PREP FOOTBALL: ACAC Preview

Adams Central's Logan Macklin. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
South Adams' Nic Stuber. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

Though the Allen County Athletic Conference may be the state’s top small-school conference for football, it might have the area’s top all-around player this season. Adams Central’s Logan Macklin can dominate a game offensively, defensively and on special teams, and he’s good enough he could do it at any school in the area no matter the classification.

Last year, he made a team-high 102 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss as a linebacker and rushed for 1,542 yards and 16 touchdowns on 153 attempts as a tailback. When Macklin is not returning punts and kickoffs, he’ll likely get at least 50 more carries this season as teams try to figure out how to bring him down.

“You’re not going to stop Macklin,” Woodlan coach Sherwood Haydock said. “He’s a good kid. The only thing we hope for is that by that time of year we see him maybe he’s beaten up a little. He’s tougher than heck.”

Every defense will get plenty of practice as the ACAC is loaded with good running backs this season.

“If you make all-conference at running back in the ACAC, you are a stud,” Jay County coach Tim Millspaugh said. “That is the position.”

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. ADAMS CENTRAL

The defending champion Jets have most of their returning players on defense, led by linebacker Jalen Hammond and defensive backs Parker Bates and Chase Peterson. Bates also takes over at quarterback on offense behind an offensive line led by Jashawn Berlanga.

Though a Class 1A school, the Jets had plenty of size over the past two seasons. Those players graduated, so they’ll have to return to more of a finesse game, sometimes even using Macklin as a decoy to set up Hammond and Colton Jergler in the run. The Jets haven’t been known for throwing the ball in recent seasons, but Parker may get more opportunities this season.

2. SOUTH ADAMS

The Starfires are hoping to win their first ACAC title since 1993, and they have the firepower to do it. Nic Stuber will be a full-time tailback with sophomore James Arnold taking over at quarterback. Nick Miller will be a solid target at tight end, and Bluffton transfer Andre Hughes at center will be a huge addition for the offensive line.

Miller, Grady Sprunger and Drake Dietsch highlight a very good defense that will be tested by a tougher schedule this season. Adams Central and Woodlan both play in Berne this season.

3. WOODLAN

The Warriors are always the most dangerous when they are not expected to do much and it’s time to reload after going 12-3 last year and playing in the Class 2A state title game. The problem is almost all of the top producers, who were all three-year starters, graduated, and the schedule gets more interesting this year, starting out with Leo in the renewal of an East Allen County Schools rivalry and then Ohio small-school champion Marion Local.

Junior Ben Reidy gets first chance at starting quarterback behind what is always one of the area’s top offensive lines. All-conference picks Dane Castleman and Jacob Gerbers anchor the front wall. Isaac Meyer made 93 tackles last year as a defensive lineman, and Sebastian Spieth was one of the area’s top linebackers last year with 175 tackles, including 11 for loss and five sacks.

Dane Castleman might be Macklin’s only contender for best player in the conference. He’s definitely the strongest as he bench presses 425 pounds.

4. BLUFFTON

After seasons of three, two and two wins, the Tigers surprised some foes last year to go 5-6 in Brent Kunkel’s first season as coach, even winning three games in a row in the middle of the season. That has led to some higher expectations this year.

“I love my senior group right now,” Kunkel said. “They have really embraced to taking the leadership role. On bad teams, coaches have to do everything, good teams it’s 50-50 and great teams are player-led. They have really adopted that attitude. I feel like our locker room is as good as I’ve ever been around.”

The leadership includes seniors Blake Kizer at wide receiver, defensive lineman Levi Boots, linebacker Everett Johnson and quarterback Gavin King who threw for 851 yards last year. Johnson gets first chance at tailback.

“I think last year we snuck up on some teams,” Kunkel said “These guys bought in. I think the expectations for us have been raised so we have to elevate ourselves to that.”

5. HERITAGE

The Patriots took a step back last year with a 1-9 record, but they have had a lot more buy-in on the summer conditioning program and some decent returning statistics. Tailback Hunter Bradtmeuller ran for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and quarterback Parker Tracy threw for 1,125 yards and nine touchdowns last year, hitting Travis Gardner 25 times. Tyler Burnham leads the offensive line, while linebacker Charlie Woenker is the main defensive returner.

“If we can keep him healthy, he could be pretty good,” coach Nico Tigulis said of Bradtmeuller. “He is very explosive when he has the ball, and I’m excited to see what he can do this season. We’re going to give it to him often and try and get him out in space.”

The early schedule is brutal, starting with Eastside, Norwell and Woodlan on the road followed by South Adams and Adams Central at home.

“I think we’ll be better,” Tigulis said. “We need to stay positive and continue to trust each other. If we get that confidence going, I think we’ll be OK.”

6. JAY COUNTY

With a senior-dominated roster, the Patriots had incredible hopes last year, but they kept suffering injuries in the first half of the season and could not recover.

The main hope this year is with running back Michael Schlechty, who rushed for 715 yards and 14 touchdowns last year on 142 carries. Parker Grimes also caught 14 passes for 250 yards. They lead a group of 15 seniors on the roster.

Grimes, who is 6-foot-3, 193 pounds, will be the new quarterback, and he’ll be running a new offense. Millspaugh thinks Grimes’ arm strength should help stretch the field and set up the running game.

7. SOUTHERN WELLS

New coach Greg Mose gets 10 returning starters from a 1-9 team and has some experience to build around. Only one starter graduated. Senior offensive lineman Braden Schreiber and senior linebacker Sam Smith were both second-team all-conference selections last year.

“I think the kids are looking forward to a fresh start and are excited about football this year,” Mose said. “We’re going with the hashtag #getonthebus and trying to get as many people on the bus and believing in our football program as much as possible.”

Quarterback Mason Huffman, senior running back Coleman Beeks and junior running back Xavier Walden will get most of the touches. Leading tackler Smith returns to lead the defense.

ACAC HONOR ROLL

MVP: Logan Macklin, Adams Central

Best leader: Sebastian Spieth, Woodlan

Most athletic: Logan Macklin, Adams Central

Best blocker: Dane Castleman, Woodlan

Best hands: Blake Kizer, Bluffton

Best arm: Parker Tracey, Heritage

Breakout star: Nick Miller, South Adams

Unsung hero: Hunter Bradtmeuller, Heritage

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