The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2016 NW Indiana High School Football Week-1 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



Lake Central's Friday night friends of the program are waiting to see what this year's team will look like. The Indians appear to have a lot of returning talent heading into the 2016 season. (Photo by Mark Smith)

LOWELL (8-15-2016) Some of the drama of the 2016 season surrounds Lowell, which has the lost the 4A regional by one point in each of the last two seasons. I realize that losing by one point twice in a row at the same point of the post-season is more nightmare than accomplishment. But I am curious: Has that been done before?

Apparently not. Griffith lost the 1994 Class 4A semistate title game 25-24 at Tipton and then lost the 1995 regional 14-13 at Hobart. Rensselaer lost the 2005 Class 2A regional 21-20 at Jimtown and the lost the 2006 regional 13-9 at home to Jimtown.

Among the new things this season is the Hoosier Conference playoff. All of the 10 Heartland Conference teams have left the final week of the season open and there will be five playoff games the final week.

The way I understand it, the winner of the five team Eastern Division (Cass, Western, Tipton, HH and Northwestern) will play the winner of the Western Division (Benton Central, Rensselaer, Lafayette Catholic, Twin Lakes and West Lafayette). All the other teams will pair off according to their standings.

I think it's a great idea that will add a lot of excitement to the final week with the prospect of a conference championship game. Something college football has created, is the future of high school football.

Even the fifth place team in the east playing the fifth place team in the west should be a competitive game. There is a thought that the Greater South Shore Conference, which adds Griffith next year, could try this.

What should (and probably eventually will) happen is to eliminate the scrimmage which is a waste of time for fans and an injury magnet for players and add a 10th game to everyone's schedule. That 10th game could easily be the conference playoff game. Independents could chose to schedule a 10th week game or take a bye in the schedule.

One other welcome change for 2016 has to do with the 32-team Class 6A bracket. All 32 teams will get a bye week between the end of the nine game regular season and the five week playoffs. Previously, the 6A playoffs began the week after the final regular game and the final two teams took a bye prior to the state championship game in November. That made no sense.

The 10th week bye will be welcomed by players who are all injured to some extent after nine weeks of play. It will also allow boys who play Class 6A football to be fans for one Friday watching smaller schools play. Plus radio and TV stations (yes, NW Indiana, there is high school football TV in most of the state), with no 6A team to carry, will broadcast smaller school playoff games that otherwise would not have gotten on the air.

There is no downside to the 10th week Class 6A bye.

I'm pretty optimistic about this coming season. Even though they may not show up in this poll, Whiting is the feature. With 7-time state champ Lafayette Catholic in 1A for another year and perennial power Rensselaer in 3A, the 2A bracket is open for QB Stuart Glascow (113 of 191, 1,903 yards, 17 TDs passing, 187 rushes for 1,115 yards and 14 TDs) and the defending semistate champ Oilers.

Lowell and LaPorte have a lot of promise and now that they are back in 3A for the foreseeable future, Griffith's post-season fortunes should improve.

If you've read this poll for years, you'll note that I rarely discuss coaching. I don't go to in-season practices, so I don't know for sure who the good coaches are. I would think you can put a lot of effort into a team and have it end up .500. And I'm pretty sure that teams with superior players and good leadership probably only need to be coached up to the point where you let them 'own' their own team. Then you get out of the way.

With that said, I'm intrigued with Lake Central this year. Head coach Brett St. Germain was the coach and offensive coordinator (I believe) on Andrean's 2004 state championship team. Brad Stewart, who is coming on board as LC's new defensive coordinator, was the defensive coordinator on Lowell's 2005 state championship team and two other state finals' teams. Given LC's depth in personnel (the enrollment is over 3,000), both sides of the ball figure to be good. I wish it was that simple.

2016 seems to be the year of the new quarterback. I know of a dozen teams (some detailed here) where the QB will be making his first varsity start the night of August 19. That means that team has a question mark. But a question mark isn't necessarily a weakness.

Like your English teacher says. An exclamation point is just a question mark that got a chance to get himself straight.

