NECC: H.S. Football Media Day

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Previewing the Northeast Corner Conference at high school football media day.

  • Big Division

Angola Hornets
Head coach: Andy Thomas
2016 overall record: 7-3
2016 conference record: 3-1
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., @ DeKalb

Outlook: The Hornets saw a much-improved year in 2016, thanks to a 5-game winning streak in the heart of the season and a win over DeKalb to open the season — the first time Angola has beaten DeKalb since 2013. While Angola finished second in the Big Division and averaged 30.4 points per game in a high-scoring conference, the Hornets graduated the majority of their offensive linemen this offseason. All-conference quarterback Chance Roddy returns after throwing for 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns with just one interception.

Fairfield Falcons
Head coach: Bob Miller
2016 overall record: 1-9
2016 conference record: 0-4
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Goshen

Outlook: Bob Miller has found a way to win in Goshen, leading Fairfield to nine winning seasons in 16 years at the helm. Last season didn’t go as planned for Miller and the young Falcons though, as they put together just a second-to-worst resume in the NECC — their lone victory coming against Central ‘Noble. The more experienced Class 3A team drew a tough opener for 2017 though, in Class 5A Goshen.

Garrett Railroaders
Head coach: Chris DePew
2016 overall record: 12-2
2016 conference record: 4-0
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., @ Prairie Heights

Outlook: Garrett returns nearly its entire defense as seniors, but the Railroaders lose nearly all of their skilled offensive players to graduation, including 3-year starting quarterback Tanner Burns (Indiana Wesleyan). Burns was a significant piece to Chris DePew’s success at Garrett, as the quarterback racked up a career 29-9 record and an 8-3 record in the postseason. His top target – WANE-TV Fab 15 selection Ben Purdy (Trine) – graduated, too, as did stalwarts Noah Sattison (Trine) and Garrett Sutton (Marian). The Railroaders reached the Class 3A Semi-State round before losing to the eventual state champion Fort Wayne Concordia. Two-way starter Cam Smith rushed for over 2,000 yards last year with 27 touchdowns while Noah Follett will take over at quarterback.

Lakeland Lakers
Head coach: Keith Thompson
2016 overall record: 4-5
2016 conference record: 2-2
2017 Opener: Aug 18, 7 p.m., @ Wawasee

Outlook: Going into the 2016 season, Keith Thompson emphasized the importance of the learning curve of nearly an entirely new offensive line. But the offensive line didn’t appear to be the issue for the Lakers last season. They averaged a conference-best 34.8 points per game, but allowed the second-most points per game. After losing dynamic running back Eli Wallace (St. Francis), quarterback Erik Mellinger and several other players who could play both sides of the ball, Thompson will need to figure out a way to improve his defense while also maintaining his offensive production without his biggest playmakers. Lawton Yoder and Nolan Issacs will be expected to carry more of the load in the offensive backfield.

West Noble Chargers
Head coach: Monte Mawhorter
2016 overall record: 4-7
2016 conference record: 1-3
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., @ Central Noble

Outlook: A couple 3-game losing streaks prevented West Noble from a bigger bounce-back off a 1-9 2015 season, but the Chargers did advance to the second round of sectionals for the first time since 2001. Monte Mawhorter and his squad are poised for more improvements in 2017, as well, returning all but a handful of starters from the 2016 team.  Quarterback Chance Wroblewski returns among the 16 starters back. Chase Stoner and Nick Mora will be counted on to help lead on both sides of the football.

  • Small Division

Central Noble Cougars
Head coach: Greg Moe
2016 overall record: 2-8
2016 conference record: 2-2
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. West Noble

Outlook: Since long-time Central Noble coach Trevor Tipton’s departure in 2009, the Cougars have been on a coaching carousel that’s landed on Greg Moe as the third coach in seven seasons. Moe finished with just two victories after the program lost many of its best players to graduation. The good news for the Cougars though, is that they return the majority of their most impactful players – in fact, Moe tells us the Cougars return all 22 starters. Aside from running back Tyler Hawk and dynamic receiver Sam Bortner, Central Noble will put its quarterback, Jacob Trowbridge, back onto the field in 2017.

Churubusco Eagles
Head coach: Paul Sade
2016 overall record: 9-3
2016 conference record: 3-1
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Whitko

Outlook: Former Churubusco coach Lee Etzler hadn’t recorded a losing season since 2004. Now, Paul Sade has taken the baton and carried on the tradition of winning ways. In Sade’s four seasons as head coach, the Eagles have gone 29-15, including a deep, 3-round run into 2016’s sectional tournament. Only one of Churubusco’s losses came within two points or less, and the Eagles finally saw a surge in offensive production guiding them to the largest point differential in the NECC. Graduation really took a toll on the defense, but if Sade’s emphasis on defense prevails, the Eagles could make a run at Eastside for a Small Division title. Garrett Horn carried the load last year with 1,695 yards and 18 TDs and will be counted on to do so again now that he’s healthy after an injury forced him to miss the basketball team. Quarterback Tom Richards also returns after starting last year as a sophomore.

Eastside Blazers
Head coach: Todd Mason (1st season)
2016 overall record: 6-4
2016 conference record: 4-0
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., @ Woodlan

Outlook: Eastside has a history of winning streaks — a 9-game winning streak in 2014, a 5-game winning streak to end the 2015 season and a 6-game winning streak in 2016. All of those winning streaks happened under former Eastside coach Mike Eshbach though, with Eshbach gone to Wawasee. Now, Todd Mason will take over at his alma mater as the new head coach of a program that’s won the Small Division title in each of the last three seasons. While he’ll have to replace all-conference players like quarterback Connor Dove, running back Keezan Jarrard, and all-state tight end Jacob Thompson, the cupboard is far from bare. Receiver Aaron Dean returns after hauling in 54 receptions for 944 yards and 12 TDs as a junior, while senior Caleb Ballentine is poised to take over at QB after racking up over 400 yards as a receiver last fall.

Fremont Eagles
Head coach: Jim Hummer
2016 overall record: 2-7
2016 conference record: 1-3
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7:30 p.m., vs. Southern Wells

Outlook: When Jim Hummer took over the Fremont program in 2014, it appeared that the Eagles were going for steady improvement — 0-10 in 2014, 2-8 in 2015. Three years later though, and the best record Fremont has been able to conjure is 2-7 in 2016. Last season featured plenty of youth at vital positions, like defensive back and defensive line. With only a few Eagles graduated since 2016, including quarterback Nick LaRose, leadership and experience will be key for Fremont to find success in a high-scoring conference.

Prairie Heights Panthers
Head coach: Patrick McCrea
2016 overall record: 0-10
2016 conference record: 0-4
2017 Opener: Aug. 18, 7 p.m., vs. Garrett

Outlook: In the last three seasons, Prairie Heights has won one game. Former head coach Eric Heiney won that one game in his first season in 2014 on his way to a 1-19 record in two seasons. Just four weeks before the 2016 summer began, new coach Mike Lazusky resigned and Patrick McCrea was hired to coach the Panthers, a season which would end winless. As of now, McCrea is set to take on his first full season as head coach, where he will attempt to improve every facet of a football team that finished with an average of 7.8 points scored per game and 48.6 points allowed per game. Having one of the NECC’s top tight ends in Cole Harmes certainly helps, and sophomore Ethan Hoover is expected to see significant time at quarterback. Expect Codey Shafer and Seth Metcalf to guide this team in the trenches.