Prep football preseason countdown: #1 SNIDER PANTHERS
Nearly everyone takes for granted Snider High School’s football team will reload every fall.
One person who doesn’t is coach Kurt Tippmann. He takes nothing for granted, even with a 97-21 record in nine years as the Panthers’ leader.
“As much as you coach them in the summer and leading up to the games, there’s nothing that replicates game experience,” Tippmann said. “Being able to withstand, we call it the fray, being able to mentally keep focused on what you’ve been coached to do, to maintain that mental approach and focus in those Friday night games when you want to do well. Nothing replaces playing 14 or 15 games.”
Snider graduated a haul from a senior class that was part of a three-year run where the Panthers won 36 of 39 games, including four players who earned all-state honors: defensive tackles Lawrence Johnson and Zach McDowell, running back Christian Covington and offensive lineman Garrett Carroll.
Other big losses include quarterback Michael Haupert, linebackers Austin France and Brandon Kocks, lineman Hunter Causey and Jackson Reed and wide receiver David Nakasen. The list goes on and on.
How quickly the new starters take hold of their opportunities will determine if Snider remains the team to beat in the Summit Athletic Conference and the No. 1 team in the area. The Panthers start at the top until proven otherwise.
“They know that and they feel that pressure, but that’s what’s great about high school sports,” Tippmann said. “Kids get to experience handling that emotional intensity, and that’s a huge learning experience as it applies to all kinds of other things that are a lot more important in their lives. That’s why high school sports are pretty darn cool.”
Replacing the combination of quarterback Haupert and running back Covington stands as the biggest challenge for the Snider offense early in the season.
Junior Jon Barnes and sophomore Antoine Taylor Jr. entered the fall competing for the starting quarterback position and Tippman said he liked what he saw in both.
“Both are great kids, very good at throwing it,” Tippmann said. “Both are pretty good but they’re inexperienced. We’ll go through a learning curve with the new guy back there.”
At running back, senior A’nyis Lockett returns and carried 119 times for 655 yards and nine touchdowns last season. So he has experience. He’ll be joined by juniors Cameron Trotter and Lenny Bennett, among others.
“We always have some guys capable of carrying the ball,” Tippmann said. “I think we’ll need to be a little more balanced this year. Christian was so good to be able to just give the ball to behind a very talented offensive line.”
The line stands out as a big-time positive again this season with the return of two years senior starter Will Swartz at guard, returning junior starter Randy Holtz at tackle and two-year senior starter Simon Dellinger (17 receptions, 234 yards, four touchdowns in 2017) at tight end. Among the others in the mix are seniors Garrett Siebert, Evan Stafford and Braxton Mantel and juniors Nic Myles and Caleb Casper-Turner.
Michael Ledo, a junior, and Elijah Maxwell, a senior, return at wide receiver. Ledo is a big-play threat after catching 12 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Juniors Alonzo Derrick and Andrew Sims are other options.
When the quarterback position shakes out, Snider has enough experience to once again be a formidable offensive force.
One of the top players in the area, defensive back Ethan Hoover, is the most experienced player on the defense entering his third season as a starter.
The only other players with starting experience are also in the secondary in senior Luke Owens and junior Jayshawn Underwood.
The defensive line will include seniors Tavareon Scott and Bryson Reinig and juniors Gianini Belizaire, Jaylin Wiggins and Elijah Perry.
“Gianini Belizaire and Jaylin Wiggins are a couple young guys who we’ve been excited about since they showed up as freshman,” Tippmann said. “Now they’ll get their time to play. Other spots we’ll see who develops and who plays.”
The linebackers group includes senior Dylan Graham and juniors Nick Pezley, Dominic Johnson and Caivonn Spencer.
Others who could compete in the secondary include junior Tavian Rucklos and seniors Michael Brown and Ja-mir Richardson.
“We have nine new guys and they’re going to make mistakes and it’ll take some getting used to,” Tippmann said. “Nine’s a lot, but we’re excited about their potential.”
The Panthers must replace kicker Jack James, with senior Keenan Snaufer as the leading candidate. Ledo and Maxwell are likely to handle the kick return duties.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS
2017 record: 11-1
2017 storyline: Won its 17th SAC championship, won 6A sectional and lost to Carmel in regional.
Coach: Kurt Tippmann (97-21 in 10th season)
Christian Covington, RB (IFCA All-State, 1,373 yards, 24 touchdowns)
Jackson Reed, OL (First team All-SAC)
Lawrence Johnson, DL (First team All-SAC, 50 tackles, 3 sacks, Purdue recruit)
Austin France, LB (First team All-SAC, 76 tackles, 2 sacks)
David Nakasen, WR (First team All-SAC, 40 receptions, 575 yards, 7 TDs)
Michael Haupert, QB (First team All-SAC, 118 of 202, 1,701 yards, 21 TDs, 5 INTs)
Zach McDowell, DL (IFCA All-State, 47 tackles, 3 sacks)
Garrett Carroll, OL (IFCA All-State)
Brandon Kocks, LB (97 tackles, 4 sacks)
Hunter Causey, DB (35 tackles, 3 INTs)
Matt Eastman, OL
Caleb Isley, OL
Jack James, K (IFCA All-State, First team All-SAC)
Drew McCrady, TE (12 receptions, 172 yards, 3 TDs)
Kerry Perry, OL/DL (36 tackles, 4 sacks)
Justin Kopke, DE (50 tackles, 6 sacks)
Johnell Hogue, LB (47 tackles, 1 INT)
Dalston Duff, LB
Tavares Brown, DB (24 tackles, 1 INT)
Darius Morgan, DB (18 tackles, 1 INT)