1. (6A) Lake Central (0-0)
2015 (5-5), 2014 (9-2), 2013 (9-2), 2012 (9-3)


ST. JOHN: LC was 5-1 before ending the 2015 season with a four-game losing streak that I still can't explain. LC led in all four games and lost them. Get back to me with the reason if you figure it out. LC graduated a lot of people from the 2015 team, but they have senior playmakers including Austin Atkins (6-2, 190), Josh Benson (5-11, 180) and Nick Lucas (5-11, 180). Lucas made 123 tackles in 10 games while Atkins grabbed 57 passes for 771 yards and 10 TDs. Benson caught 56 passes for 974 yards and seven TDs. LC started seven underclassmen on offense last year, including linemen Dakota Barnett (6-5, 250), Dylan Schwader (5-9, 215) and and Derek Pass (6-0, 235). That offensive line experience figures to carry them early on. Senior running back Anthony Giles gained 766 yards and 11 touchdowns on 132 carries last season and he scored three TDs in the scrimmage last week. Anthony Garcia (6-0, 185) was hurt last season, but he should be a factor this fall. Defensively, Lucas and Tyler Frank (6-3, 185) return on the perimeter, while nose tackle Michael Dahlkamp (6-2, 240), tackle Sam Barnhart (6-1, 215) and linebacker Jackson Long (5-11, 215) can be back up front. Dahlkamp had 100 tackles in 10 games in 2015. Long was in on 68 stops last season.


LC will have a new quarterback (looks like Zach Bungalow) and that is always an issue. In the years I've done this, I've found out that it's better to wait and see about an offense with a QB that a first-time starter. But LC has experienced runners and pass catchers and some experience in the offensive line. Whoever the QB ends up being is set up for success. I went to public school, but before that inexplicable four game swan dive last year, didn't Lake Central total 39 wins and 11 losses in their last 50 games? These boys are used to winning and they have something to prove. There seems to be a high ceiling here and I'll give LC a narrow nod as the top team.


2. (4A) LOWELL (0-0)
2015 (12-1), 2014 (8-5), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (5-5), 2011 (5-5)


LOWELL: The last two years for Lowell have been satisfying and frustrating at the same time. After playing .500 ball for four seasons, Lowell is 20-6 in the last two years and the traditional expectation of winning the sectional every year is back on Route 2. I'm sure some school somewhere has lost the regional championship game two years in a row by one point. But I can't find that school. Penn lost the 2001 regional 24-21 in overtime to Jeff Samardzja's Valparaiso team and then lost 16-15 to Valpo in the 5A regional the next season. But Lowell losing 28-27 to New Prairie in the 4A regional in 2014 and then losing 7-6 at home to St. Joseph's in the 4A regional in 2015 is unprecedented, as far as I can tell. The good news is: Nobody has to tell anybody from Lowell what the goal is for 2016. The really good news is that the Devils return three offensive linemen who started in center Mitch Sacco (6-1, 260), Noah Fraze (6-1, 280) and Max Steward (6-1, 225). They also have junior linemen Cooper Kersey (6-3, 250), who also got playing time on defense in 2015.


What could is so promising about this team is that it matches returning experienced linemen with several good running backs. Jordan Jusevitch (6-0, 187), Trevor Espravnik (5-10, 180), Austin Giordano (5-9, 210) and Jaeger Gill (6-1, 170) all played extensively last year. Gill was a wide receiver as a sophomore, but he is probably better suited as a runner. Jusevitch, Gill and Giordano gained a combined 547 yards on 88 carries: That's a blade of grass more than 6.2 yards per carry. All these boys are bigger and stronger and their line is bigger and stronger. Jusevitch has a chance to be as good as any skill position player at Lowell in the last 20 years. He led the Devils in pass receptions (11), kickoff returns (6 for a 35.2 average), punt returns (4 for a 21.0 average) interceptions (5) and tackles (123) as a sophomore. But Gill only touched the ball 20 times (counting kick returns) on offense last year and he is highly-regarded. Espravnik (77 tackles) and Giordano (78 tackles) are defensive standouts or they could be rushing stars behind these linemen.

