The RENEGADE 'Magnificent-7':
2020 NW Indiana High School Football Week-3 Poll

A Special Report by Mark Smith



There's some new boys in Merrillville jerseys this fall and the outlook is bright. The Pirates have defeated two ranked teams in the first two weeks.
(Photo by Mark Smith)

MERRILLVILLE (08-31-2020) It's becoming fairly clear that Merrillville may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as a football program in 2020. Lots of players get transfers into school. Lowell’s quarterback is a transfer from Hobart. Valparaiso’s quarterback is a transfer from Jefferson. But Merrillville got a rare boost when the Hammond school district shut down all fall athletics in the Covid-19 situation. Morton was strong last year, 8-2 and the Hammond city champion.

Two players for Morton, end Dierre Kelly and wide receiver-running back-cornerback JoJo Johnson, transferred from Morton to Merrillville before the virus hit. Then, when Morton chose not to play football late this summer, three other players, senior quarterback Paris Hewlett, wide receiver Marcus Hardy and lineman Phil Gunn, followed Johnson and Kelly to Merrillville.

Gunn is going to play college ball at Ball State. Johnson has announced he’s playing at the University of Cincinnati. The other three have college futures as well. Hardy caught 14 TD passes last year at Morton and Hewlett threw 17 TDs for the Governors. They are all very good players added to a team that was already talented.

But, obviously, to those who much is given, much is expected. Merrillville will probably see an undefeated Jefferson team in sectional play and perennial power Penn at the regional. Carroll is kicking butt and taking names in Sectional 3 and that would be a potential Pirate Semistate opponent.

When you have the players Merrillville has and you only have them for one year, the only goal is to reach the state finals. Merrillville has never been to the state finals and ‘never’ is a long, long time.

There are a lot of stories in Indiana high school football this season and 2020 Merrillville is among the best.

You want another story? Class 1A North Judson (2-0) has won its first two games 63-20 and 50-8. But they know not to get too excited. Judson has not scored a point on Class 1A superpower Pioneer in the last five meetings. Not one point. Shut out five times. Pioneer will be rated No. 1 state-wide this week.

Pioneer (2-0) at North Judson is the final game of the season on October 16.

1. (6A) Merrillville (2-0)
2019 (11-2), 2018 (7-4), 2017 (1-9), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-5)


MERRILLVILLE: Merrillville was strong in a 23-7 win at Hobart as senior Jo Jo Johnson scored two more TDs on runs of 34 and 42 yards. The Pirates don’t mess around. They occasionally just line up with Johnson in the backfield and snap the ball directly to him, giving him a mistake-free takeoff behind Merrillville’s big offensive line. Johnson, NW Indiana’s best player, had four TDs in two games. The Pirates begin Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) play at home against arch rival Crown Point this Friday, but ‘Judgment Day’ is October 2, when the purple boys welcome in the big, green team from Class 5A No. 2 Valparaiso.


2. (5A) Valparaiso (1-0)
2019 (13-1), 2018 (10-2), 2017 (8-2), 2016 (5-5), 2015 (7-3)


VALPARAISO: Valpo didn't have a game in week two after Griffith had to cancel. Word is that new starting quarterback Max Grimes is out indefinitely, which leaves the QB role to Logan Lockhart, who would probably have been the QB anyway had Grimes not transferred in from Lafayette this summer. Lockhart was 13 of 28 for 141 yards against Penn on Aug. 22. But he won’t be throwing the ball 28 times in any other games this year. Valpo wants to run it until the cows come home and that’s what you’re going to see when they host LaPorte this Friday. Having last week off in the miserable late summer heat can't possibly hurt the long range plans for the green new deal.


3.) (4A) Hobart (1-1)
2019 (11-3), 2018 (7-3), 2017 (6-4), 2016 (10-3), 2015 (5-5)


HOBART: Hobart couldn't crack the defense of 6A No. 6 Merrillville losing 23-7. The Brickies have some offensive issues with just 24 points actually produced by the offense in two weeks of play. The Class 4A Brickies have begun the season playing two larger Class 6A schools and they now face three Class 4A teams in the next three weeks. I don't believe that Michigan City is better than Hobart. I don't think it's very close, either. Hobart hosts Griffith this week.


4.) (5A) Michigan City (2-0)
2019 (4-6), 2018 (10-3), 2017 (9-4), 2016 (7-4)


MICHIGAN CITY: The Wolves continued down the comeback trail with a 41-21 victory at Warsaw, a tough place for the visiting team to win. QB Giovanni Laurent threw four touchdowns on the road as MC pulled away after a first half 14-14 tie. Laurent has fired six MC TDs tosses in two games. The Wolves only won four games in 2019, but they can go 3-0 this year if they can win at Chesterton (0-2) this Friday night. The Wolves only scored 30 points one time last year, but they have won the first two games in 2020 by score of 55-0 and 41-21.


5.) (2A) Andrean (1-1)
2019 (10-4), 2018 (10-2), 2017 (8-4), 2016 (5-6), 2015 (7-4)


MERRILLVILLE: The 59ers looked strong in a 28-0 win at Lake Central last week in the first meeting between the two schools in 23 years. Andrean looked overpowering on defense holding Lake Central to 150 total yards and eight first downs. The Class 2A 59ers began the season facing two Class 6A schools and they now take on four Class 4A schools in a row. Andrean gets ready for the home opener this week against New Prairie (2-0), a team that topped them 33-10 last season.


6.) Chesterton (0-2)
2019 (6-4), 2018 (3-7), 2017 (4-6), 2016 (2-8), 2015 (8-3)


CHESTERTON: I still think the Trojans have a quality team, but they were upset 20-16 at tiny town power Pioneer last week. All power to the Class 2A No. 1 Panthers, but Chesterton begins play in the largely Class 6A DAC this week and a loss to Pioneer, which is actually a Class 1A school by enrollment, is a bad sign. It won't get easier for Chesterton when they host Michigan City (2-0). Both of the teams that have topped Chesterton, Pioneer and Hobart are ranked teams, so the Trojans ‘team quality’ deserves the benefit of what is now a little doubt.

7.) (4A) LOWELL (2-0)
2019 (7-5), 2018 (10-3), 2017 (14-1), 2016 (9-5)


LOWELL: Lowell rolled over Portage 37-19 as junior halfback Joe Heuer scored five touchdowns. The Devils start 2-0 for the first time since 2017. The Devils need a little more of a passing attack and they have to improve the kicking game, but those things may come. Lowell faces Wheeler and Griffith before the Devils’ Sept. 18 showdown with the Hobart team that defeated them twice last year. I’m not sure they’re better than Chesterton and Andrean and how they stack up against Kankakee Valley (2-0) will be decided on the field on September 25.


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Revised: September 02, 2020 .