right now. But Kohen has really been closing he gap in that regard. They both have similar arm strength. Both have done a good job of developing a solid rapport with a really talented group of wide receivers. Kohen’s probably a little lighter on his feet, a little bit more mobile.”
Bishop Dwenger has been an area powerhouse for a long time. They’ve won five state titles, most recently in 2018. The Saints have also won five straight sectional titles. This year Sam Campbell is the starting quarterback after having played at defensive back and receiver in recent years. On defense, the Saints return athletes such as Christian Lozada, Ethan Pflueger, and Ashton Skarie; each of whom had more than five tackles for loss last year. Teddy Steele is another athlete who contributed on defense. He is a defensive back who had 14 passes defensed last year.
“You know, last year we had a lot of adversity, and they were coming into some pretty raw moments with guys down in big games,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Some of those we won, and some of those we didn’t win, and you know, at the end of the season we were healthy again, and so they were contributing in a sectional championship game that was fortunate enough that went our way. It’s invaluable. I mean you’ve gotta have those guys that have been there.”
With leading rusher KJ Tippmann having graduated, Dwenger does have running backs such as Teddy Steele and Trent Tippmann available. The Saints are still evaluating their depth chart, but they are making progress in this year’s running game.
“In terms of what we want to do in the running game, I think we’re identifying that, in terms of our scheme, you know, obviously, the power running and maybe some other little wrinkles that we’re able to put in there, especially with Sam at quarterback,” Garrett said.
Homestead has been a consistent powerhouse under 19th-year head coach Chad Zolman. The Spartans won back-to-back SAC titles in 2019 and 2020. Last year they finished 6-4 and lost to Carroll in the first round of sectionals. They graduated several athletes, particularly on defense. But they do return leading pass rusher Jackson Christmon, who tallied nine sacks in 2021. Homestead also returns Peyton Slaven at quarterback. Slaven threw for over 1800 yards and 19 touchdowns as a starting quarterback last season.
“[Peyton] does everything we ask him to do,” Zolman said. “He works hard, studies the game. He’s just a good teammate. All the things we ask him to do, he’s doing, so we’re pleased with where he’s at.”
“We have a couple new guys definitely bringing something to the team”, wide receiver Mason Auxier said. “We have Peyton coming back as a quarterback so, him having that experience is pretty nice for us.”
Wayne has been improving record-wise since Sherwood Haydock took over as head coach. Haydock is entering his third year at the helm. The Generals went 2-9 in 2020, and then followed that up by going 4-8 in 2021. Lamarion Nelson rushed for over 1600 yards and was the SAC’s leading rusher. He returns this year for his senior season. Many of the Generals’ offensive linemen are also back. At quarterback, senior Christian Tremble is expected to be the starter.
“I think [Tremble] had four starts the last two years and he won two of those, so he’s semi-experienced, but he has a real strong arm, and he’s worked really hard,” Haydock said. “So we think he might be the surprise quarterback in the whole conference.”
“The best thing about Lamarion being back is we ran behind our strong side a lot, and all those same guys are back. Every guy that led him off-tackle, including the fullback are returning. So, another year of experience, another year stronger. So we think we can run the ball on anybody. But this year, we’re gonna try to play more wide open so we can score more points.”
New Haven, a member of the NE8, is entering its second season under head coach Kyle Booher. The Bulldogs went 5-6 last year in Booher’s first season. They have competition at quarterback between North Side transfer Donovan Williams and James Barnes, who sat behind last year’s starter Jakar Williams. While those two are still competing for the starting job, Booher did say that Barnes could play other positions.
“We have a better grasp on what they’re doing offensively,” Booher said. “Our guys should come in knowing what we’re doing. We had two double overtime games that were close that we hope to kind of change the way on those and just kind of keep making improvements.”
South Side is led by another second-year head coach, Guy “Tiny” Lee. The Archers went 1-8 last year. Lee is quite confident in his running game this upcoming season. He expects to use Jermaine Freeman, Davion Gentry, and new addition Jeremy Irby at running back this year. Meanwhile, Lorrenz Tabron started at quarterback at the end of last season. South Side will likely start him at quarterback this year.
“We’re looking forward to the whole new year,” Lee said. “The summer’s been excellent. We had great numbers coming out. Kids are doing a great job learning the process. And we look to have a lot better year this year.”
Archers’ rival North Side went 2-7 last year, and despite losing to Dwenger in the first round of sectionals, they held the Saints to just 10 points. The Legends also bring back a second-year head coach. Ben Johnson Jr. took the reigns in 2021, after serving as their offensive coordinator the prior year under Michael Brevard (now the head coach at Pike). Johnson’s offense returns quality skill players such as leading rushers Jontae Lambert and Dominick Malone and second-leading wide receiver Brauntae “Tae Tae” Johnson. Dwenger transfer Bohde Dickerson will start at quarterback. As excited as Coach Johnson is about those athletes, he’s even more excited about his offensive line.