So I'm overlooking the fact that Lowell must break in a new quarterback (it looks like senior Dayton Hornickel), plus a new kicker and punter this season 2016. In past years, when Lowell has returning linemen and multiple above average running back options, they do very well. The Devils will have to play 'very well' right away because they begin the season with 6A rival Crown Point and 6A up-and-comer Portage, who both should be improved over one-win seasons in 2015.

The season ending games with longtime rivals Munster and Andrean will decide who wins the Northwest Crossroads Conference, and while a repeat of last year's 9-0 regular season seems unlikely, we can confidently project that Lowell will be re-elected as 4A Sectional 17 champion in November.


3. (6A) LaPORTE (0-0)
2015 (6-4), 2014 (8-6), 2013 (1-9), 2012 (1-9)


LaPORTE: The Slicers established a style of play the last couple of years that should make them a consistent power. The theory is: You need 'skill' to throw the ball and in high school, that skill comes and goes. You need decent weather late in the season to use your skill. But if you develop and highlight running backs and strong linemen (some would call that skill, too), you can run the ball early or late in any season in any weather. The Slicers rushed for almost 3,500 yards in 10 games with junior Brennan Long (5-10, 200) gaining 1116 yards and 10 TDs on 164 carries. Backup full back Chris Jusziewicz (5-11, 200) had 454 yards on 53 carries. Those are yards-per-carry averages (6.8 and 8.6) that keep your offense on the field no matter who the new quarterback (vet Eric Mazany graduated) is. LaPorte, which was playing seven juniors on defense late last season, returns top defender Owen Streiter (6-0, 170) a multi-position player who was in on 86 tackles in 2015, while grabbing five pass interceptions. Nik Ormsby (6-2, 215) made 70 stops last fall at linebacker and is up 10-15 pounds over last fall. Corner Ben Dermody (6-2, 185), who only played seven games last season, also could be an anchor on what should be a top level defense.

LaPorte used a type of Wing-T offense that saw them passing the ball just 58 times, even with a tight end the size of Scott Cooper (6-4, 230), who grabbed just 11 passes (for 23 yards a catch) in his junior season. They played an all-senior offensive line late last fall, but young Slicer backups like Jake Thode (6-2, 250), Kyle Simpkins (5-7, 260), Mason Anderson (5-11, 190) and Tyler Nehl (5-10, 195) are next in line on a team that has a system that has been proven to the tune of 7,000 yards rushing the last two years. I don't know how good a passing QB, powerful junior Nolan Lorenz (6-2, 215), the 2015 junior varsity MVP, is, but when LaPorte passes the ball, they're doing you a favor. The Slicers shouldn't change the run-pass ratio too much after the last two seasons. LaPorte is the stereotypical old school Northwest Indiana team with a 'November offense'. This should be another year for another winning season.


4. (6A) MERRILLVILLE (0-0)
2015 (7-5), 2014 (6-6), 2013 (9-2), 2012 (11-3)


MERRILLVILLE: It's hard to know about Merrillville for 2016 because they graduated three-year starting QB DJ Wilkins (226 of 372, 2,947 yards, 26 TDs) and four-year lineman Shawn Streck, the all-time sack (25) leader. The Pirates may lean on the defense this fall with linebackers Moses Johnson (6-0, 191) who led Merrillville with 120 tackles last season and Anthony Sams (6-0, 215), who was second with 109, safety Sean Roche 6-0, 173), who had 65 tackles and defensive end Alfred Stubbs (6-0, 215), who was in on 60 stops. Brandon Streck (6-1, 230), Tony Atria (6-4, 220) and Braeden Stubbs (6-2, 180) are among several good size underclassmen who could fill holes in the front seven. This is going to be a difficult team to move the ball against.


Offensively, the new QB will have receiver James Kirklen (54 catches, 692 yards) and Kejuan Thomas (20 catches for 391 yards) plus tall Kam Jackson (6-3, 195) who is also the punter and placekicker.
The offensive line could include Streck, Jaylen Gordon (5-11, 245) and Isaiah Davis (5-11, 215), who all started at times last season. Both sides of the ball look big and fast. But the quarterback (probably sophomore Cameron Wright) is all new and there's so little pre-season (just 12 practice days) for high school players, so we'll probably only know how good the offense will be when they start playing.


