FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Previewing the Northeast Eight Conference at high school football media day.
Head coach: Marty Ballard
2016 overall record: 3-8
2016 conference record: 2-5
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Adams Central
Outlook: In 2016, Marty Ballard took over a program that recorded just its second season of double-digit victories. The expectations were unfairly high, but the Braves finished the season with just three wins and a second-round ejection from sectionals by eventual state champion Fort Wayne Concordia. Now entering his second season at the helm, Ballard must replace many of his starters, including quarterback Grant Gutierrez, and two-time Fab 15 selection Caleb Hankenson (St. Francis) at running back along with key two-way players and linebackers. Look for Mike Metz and Trevor Ortiz to help lead the Braves on both sides of the ball.
Columbia City Eagles
Head coach: Brett Fox
2016 overall record: 3-7
2016 conference record: 3-4
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., @ Warsaw
Outlook: Since Columbia City’s upset victory over New Haven in the second round of the 2014 sectionals, the Eagles have gone 5-15 under fourth-year head coach Brett Fox. The loss of quarterback Brock Snouffer, who led the Eagles past DeKalb with six total touchdowns (three rushing and three passing) last season, leaves a big hole in the offense that averaged just 16.2 points per game in 2016. How Columbia City responds its losses in the backfield will be crucial in improving from its 3-win mark last season. Expect Bronson Ball to lead the Eagles from his linebacker position while Austin Bolt could play a big role on both sides of the ball.
Head coach: Pete Kempf
2016 overall record: 3-5
2016 conference record: 3-2
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., @ Angola
Outlook: After taking over a program that saw three 0-10 seasons in four years, Pete Kempf has led DeKalb to an 11-18 record during his three seasons at the helm. A quick 45-0 loss to East Noble in the first round of sectional play ended Kempf and the Baron’s season earlier than hoped, as they anticipated matching or improving from their second round finish in 2015. The good news for DeKalb, though, is that it returns many of its starters. Last season saw youth at the quarterback position, the offensive line position and the linebacking position — just to name a few. As far as age-to-experience ratios, DeKalb has a leg up on its opponents in the NE8. Now, it’s how Kempf and the Barons use that experience to improve. Kyle Dunham and Peyton Stout both have experience at quarterback while receivers Colin Goebel and Alec Brunson give the Barons speed and experience. After dealing with the loss of teammates Derek Padilla and Lucas Oberkiser last season, football fans from all around northeast Indiana hope the best for the Barons in 2017.
East Noble Knights
Head coach: Luke Amstutz
2016 Overall record: 8-3
2016 conference record: 5-1
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7:30 p.m., @ Plymouth
Outlook: Luke Amstutz has completed four of his five seasons at East Noble with three or fewer losses, and the sixth-year coach is coming off another one in 2016. With 38.6 points per game, the Knights boasted the second-best offense in the NE8 and will need to bolster their defense to compete with 2016 conference champion New Haven, who finished the season with the only better point differential in the conference. The loss of all of their starting defensive linemen and the majority of their starting defensive backs doesn’t aid the Knights in defensive improvement, but on the offensive side, they return quarterback Andrew McCormick. Though, without North-South All-Star Dylan Hunley at the receiver position, production on the offensive side could slide as well. Indiana State commit & two-time WANE-TV Fab 15 selection Andrew McCormick will lead the offense while senior linebacker Kenny Cook will be a focal point on defense.
Huntington North Vikings
Head coach: Rick Burnau
2016 overall record: 2-8
2016 conference record: 2-5
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Marion
Outlook: Huntington North’s two best victories of the 2016 season came against Bellmont and Norwell, who both finished in the bottom three with the Vikings. In its other eight games, Huntington North was outscored 312-53. Rick Burnau will try to guide his team past the 8-loss mark that’s followed him into his third season in Huntington North. Colton Hasty will be counted on to lead the offensive line, while seniors Mason Landrum at running back and Austin Spahr at quarterback will be asked to fill larger roles.
Head coach: Jared Sauder
2016 overall record: 7-3
2016 conference record: 5-2
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7:30 p.m., @ South Bend Riley
Outlook: After beating up on most of the NE8 conference in 2016, it came as a surprise when Leo was upset in the first round of sectionals by a 2-9 Fort Wayne South team to end its season. Jared Sauder, the longest tenured coach in the NE8, led the Lions on a defensive onslaught in NE8 terms, allowing just 22.2 points per game. That mark will have to drop to an even smaller number if Leo wants to win the conference in 2017. With most of their defensive starters returning in 2017, including junior linebacker Jaylen Ellwood and senior wide receiver-defensive back Jason Gause, Leo might find the improvements its looking for. The Lions will have to find a replacement at running back for the graduated J’Shawn Turner Parks, but the addition of receiver Colton Grahovac from Concordia, a year of experience for junior quarterback A.J. Restivo, and the return of speedster Trenton Bonner give the Lions many weapons in 2017.
New Haven Bulldogs
Head coach: Jim Rowland
2016 overall record: 11-1
2016 conference record: 6-0
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Heritage
Outlook: New Haven was the crown jewel of the Northeast 8 conference in 2016. The Bulldogs bulldozed their way through the regular season 8-0 without scoring fewer than 42 points. They downed Fort Wayne Wayne, Fort Wayne South and Fort Wayne Dwenger before falling to NorthWood in the Regional round. The Bulldogs will have to replace AP 4A All-State selection & WANE-TV Fab 15 member NiShawn Jones (Trine University) at running back though. Jones recorded 2,360 all-purpose yards and 37 touchdowns in 2016. The program’s all-time leading passer, Keshawn Moore (Lawrence Tech) also graduated, as did all-conference standouts Ivan Upshaw (Marian) and Alec Gusching (Trine), and Whitney Harris (Trine) among others. Expect junior Brian Sexton to take over at QB, while coach Jim Rowland has many options both offensively and defensively.
Head coach: Josh Gerber
2016 overall record: 0-10
2016 conference record: 0-7
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Eastbrook
Outlook: Since Norwell’s magical run to the Regional round in 2014 after winning just three games in the regular season, the Knights of Ossian haven’t found much luck. After a 1-9 season in 2015, Norwell finished 0-10 in 2016, giving new head coach JoshGerber’s era a slow start. Norwell finished last in the NE8 in both points scored per game and points allowed and scored its highest point total against Bellmont in the first sectional round, losing 39-20. But with youth in the backfield and and the majority of starters returning, Norwell could find improvement in 2017, as long as it finds a way to replace 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive tackle Curtis Blackwell, who will be a freshman at Ball State this fall. Carson Ringger at running back at Joe Taylor at quarterback are two players coach Gerber is counting on to step up this season.