Prep football preseason countdown: #8 EAST NOBLE KNIGHTS

OUTLOOK

Everyone knows East Noble lost one of the area’s best quarterbacks in Andrew McCormick, who’s now at Indiana State University. And that’s a big loss.

But coach Luke Amstutz smiles when he thinks of some big returnees, as in large, strong offensive lineman.

“We’re pretty big up front for the first time in several years,” Amstutz said. “We’re as big as everybody else now. Everybody talks about the quarterback and how big a loss it is, and it is from a leadership standpoint, but we’ve got another one Bailey Parker, ready to go.”

East Noble finished 8-3 last season, sharing the Northeast 8 Conference title with Leo and New Haven, and those three teams will be in the running again.

For East Noble, it could be a matter of how quickly its offense takes flight in a new direction.

OFFENSE

McCormick’s 2,132 yards passing and 842 yards rushing will be missed, as will his confidence and leadership. But Amstutz likes what he sees in Parker.

Parker, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior, started at safety last season so he earned a taste of varsity play. He was a second-team All-NE8 pick on special teams last season and honorable mention on defense.

“He’s a really good passer and he’s the fastest kid in our program,” Amstutz said. “He brings a lot to the table. He was always a quarterback and his freshman year he played quarterback and we had to make a decision whether we needed him on varsity as a sophomore. We decided to move him up and put him at safety, so he understands what a varsity game is like.”

The Knights will be without junior Hayden Jones, a versatile receiver (48 catches, 561 yards, eight touchdowns last season) who decided not to play football in order to focus on basketball. But the Knights have other playmakers.

Senior wide receiver Kaiden Harshberger (All-NE8 second team; 71 catches, 892 yards and eight touchdowns last season) returns as a big-time target for Parker. He’ll be complemented by Zach Ellert, who had a big opening night game of close to 100 yards last season but suffered a torn ACL that night. A 6-3 junior, Gage Ernsberger, will also be a target.

The running back spot likely includes Blaine Malott and Jack Herber.

Keeping everything rolling is the veteran offensive line with returning starters Jordan Slayton, Trystan McCreery, Damian Miller and Drew Alwine. Look for senior Spencer Pattee, a defensive force, to step in at tight end but probably as more of a blocker than anything else, Amstutz said.

Kicker Joe Painter returns, too. After having his first three kicks blocked or ruined by bad snap exchanges, he hit 46 straight (41 extra points, five field goals).

DEFENSE

Amstutz immediately gravitates to the trenches on this side of the ball, too, where the Knights feature 6-3 Pattee up front. Pattee (All-NE8 second team 2017) had 77 tackles, including six tackles for losses, and two sacks a year ago. Also strong up front is senior Nolan Mallas (53 tackles).

Add to those two 6-4, 290-pound Alex Manns and 6-5, 270-pound Leyth Al-Mohammedawi, and it becomes a formidable front.

“Again, like the O-line, we’re really big and our defensive line is the best part of our program,” Amstutz said.

Herber returns at inside linebacker and he has plenty of playmaking skills. He had 85 tackles a year ago with four tackles for loss and two sacks.

Parker will be back in the secondary at safety, along with Hershberger at one corner, with seniors Mayson Wallen and Tanner Stacy at outside linebacker or strong safety. “We have some younger guys who will step in at corner, as long as they’re not getting beat deep,” Amstutz said.

ABOUT THE KNIGHTS

2017 record: 8-3

2017 storyline: NE8 tri-champion with New Haven and Leo; nine straight seasons with at least seven wins; 15 consecutive winning seasons.

Coach: Luke Amstutz (47-18 in seventh season; 73-33 in 11 seasons overall)

KEY LOSSES

Andrew McCormick, QB (All-NE8 first team, 173-of-274 passing, 2,132 yards, 21 TDs, 8 interceptions; 143 rushes, 820 yards, 11 TDs)

Griffen Dafforn-Koebler, RB/TE (All-NE8 first team, 61 rushes, 236 yards, 7 TDs; 12 receptions, 118 yards, 1 TD)

Zack Taylor, C (All-NE8 honorable mention)

Tony Smith, T (All-NE8 second team)

Kenny Cook, LB (All-NE8 first team; 142 tackles, 10 TFL)

Damian Bowker, DB (All-NE8 first team; 75 tackles, 6 TFL)

Hayden Jones WR (All-NE8 second team; 48 receptions, 561 yards, 8 TDs)

THE COUNTDOWN

#9 Wayne Generals

#10 Concordia Lutheran Cadets

#11 Adams Central Flying Jets

#12 Angola Hornets

#13 South Adams Starfires

#14 Woodlan Warriors

#15 Northrop Bruins

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