“Our offensive [linemen] came back. We’ve got a new kid on the offensive line as well. And they’re working hard, so it starts up front first,” Coach Johnson said. “But, you know, as the star power [is concerned] I’m excited because they’re a year older, and they did some great things last year. So I’m excited to see what they do this year.”
Coach Johnson is also excited about North Side’s defense. The legends return leading pass-rusher Mitchell Vargovich, as well as defensive lineman Da’Von Haney, and D’Von Doughty, a Luers transfer who was one of the Knights’ top tacklers last year. In addition to that, North Side has a whole host of athletes that Johnson is excited about.
“I’m excited about our defense. Our D-line is gonna be strong and fast,” Coach Johnson said. “Our linebackers are gonna fly to the ball. And I’m also excited about our secondary. You know, Michael Dye, he’s a lock-down corner. And then you know, we’ve got Tristen Newsome that’s gonna be anchoring back on the secondary. You know, Tae [Johnson] and Bravon Bassett as well. And then, you know, Brashawn Bassett is back on defense. So we’re excited, you know. Our defense is gonna be the heart and soul of our team.”
A few schools are bringing in new head coaches. Former Northrop head coach Jason Doerffler is now the head coach at Leo, moving from the SAC to the NE8. He plans to use an offensive scheme similar to the one he had at Northrop but still intends to run the ball, something that Leo excelled in last year. Mason Sheron ran for over 1300 yards, and Carson Hoeppner added over 800. The Lions are still figuring out starters at various positions. For instance, at quarterback, junior Kylar Decker and sophomore Landin Hoeppner are battling for the starting job. Doerffler takes over for Jared Sauder, who won over 130 games in 16 seasons.
“It’s been a good transition, and with change comes lots of kind of unknown and excitement,” Doeffler said. “But the people at Leo and our athletes have been awesome in this transition. You know, they’re working their butts off, and we’ll be ready to go come August, and … we’re gonna have to be because the Northeast 8 is a very good football conference top to bottom. There’s a lot of good programs and a lot of good coaches, and you gotta be ready to go every Friday night.”
As for Northrop, they’ve brought in Quentin Bowen as their head coach. He had been an assistant coach at Snider for the last 18 years.
“The transition’s been very smooth and very easy, you know,” Bowen said. “[We’ve got a] great … staff. Kurt [Tippman has] been great with helping me. So, I mean, it’s been an easy transition.”
Keone Bates played quarterback last year in addition to South Side transfer Roosevelt Norfleet III. Bates will be the Bruins’ starting quarterback this year. They plan to use multiple running backs such as freshman Legend Relue, Tavon Freeman and others. Julante Hinton, O’marion Rogers, and Jaylen Williams are a few of the returning defensive players.
But one school brings back it’s own former head coach. Tim Mannigel is back as Concordia’s head coach. He led the Cadets for eleven seasons, winning a state title in 2016. He also led the Cadets to back-to-back sectional titles in 2019 and 2020. He remained Concordia’s athletic director last year when Mike Eshbach was coaching the team. But Mannigel is excited to get back to coaching the Cadets.
“A lot of the guys that previously coached at Concordia with our previous staff are back too, so it’s almost like the whole gang is back together, so it’s been cool, it’s been fun,” Mannigel said. “I think the kids have enjoyed it, and it’s good to be back it’s been fun.”
“I had [Mannigel as a head coach] my first two years,” offensive guard Chance Harris said. “He’s a great coach, and just the culture around him is a great thing to have for a team.”
The Cadets do return Eli Mattox at quarterback. He was the starter last season and started two games in 2020 when Brandon Davis was unavailable. Last year, Mattox threw for over 1600 yards.
“Eli’s a good quarterback, he’s done a nice job. I think, probably, above and beyond, though, his play on the field, which has been good, is his leadership,” Mannigel said. “He’s had a really good summer that way. He’s very positive with the younger kids. He’s kind of taken command of the huddle. He’s getting guys where they need to be. That’s the kind of leadership we’re gonna need from him as the season goes on as we encounter the twists and turns, and he’s been awesome.”
“The chemistry with [the offensive line] and him just helps the offense flow better together and hopefully [will] give us success,” Harris said.
But Concordia also returns a number of starters on defense. Five of their top seven tacklers; James Rusher, Landon Kaschinske, Tim Okeowo, and Bubba Craig; are all back. Mannigel is confident, not only in those guys, but also in his senior class as a whole.
“We have 16 or so seniors on the team right now, many of whom played key roles in the season last year,” Mannigel said. “So they’ve all kind of gotten that Friday night experience which is invaluable, … regardless of where you’re playing, but particularly in our conference. And so, up front, particularly, defensively, we’re gonna be as strong as we can be; defensive line and linebacker-wise.”