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By Al Stilley
Southsider Voice correspondent
What Southside high school football team will deliver its fans the biggest surprise this season?
Last year it was resurgent Southport, which won 11 games plus Conference Indiana and sectional championships before bowing out against the Center Grove Trojans, who came within one win again of reaching a state championship game.
The Cardinals are not quite as big or strong as last year’s team but threaten again to take the conference and a sectional crown in coach Bill Peebles’ 10th campaign at Southport, where he won only two games in his first three seasons.
“The first three years were a struggle, but we haven’t had a losing season since then,” he said. “I would love to see us do that (2013) again, but that’s a tall order. Our next goal is to win our first game against Roncalli (Friday).”
Center Grove also isn’t quite the threat it was last year, but its 6A sectional lends itself to perhaps another title before traveling south for regional and semistate action.
This could be the season that Perry Meridian and Franklin Central get over the hump and rack up more than five wins each. Greenwood has one of central Indiana’s best small backs in 5-8 John Gallman, and Beech Grove has a solid group of seniors. Manual, under new coach Jeff Lakin, needs more numbers and talent.
Class A Lutheran is the team with potential clout. The Saints lost only three seniors, have all starters back from last year and have an NCAA Division 1 prospect in lineman Tyler Reed. They are primed to climb Mount IHSAA.
Here’s the team-by-team outlook with last year’s records:
(2-8) – Fourth-year coach Mark Weller is convinced that the Indiana Crossroads Conference is the toughest small football league in the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The league features perennial powerhouse Scecina, Speedway, Ritter, state threat Lutheran and newcomer Monrovia.
Weller said he believes that the Hornets’ senior corps can begin to turn the program around. “This is my first year to have seniors who have been in the program for four years. They understand the program and what it takes to be successful. We’re really leaning on the seniors and waiting to see who steps up among our younger guys.”
Among key seniors are running back/lineman Brandon Bailey, receiver Matt Baughman; slotback/linebacker Jamal Brumfield, lineman/linebacker Austin Collins, LB/receiver Ben Neff; LB/lineman Nathan Heavilon, receiver Daniel Johnson, linemen Jarrett McCoy and Ricky Skirvin and RB/middle LB Ryan Ward.
Weller sees Brumfield and junior RB LaMonte Richardson as playmakers and said Bailey has had a tremendous preseason.
(11-2) – The Trojans may not be as big or quick as last year’s team, which reached the semistate for the third straight time. However, coach Eric Moore’s milestone 20th squad should give Center Grove Nation a lot to cheer about.
Junior quarterback Joey Siderewicz, a third-generation football player who replaces graduated Luke Calvert, provides needed mobility in the unique wing-T offense. Senior Max Norris threw for 1,259 yards and 17 touchdowns last season while averaging 11.9 yards per carry.
Senior Devon Hensley and junior Corbin Smith give Siderewicz solid targets for the Trojans’ passing game.
Up front, Center Grove has seniors Will Hacker, Ryan Walker, Jacob Shiley and Austin Smogor to block for the backfield.
The Trojans’ offensive threats allowed Moore to make some changes on the defensive side. Cameron Tidd moves from tight end to the D-line, where classmates Gavin Everett and Max Glogoza roam. RBs Jackson Hohlt and Connor Steeb move to the defensive secondary, and senior Keith Sears leads the linebacker corps.
CG has little time for new starters to adjust to new positions as its first three MIC games are against powerhouses Warren Central (Aug. 22) and Carmel (Sept. 5) at home and at Ben Davis (Sept. 12).
(4-6) – The Flashes could live up to their name this season because they have plenty of speed and quickness.
Coach Burt Austin lost 29 seniors to graduation, including standout lineman William Matlock (University of Indianapolis) and QB Corey Durm.
The offense starts with senior RB Aaron Austin and senior signal caller Chris Arnold. They will line up behind Matt Anderson, Evan Ewers, Ben Rohrer, Travis Lung, Juston Borton and Harry Sidhu. Everett Clark and Evan Bauley are receivers.
