Prep football preseason countdown: #3 HOMESTEAD SPARTANS
Coming to the Summit Athletic Conference three years ago was supposed to make things much tougher for the Homestead football team, but the Spartans have responded with continued excellence and seasons of eight, nine and eight wins.
Can they take a jump and challenge for a conference title? The Spartans lost a lot to graduation but plenty of individual talent returns.
“You always look at the offseason and see how they have jelled and how they have worked,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman said. “If the offseason is any indication they should be a pretty good football squad. Our expectations don’t change much. We want to win the conference and go for a run in the playoffs. If there were a list of things to do, they have knocked off the first two with their work ethic and how they have worked together. We’re right where we want to be at this point.”
Jiya Wright was the News-Sentinel.com Player of the Year last season after producing amazing numbers, but that means this year’s starter will be inexperienced. It’s also to be determined. Jake Archbold completed 8-of-13 passes last year for 74 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman Luke Goode completed his two passes last year for 13 yards. Goode is taller and Archbold has more versatility. They’ll decide who runs the offense during two-a-day practices.
Archbold is also the top returning rusher with 63 carries for 261 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Keion Reeder had 16 carries for 70 yards, and sophomore Braeden Hardwick fills out the backfield.
The top receivers are Trevin Taylor, who caught 41 balls last year for 791 yards and 13 scores to earn all-conference honors, and fellow senior Conrad Keszei who made 41 catches for 474 yards. Griffin Little, Mitchell Wesner and Brayden Layton will test the opposing secondary.
The front line is led by Ball State-commit Porter Haught, a two-year starter at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. Tackle Max Ruble and guard Evan Querry are also returning starters, while Robert McCrory moves in at center and Brady Parker at guard.
Another key player could be kicker Gunnar Fry, who made 53 of 54 extra points and three of five field goal attempts last year as a sophomore.
The defense is led by a couple of Cams. Senior defensive back Cam Shannon had 27 tackles last year with four interceptions, and junior Camden Rogers had 64 tackles, including nine for loss, and two interceptions.
The linemen include returning senior starters Aaron Harris and Austin Layton, while Dwayne Thompson will start as a junior. Layton had 44 tackles and Harris 28 last year.
Joining Rogers at linebacker are returning starter Kia Johnson and junior newcomers Joe Parrish and Nick Martin. The secondary is loaded with Shannon and returning starters Ryan Burton, a sophomore, and Braden Melchi, a senior. Burton had 44 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman last year.
The Spartans will find out early if their SAC title dreams are realistic. They open with Northrop before playing Concordia, Bishop Luers, Bishop Dwenger and Snider in consecutive weeks. Three of those four games will be played on the road.
Last year the Spartans lost only two games, but both were to Snider.
“It was frustrating,” Zolman said. “We want to beat them and make a run, but we know if you are going to win the conference and make a playoff run, you’re probably going to have to go through Snider to do it.”
ABOUT THE SPARTANS
2017 record: 8-2
2017 storyline: The Spartans’ only losses came to Snider as Homestead put up its fourth consecutive winning season. Homestead has won at least seven games in 21 of the last 22 seasons.
Coach: Chad Zolman (118-37 in 15th season)
Jiya Wright, QB (News-Sentinel.com Player of the Year; 2,307 yards and 28 TDs)
Tico Brown, DL (60 tackles and 11 TFL)
Chris Berghoff, OL
Adam Niedzwiecki DL (40 tackles)
Grant Raber, WR (36 catches, 602 yards, 10 TDs)
Jack Klein, LB (75 tackles)