5. (4A) ANDREAN (0-0)
2015 (6-4), 2014 (14-1), 2013 (15-0), 2012 (11-3)


MERRILLVILLE: The 59ers will have QB Patrick Reardon (36 of 54, 609 yards) back from 2015 where he was an injury fill-in and he got hurt himself. Forget the short sample size numbers he had last year. Reardon (6-2, 185) is a mobile QB, a good runner, a good passer. All he needs is good health. In the eighth week of the 2015 season, Reardon ran 12 times for 66 yards and was 13-of-17 for 214 yards against Griffith. He was hurt and missed week nine against Lowell. Emilio Starks (5-10, 165) caught 17 passes for 249 yards last year. Myles DuBose (5-7, 150) caught 14 passes for 268 yards. Tight end Joe Rycerz (6-2, 195) will be a factor. The 59ers didn't throw the ball much last year unless Reardon was playing. Kicker Chris Van Eekeren booted a 41-yard field goal against Bishop Noll and a 42-yarder against New Prairie. He'll have a lot of help up front, especially Colin Mullaney (6-3, 265) a good college prospect. The 59ers' offense should put up a lot of points.

Defensively, they'll need a little help early in road games at Merrillville and New Prairie. Andrean seems to be inexperienced on defense and that will show. They are still in 4A and Sectional 18 (4 South Bend schools, New Prairie, Hobart and KV) will be a high hill for them to climb. But this is a 59er team with above average offensive potential and that returning starting QB gives them a head start on everybody else in the Northwest Crossroads Conference.


6. (4A) East Chicago (0-0)
2015 (6-6), 2014 (3-7), 2013 (11-3), 2012 (9-2)


EAST CHICAGO: You always look at teams that return the starting quarterback, so despite a couple of key graduation losses, you look at the Cardinals. Devontae Jones (6-0, 195) was the only NWI player to rush for over 1,500 yards (223 for 1,660 yards, 18 TDs) and pass for over 1,500 yards (87 of 174, 1,561 yards, 15 TDs). He also led East Chicago with six interceptions as a defensive back. Jones, a Top-50 player state wide, could also be a running back or wide receiver. Last season, Jones also ran back kickoffs and punts and he punted 23 times, averaging 38 yards a boot. When Devontae comes off the field, you know it's the end of the quarter. Seniors James London (5-11, 276), Jamari Jefferson (5-11, 260) and sophomore Steven Gary (5-10, 245) started on the offensive line in the post-season last year and, if they return in good health, you can make a good offensive line out of that.


Tylee Rimmer (6-0, 205), a two-way perimeter player, is also highly touted and should get the ball a lot as a runner (38 rushes, 352 yards) or pass catcher (16 catches, 282 yards and 7 TDs). Rimmer had 86 tackles and five interceptions in 12 games and in videos of him, it's hard to tell what position he's playing. EC no longer plays Lake Central in the second week of the season. They take on (Lafayette) Jefferson, which was 8-3 last season, one of six road games for EC. The Cardinals don't have quite as tough a schedule as their sectional contenders, but I expect East Chicago, Munster and Lowell to battle for the Class 4A sectional 17 championship.


7. (6A) CROWN POINT (0-0)
2015 (1-9), 2014 (8-2), 2013 (6-4), 2012 (8-4)


CROWN POINT: Okay, so it was a bad year for Crown Point football in 2015. Let's shorthand it. Senior 1,000-yard rusher and QB Artie Equihua got hurt and the Bulldogs scored 93 points in 10 games last year. I never accepted that CP was as bad as that record they finished with. But the Bulldogs finished 1-9 and, like the old coach said, you are what your record says you are.
The Bulldogs gained just 121 first downs and 2,434 yards in 10 games. CP had a few problems defensively as well, but when you average 9.3 points per game, how your defense played isn't your problem.


