The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2016 NW Indiana High School Football Final Poll
... and a look ahead to 2017

A Special Report by Mark Smith



The big news for 2017 will be Griffith changing conferences... moving from the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) to the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC). (Photo by Mark Smith)

LaPORTE (12-01-2016) It was a better year than it seemed at the end as Lowell and Whiting both lost semistate games on their home fields.

I wouldn't insult the seniors' intelligence by telling them that they had great seasons and that this last loss won't take anything away from that. Whiting and Lowell had great seasons, but the older players won't ever forget the final loss, one game from the finals.

If you enjoyed your time playing (and on winning teams at places like Whiting and Lowell you probably did), no old person telling you that you played hard and with honor is going to mean anything to you. The only consolation for those who lost at home one game before the state finals is that you got to play almost all the games the rules allow and more than any other teams in our area.

It was almost easier for Hobart and Crown Point, who won somewhat surprising sectional titles and lost to arguably superior teams in the regional. Crown Point won their final home game and rescued a 2-5 season. The Bulldog seniors leave with a great resurrection of the one win 2015 season.

Hanover Central also had a singular triumph. In just the fourth year of the football program's rebirth (Hanover briefly had football in the late 1960s and early 1970s) Hanover Central (10-1) completed a 9-0 regular season, losing to a superior (Mishawaka) Marian in sectional play.

For 2017, I want to see Class 6A teams do something with the guaranteed bye week as the regular season ends. I'd like to see the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) ask the IHSAA if they can play a junior varsity championship round (team 7 vs. team 8, team 6 vs. team 5 etc.) on the Saturday of the bye week. The bigger schools have the depth to do that and not hurt their varsity playoff chances. Plus, the JV Saturday 'finals" could draw a good crowd. A good paying crowd.

The Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC), one of the state's weakest leagues, gets stronger in 2017 with the addition of Griffith, a perennial small school power. The big winners are Hanover Central and Whiting, who have never played Griffith in varsity football and will draw big crowds when they can finally host the Panthers.

The IHSAA classifications will have some surprises. I believe that LaPorte (1,999 kids) will move from Class 6A to Class 5A where they'll be in the same sectional as arch rival Michigan City. Hammond almost certainly will drop to Class 2A and I wonder if Gary West Side (889 students) will fall to Class 3A.

I'd also like to see somehow, some way, that local football gets back on Lakeshore Public television, where it was for decades as the old Channel 56. The weekly Thursday preview and highlight shows are fine, but every other area of the state has live or tape delayed football games on the air. Maybe someone will step up and offer to pay for the games to come back.

1. (4A) LOWELL (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, 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 average). Lowell will start next 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 exit 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 (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 lose 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 (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 (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 (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 n 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 Week (15) Fifteen High School Football Picks Final Report


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Revised: December 13, 2016 .