The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2017 NW Indiana High School Football Week-1 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



Class 4A No. 10 New Prairie at 5A No. 7 LaPorte is one of many top nonconference games on opening night of the 2017 high school football season. (Photo by Mark Smith)

LaPORTE (08-18-2017) The pre-season is like sitting on the bed at 6 a.m. in the morning.

You've got to go to work. You don't always want to go to work. But this just might be the day. This day might lead to something. And sitting there at 6 a.m.

You just don't know, so you have to get up and go.

Then you play a game.

1. (4A) LOWELL (0-0)
2016 (9-5), 2015 (12-1), 2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5)


LOWELL: Lowell lost 21-14 to second-ranked Northwood, a disappointing end to another outstanding Red Devil season. Northwood lost 34-20 to top-ranked Roncalli in the state title game, so Lowell is left wondering if they could have done better. The immediate future for Lowell is very bright.

They return starting quarterback Ethan Igras (44 of 77, 685 yards, 9 TDs, 3 interceptions) and top receiver in tight end Mitch Wildman (18 catches, 351 yards, 5 TDs). On defense Lowell returns nine boys who either started or played regularly, including top corner Jaeger Gill and top safety Jordan Jusevitch.

Kicker Jake Post (52 of 57 extra points and 3 field goals) is back along with punter Nate Buss (44 boots, 30.0 yards average). Lowell will start the season with Crown Point (6-6 in 2016) and Portage (6-4). Those two larger Class 6A schools defeated Lowell in 2016 and return starting QBs.

Griffith leaves the schedule as they leave for the Greater South Shore Conference and Andrean drops from 4A to 3A. Lowell's chase of a fourth consecutive sectional and second consecutive regional will be a focus of 2017 high school football.


2. (6A) LaPorte (0-0)
2016 (9-2), 2015 (6-4), 2014 (8-6), 2013 (1-9), 2012 (1-9)


LaPORTE: LaPorte's 9-2 looks good when you run it down. They lost the sectional to Penn (12-1) after winning the DAC title. LaPorte defeated 4A powers New Prairie and Hobart (10-3) in nonconference play in August and they were 6-1 in league play. The Slicers were the top team in 2016. They do open 2017 against New Prairie (9-3) and will face a DAC where all eight teams return starting QBs. But one of those QBs is their own Nolan Lorenz (98 carries, 613 yards, 6 TDs) who could have starting linemen Jake Thode (6-2, 252), Cesar Rosales (5-7, 250) and Kyle Simpkins (6-3, 244) in front of him. Halfback Drayson Nespo (155 carries, 729 yards, 6 TDs) could be back and better than ever. Backup tight end Mark Haines (6-4, 220) returns and could play a bigger role, but Lorenz (35 of 60, 698 yards, 5 TDs, 3 interceptions) won't be throwing that much. I'm intrigued by 2016 sophomore Brandon Seibert (6-2, 304), who was listed as the backup at both tackle positions.
LaPorte's going to have to rebuild the defense (8 starters were seniors) and that matters, but the Slicers won with long, sustained possessions in 2016. If the QB, a productive halfback and three offensive linemen come back, the Slicers will have another winning season.


2. (4A) New Prairie (0-0)
2016 (9-3), 2015 (6-4), 2014 (13-2), 2013 (12-1), 2012 (12-1)


NEW CARLISLE: I'm not necessarily rating New Prairie behind LaPorte for 2017, but that's very close. In 2016, New Prairie lost to LaPorte (9-2), Hobart (10-3) and Marian (11-2) so it was a strong 9-3. The Cougars return starting QB Nick Wilson (285 carries, 1,652 yards, 20 TDs) back to lead the quick-hitting offense after completing 53 of 101 passes for 1,085 yards and 11 TDs. Linebackers Austin Weiland (70 solo tackles), defensive ends Max Mender (55 solo tackles) and Kyle Weber (50 solo tackles) and linebacker Dan Flaherty (36 solo tackles) could lead the defense in 2017. The Cougars have consistently found offensive linemen and I'd suspect they'll do so again. New Prairie won't see Andrean in 4A Sectional 18 next fall (they go back to 3A) and they may not see Hobart there either through realignment. There are two types of high school football teams in the off-season. The ones who have experienced quarterbacks returning and the ones who don't. New Prairie is in the preferred position.


4. (6A) Portage (0-0)
2016 (6-4), 2015 (1-10), 2014 (1-9), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (3-7)


PORTAGE: Portage did beat Lowell (9-5) and Crown Point (6-6), who won sectional championships and they lost to Mishawaka (9-3) who also won a sectional. The Indians lost twice to Merrillville by less than a TD both times. Everybody in the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) returns either the QB who started the season or the one who ended it. Portage's Anthony Maceo (238 carries, 1,450 yards, 14 TDs) will be working to up his passing numbers (40 of 116, 677 yards, 4 TDs). On defense, linebacker Jeremy Torres (61 tackles) has another year as does linebacker Drake Guererro who was in on 99 tackles in 10 games. Defensive end Jimmy Craven (6-2, 195) had 41 tackles and seven tackles for losses. Portage only had 19 seniors on the roster I saw. Like LaPorte, Portage has to replace a top quality kicker but Maceo is very difficult to deal with and the Indians defense will be well-equipped to do battle in a top caliber DAC.


5. (6A) CROWN POINT (0-0)
2016 (6-6), 2015 (1-9), 2014 (8-2), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (8-4)


CROWN POINT: Crown Point turned adversity into progress, winning four of their last five and getting new quarterback Ryan Bolda three playoff games of playing time. The future is fairly bright, especially on offense where the Bulldogs return center Jacob Keaveney, QB Ryan Bolda (20 of 67, 343 yards, 4 TDs, 5 interceptions), tight end and placekicker Ben Fridrich (22 of 22 extra points, 5 field goals), halfback Tyler Gomez (205 carries, 686 yards, 4 TDs) and receivers Tyler Jones (16 catches, 198 yards, 2 TDs) and Mark Knox (13 catches, 144 yards). Bolda is much better than those numbers. He was 4 of 22 with three interceptions against Penn. But he was also 11 of 24 for three touchdowns against Merrillville.

Defensively, linebacker Caden Watson (138 tackles, 15 tackles for loss) will be back along with linebacker Zach Ramus and safety Sam Krutz. There will be three new linemen starting in the 3-5-3 defense, but James Priddy (30.3 yards per boot) can return and Brett Schoettle showed promise as a kick returner. The Bulldogs open the 2017 season on the road at Lowell, so week one will be a highlight. They play Highland in week two before the seven DAC games. CP doesn't have as many players returning as Portage and Lowell, but they have enough to be very optimistic.


Mr. Picker's 2016 Week (15) Fifteen High School Football Picks Final Report


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Revised: August 17, 2017 .