I'm betting 2016 isn't going like that. Why? Here comes that math again. Before last season CP was 39-18 in the previous five years from 2009 to 2013. I think last year was a fluke. Your past rarely accurately predicts your future, but CP returns five offensive starters including the big Bulldog connection of quarterback Grayson Lynk (6-4, 200) and wide receiver Shane McCormack (6-6, 190). Lynk was 53 of 129 for 437 yards last season, but he's better than that. McCormack caught 29 passes for 350 yards, but he's better than that. It may have been wishful thinking, but I thought these two barely missed on several big plays last season. The potential is there and, especially near the goal line, I'm hopeful this duo alone can score something close to the 13 TDs the entire offense scored in 2015.

In the offensive line, center Nick Winter (6-0, 250) will be a leader and the end Ben Fridrich (6-2, 225) should make a difference. The line, though inexperienced, will be big, even for DAC-standards. On defense, CP started six underclassmen late last year including Emas King (6-0, 215) and Ethan Wood (6-3, 215) in the line, linebackers Donald Schuch (6-2, 220) and Caden Watson (6-1, 185) plus Zach Stewart (5-10, 160) and Tyler Gomez (5-9, 165) in the secondary. Schuch led CP with 105 tackles in 2015 while Watson was in on 77 stops. The Bulldogs should be strong defensively. Junior James Priddy returns as the placekicker and senior Zach Stewart (5-9, 160) will be one candidate for halfback. CP graduated their top two runners from last season.

The schedule is tough. CP takes the 'World Tour' this season. Every other year, the Bulldogs rotating home-and-home slate gives them long road trips. In 2016, they ride the big, yellow bus for Friday night fights at Mishawaka, Valparaiso, Michigan City and LaPorte. Mishawaka is 37-15 the last four years and they beat Crown Point 21-0 last season. CP has also lost three in a row to Merrillville and four in a row to Lake Central, their two biggest rivals. To be honest, what I'm counting on here is a returning senior quarterback, a returning leading tackler and a deep CP desire not to lose to Merrillville, Lake Central and Mishawaka again and not go 1-9 again. These boys grew up watching Crown Point win. The senior class may have the ability and certainly has the motivation to post a winning record this fall.


8. (2A) Whiting (0-0)
2015 (13-2), 2014 (10-1), 2013 (9-2), 2012 (10-1)


WHITING: In the real world, Whiting isn't one of the top seven teams in NW Indiana. The Oilers aren't beating anyone in the eight-team Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC). Most of those schools have rosters twice as large as Whiting. But they don't play the DAC and they can handle the folks they will see. Whiting lost the state final game, but the trip to Indianapolis was the climax of a 30-year quest where good Whiting teams were stopped short of the finals. But I'm including them as an eighth team here because the prospects of repeating as sectional and regional champs are high.

Whiting returns QB Stuart Glascow (113 of 191, 1,903 yards, 17 TDs) who also ran 187 times for 1,115 yards and 14 TDs. Glascow (6-3, 190) is that pass-run threat that's so hard on the defense on third down and his teammates and coaches know he can move the team, which creates a lot of confidence. The Oilers return linemen Brent Reel (5-7, 255), Chris Zapata (5-8, 248), Isaac Sahagun (5-8, 230), and Christian Gamino (6-1, 235) and defenders Caleb Macon (76 tackles), Miguel Rivera (52 tackles) and Chris Page (26 tackles) are back. Macon (6-3, 220) and Page (6-0, 205) are part of a defense that's a little larger than Whiting can usually field. Running backs Tommy Davenport (105 carries, 606 yards) and Dylan White (71 carries, 636 yards) and Carlos Madden (88 carries, 749 yards) are all back. Davenport (6-1, 233) will add to that size on defense as well. Kicker Kenny Padilla (50 of 53 extra points) is back to put the finishing touches on touchdowns. If there's a replacement area it's wide receivers for Glascow. That's a fixable problem. Everybody wants to catch passes. In the scrimmage a sophomore named Nino Barbosa got open and caught the ball.


As I've said many times, Class 2A is the 'yellow brick road' in NW Indiana high school football. It's a very winnable bracket. Lafayette Catholic is in 1A. Rivals Hanover Central, Boone Grove and Griffith are 3A. All good for Whiting with one hook, the IHSAA's success factor. If the Oilers, who open the season Saturday night (8-20-16), reach the semistate this fall, they bump up to Class 3A for 2017. The future is now for Whiting.

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Revised: August 20, 2016 .