Defensively, the Flashes are savvy with LBs Devin Hunley, Derek Magee, Nick Alford and Spencer Proffer. Senior Anthony Gayflor headlines the D-line with Lung and Anderson. Seniors Evan Baurley and Kaim Idele and Levi Ruley are the defensive backs.
“This senior group is the best we’ve had as far as commitment and being team leaders,” said Austin of his fourth team. “They have a lot of experience, and they know the intensity that is required to compete at this level. We don’t have a lot of depth. Our second-teamers must begin playing at a higher level to be able to back up our offense and defense, especially on the line.”
(5-6) – The Woodmen return five starters on each side of the football.
Coach Mike Campbell starts his ninth year with offensive returnees Tanner Skeel at quarterback, junior RB John Gallman, wide receiver Jackson Daugherty and linemen Ethan Smith and Justin Myers. The O-line includes seniors Vinnie Vasquez and Kyle Nixon plus newcomer Thomas Bowling.
“We’re expecting big things from Gallman; he’s a downhill runner and can make defenders miss him,” Campbell said. “Skeel had a nice year. He has a strong arm and will take some of the pressure off Gallman.”
Returning starters on defense are linemen Dayan Smith and Paul Proctor, LB Marty Wituszynski and DBs Kyle McClarney and Riley Dibble. Wituszynski is the team’s punter, and sophomore Spencer Schmidt will handle PATs.
“We’re not necessarily young, but we are inexperienced,” Campbell said. “We play against a lot of different offenses so our defense will have to create some havoc up front. Our linemen are small but athletic. We’re not as big as we have been on offense.”
Greenwood will feel the graduation loss of LB Austin Montgomery and 14 other seniors. Junior Brayton England is being groomed as his replacement at linebacker and running back. The Woodmen have 19 seniors.
(7-5) – The Saints could be extremely interesting this season as they graduated only three seniors and return with Reed (6-3, 295 pounds), QB Jake Reid and a well-balanced offense.
“We certainly want to take that next step, but I don’t know at this point what that step is for us,” seventh-year coach Dave Pasch said. “The last thing you want to be as a football coach is a prognosticator.”
The Saints have enjoyed four winning seasons in the past five years and reached a Class A sectional championship game last year. Lutheran appears to be a threat for the Indiana Crossroads Conference and sectional titles.
Reed and a beefy O-line could pave the way to the next step with seniors Paul Eisberg (6-3, 300 pounds), Mike Eisberg (6-3, 295) and Franklin McFadden (5-10, 260). Returning senior RBs Dylan Goddard and Dalton Nidey each ran for more than 1,000 yards last season.
Pasch also can call on veteran linemen Evan Glowner, Austin Klase and Jason Sneed on defense and offense.
Pasch is enthused about the season because of the Saints’ offseason conditioning, which has resulted in a lean team.
“We had a superior spring and winter in the weight room,” he said. “We have a real commitment from the players, and that showed in the offseason – that’s been the biggest improvement so far. The kids genuinely care about each other.”
The Saints open against three straight ICC opponents, so their conference fate will be known early.
0-10) – Longtime area assistant coach Jeff Lakin takes over as coach of the Redskins and faces the same dilemma that has plagued the program for years: a lack of experience and players. Just 10 of his players suited up last year.
Lakin only had 10 to 14 players for offseason conditioning, but the number climbed to 24 during football camp.
“We are a little bit behind,” he said. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we can. They are learning new systems, but with so many players going both ways we have to keep things simple. We have some size but it is inexperienced. We are very low on experience. We’ll take our lumps but we’ll need to stick together so we can grow together.”
The Redskins’ key returnees include QB/LB Jason Breeding, guard/inside LB Austin Kunkler, FB/S Viontae Twitty, RB/outside LB Taj Moore and receiver/corner linebacker Jeremy Graham.
Lakin has served as an assistant coach at Ritter, Washington, Cathedral and Pike. He takes over a program that has won only one game in the last three years.
