Here are some headlines from Northeast Indiana heading into this season 

  1. Can Eastside claim their 4th straight NECC Small School Division Title? 

The Blazers had a memorable 2021 season where they lost 17-14 to Andrean in the 2A Semistate game. Despite losing several key players like Laban Davis and Kyler Bigbee, they do have some nice players back including Carsen Jacobs who will play QB as well as his natural position at corner. Dax Holman will be their starting running back and will play a big role on the interior defense. 

It’s clear the Blazers will have to make adjustments on offense, but the defense returns a lot of experience to make some noise once again. But will that be enough to hang on for the division title or will perennial contender Churubusco end that trend? They bring back two major pieces in Senior QB Riley Buroff and running back Wyatt Marks, and Cam Rinker plays a very good defense. They’ll need to replace some of their own studs like Hunter Bianski and Nick Nondorf, but experience on paper gives Busco a chance. One things for sure though: Head Coach Todd Mason does not believe in rebuilds. 

2. How crazy will the Big School Division Look like? 

Last season, Fairfield won the division with only a 4-6 record and 3-1 in division play. Their lone division loss came on a FG from WN grad Julio Macias and the West Noble Chargers. Lakeland, West Noble, and Garrett finished tied for 2nd with 2-2 division records and all having losing records. 

On paper, some see Angola as a slight favorite despite finishing dead last in that crazy division at 1-3 and 2-8 overall in 2021. However, Fairfield’s wishbone offense is one of the hardest schemes to prepare for under Matt Thacker. As long as Kitson gels at QB, the offense will perform well. But we still have to consider the fact it’s still up in the air. Garrett returns plenty of offensive weapons like Aaden Lytle and Robert Koskie, but graduate a lot of starters on defense. Will that translate to more wins??

And then we have to consider Lakeland and West Noble. Lakeland has two QB’s in Senior Deion Marshall and freshman Brayden Holbrook. Marshall is more experienced and versatile, while Holbrook has the better talents as a QB with a big time arm. Kham Malaivanh is a tough physical running back that can tackle extremely well, and Owen Troyer is an explosive corner that can be a go-to target as a wide receiver. West Noble is so up in the air, I don’t know what to expect right now. With Drew Yates and Seth Pruitt back, maybe?? But they need to replace several key starters on a team that struggled to get the ball into the end zone. 

3. Will Norwell finally end the threshold in the NE8 race?? 

In the NE8’s history, East Noble and Leo have owned conference titles in all but one season, which was New Haven in 2016. Bellmont and New Haven won other conference titles, but only as co-champions. 

Norwell has never won a NE8 title, and haven’t been able to win a conference title since 2009. Expectations are huge in Ossian, IN. And Josh Gerber knows staying focus and execution are keys to success, especially in the wake of these moments. 

“Well, I think you have to embrace expectations for what they are,” said Gerber. “Expectations are things that others put on us. We set lofty goals for ourselves, and we’re more concerned on what we are thinking about how we’re going to do our stuff than what others think. We’re going to work hard in practice every day, we’re going to study our film, and we’ll be as successful as we can be.”

As you know, Norwell’s style never changes. It’s about playing physical football and doing things the Norwell way even if it’s less glamorous. Don’t overlook Leo as they still have talent under Jason Doerffler with QB Kylar Decker, TE Brock Schott, lineman Collin Butler, and running back Max Loeffler. Defensively, it seems to be a front 7 that’s going to be fun to watch. But there are questions to how the transition from the Wing-T under Sauder to Doerffler’s spread offense will pan out in year 1 of this new regime?? One things for sure, Leo should very much be in this race. 

And then what about East Noble?? Zander Brazel is back and he’s got some nice weapons to go to with David Sturdivant and Keegan Corbin at wide receiver and Tyson Reinbold at running back. Up front, East Noble still look strong despite the loss of Ball State bound Chris Hood. On defense, they’ll miss Rowan Zolman’s presence as he heads to Miami OH, but they have some studs back like Trace Holliday and Easton Brown to fill the load. Expectations remain high, and Amstutz is confident in the guys he has. 

“ I think you’re going to see a team that plays a lot of toughness,” said Amstutz. “I think we’re going to be able to run the ball well. I think we’re going to play really good defense, and just be a team that’s going to be in every game. It may not be one of those score 45 points-a-game teams, but it might be a team that wins a lot of games 21-14.”

And there are a couple wild cards like DeKalb and New Haven. The Barons have studs back like QB Tegan Irk and Derek Overbay at TE. New Haven has speed and talent led by the always talented Mylan Graham at wide receiver, Trey Bates at running back, and QB Donavan Williams.  But can the Dogs and Barons get enough stops on defense??? That’s something we’ll find out. 

4. Will Snider return to SAC greatness?? 

After a coming just short with a 9-2 record and 8-1 in the SAC, the Panthers hope to win back what’s expected of them to do: win a SAC title and the bell. Dwenger and Luers are expecting to have somewhat of a rebuild season by their standards. 

Snider brings back a ton of talent such as Luke Haupert as the senior QB. This is Snider, so you know they’ll find the right guys to make big plays for Coach Tippmann’s squad. Carroll, however, has the dogs to be a major threat in the SAC, Homestead is still Homestead, and North Side has potential to do something special with the likes of Brauntae Johnson leading the way for the Legends. 

It’s the SAC, so expect the unexpected with this Fort Wayne super-conference, but a lot of people really like what they’re seeing with Snider and Carroll on paper.