(5-5) – The Falcons should be smaller but more physical than last season, when they won five games for the second year in a row.
“That’s progress compared to previous years,” sixth-year coach Scott Marsh said. “There wasn’t a single game last year when we were behind at halftime. We have to understand how to play through all four quarters and be more physical in the fourth quarter.”
The Falcons have seven returning starters on offense and five on defense. Perry lost QB Conner Smith, RB Jaquan Keys (Indiana State), receiver Collin Timmons (UIndy) and safety Logan Feigel (Wabash) to graduation.
There are plenty of replacements.
Sophomore Tristen Tonte comes in at quarterback with senior RB Andrew Robinson (751 yards, 14 TDs) and senior TE/FB Devin Parrish (29 receptions, 432 yards rushing, six TDs) on offense. Junior Kyle Ball, 6-3, 310 pounds, senior second-year starter Jimmy Montgomery and junior center Christian Buchanan lead the O-line.
Buchanan and LBs Kalob Williams and Brett Johnson return after combining for 182 tackles last year.
Junior All-State kicker Cameron McSorley, 50-of-52 PATs in 2013, also returns.
“We have to turn the corner physically,” Marsh said. “We haven’t been the most physical team on planet Earth. I would like to be more physical and grind it out. “
(8-4) – The Rebels took a giant step last year with eight wins while boasting the second toughest schedule in the state (Sagarin rankings). Ten of their 12 opponents where ranked among the top 10 in their class when the Rebels faced them.
Roncalli graduated 26 seniors, including QG Cam Smock, who set season and career pass completion percentage records of 61.7 and 55.2 percent, respectively, and lineman Nick Neu who set a single season record of 12 sacks.
The Rebels come back with seven returning starters on defense and four on offense. Leading tackler Nat Otley moves from safety to outside linebacker; Joe Swan is at inside linebacker; David Schott goes from fullback to inside linebacker; Ryan Hume at cornerback; Eli Smith at linebacker; lineman Bryce Rohrman; and Justin Saylor at cornerback.
The offense is a big question mark.
“We graduated all five starters from our line,” veteran coach Bruce Sifres said. “Our linemen will have to come in and pick up everything quickly and get into varsity caliber play as quickly as possible.”
Senior TE Danny Annee returns, and Scifres expects him to be joined up front by Smith at center, Brian Watts and Ken VanHorn at tackle and guard Louie Hibner; the other O-line spot is up for grabs.
The quarterback spot is up for grabs between senior Casey Gore, who can throw deep, and junior Robbie Strader, who has more quickness.
“That race is as close as I can ever remember,” Scifres said. “They have different strengths, and they are working very hard. I’m not one who believes in quarterback by committee, but this could be the year.”
Due to a season-ending injury to senior RB Colin McManama, the Rebels’ backfield will look mostly new. Junior Nick Fries is the only returnee; he had 275 yards and one TD on 65 carries last year.
“Our offense will be interesting," Scifres said in an understatement.
(11-1) – The Cardinals hit a high plateau last year.
They graduated Christian Perry (DuPage College), who was the Most Valuable Player of the North-South All-Star game, receiver Tim Jewell (Marian), lineman Zach Campbell (Wabash), LB Dalton Harrell (Hanover) and defensive lineman Malec Davis (Manchester).
“This is a different year and a different team,” Peebles said. “We’re excited to get this season started.”
Southport has talent with seven returning starters on offense and defense.
Returning QB Luke Johnston (207 completions, 2,695 yards, 29 TDs) and RB Cardell Tucker (641 total yards) lead the offense. Senior Kyle McAtee, a third-year starter, and classmate Brad Cullison anchor the O-line.
The defense appears to be solid with seniors Dondaycee Millbrook and John Brown and juniors Kyle Williams and Matt Garrett up front. The Cards are set at linebacker with seniors William Griffin, Donivan Millbrook and Darius Bryant and sophomore Jalen Williams.
“We have a good mix of experienced and young players,” Peebles said. “We’re not as big and strong as last year when we were able to pound it out.”