PREP FOOTBALL: SAC Preview
There are more question marks than usual surrounding the Summit Athletic Conference’s perennial top teams. Both Snider and Bishop Dwenger have a lot of players to replace and the still-new kids on the block Homestead and Carroll are knocking on the door.
Snider or Bishop Dwenger have at least shared the conference title in eight of the last 10 seasons, save for Bishop Luers’ 2011 title or North Side’s 2013 championship. But the turnover in rosters from last season has left the conference wide open with at least seven teams considered contenders week in and week out.
How will the quarterbacks play into the scenario? Year to year, the signal callers are a big part of this conference. With Snider, Carroll and Homestead still figuring that role out, do Patrick O’Keefe (Bishop Dwenger), Norman Knapke (Bishop Luers), Brandan Young (Wayne), Bailey Meerzo (Northrop) and Ronald Collins III (North Side) thrive?
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
There isn’t as much returning experience for Snider as you would think, but it’s still Snider. Exactly four players on the Panthers’ preseason depth chart have two years of starting experience and nobody has more than that.
The Panthers will have options, both big and small, to throw to as two of those four will line up as pass catches. Five-foot-7 Junior Michael Ledo caught 12 passes for 231 yards and has a pedigree for gridiron greatness while 6-5 senior Simon Dellinger caught 17 passes for 234 yards. The Panthers will have two options to throw them passes in junior quarterback Jon Barnes Jr. and sophomore quarterback Antoine Taylor, both of which have pretty good football pedigrees of their own.
Will Swartz and Ethan Hoover both return to the defensive starting lineup for their third year, while Hoover is also expected to be a primary return man. This could be a breakout year for junior Jayshawn Underwood and senior Luke Owens in the secondary.
Snider has started at least 3-0 every year since 2012 and is a combined 36-3 over the last three seasons, losing only one regular season game in that stretch.
2. BISHOP DWENGER
To call last season’s 10-4 finish kind of a down year for Bishop Dwenger football shows you what kind of expectations meet first-year head coach Jason Garrett. But he knows all of that because he is far from new to the program, being part of the staff for the past six seasons.
The defense is going to be a huge part of the Saints’ year behind seniors TJ McGarry (120 tackles), Sam Obergfell (42 tackles), Alex Kolkman and TJ Tippmann. Expect for a lot of teams to struggle to get through or around that core group.
A key to returning Dwenger’s offense to the place that averaged over 27 points per game last season, scoring over 40 points on three occasions, is junior quarterback Patrick O’Keefe, who threw for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore. University of Wisconsin commitment Joe Tippmann will give him plenty of time to throw the ball to targets Patrick Finley and Griffin Eifert.
Homestead has a good problem: they have two skilled quarterbacks just ready to replace News-Sentinel.com Player of the Year Jiya Wright. The versatile Jake Archbold has been groomed to be the next Spartan gridiron star since he was sitting in class at Woodside Middle School and he is due for a huge year whether he is under center or it is Luke Goode taking the snaps. The duo has shown their ability to work together on the football field and the basketball court and together should mean no huge dropoff from Wright’s production.
By the way, the Spartans also have this 6-foot-4 receiver with great leaping ability named Trevin Taylor who has already managed to bag scholarship offers from a who’s who of Ivy League schools. Yes, Ivy League as in he is smarter than a lot of other people, too.
No teams outside of Snider, Bishop Dwenger and Carroll have managed to beat Homestead during their first three years in the SAC. Coach Chad Zolman’s teams have finished four or more games above .500 in all but two of his seasons and has never posted a losing record as the Homestead coach. Don’t expect any of that to change.
The Chargers have sat a solid fourth in the conference since they entered it in 2015. Each year, they have taken on three conference losses and each year there was a conference loss that they probably should have won.
Carroll returns a decent amount of strength on the defensive side of the ball with Jack Tranquill, Terrell Griffin and Bryce Pelkington. But the offense is where they will have to make up for 2018’s graduation ceremony because Jack Miguel and Justin Becker did a lot of work. Gaven Vogt will transition from receiver to quarterback and will need to get very familiar, very quickly with Bishop Luers transfer Camdyn Childers, who caught 18 passes for 177 yards last year as a Knight. With Bishop Luers and Snider as the first two Carroll opponents, they will not have time for much of a learning curve if they want to stop that three-SAC loss trend.
5. BISHOP LUERS
If you want to run down a list of Knights titles, you should carve out a good chunk of your afternoon. It made their gap of a whole two seasons without a sectional title seem long. Picking up a sectional title by topping Concordia last season was a big hint Luers isn’t going anywhere in the conference conversation.
Eight starters will return on each side of the ball for the Knights this season as they look to push out the top four, including Dwenger and Carroll teams that they were a blink away from beating last season. Quarterback Norman Knapke threw for over 1,000 yards, running back Jordan Presley ran for over 1,000 yards and receiver Justin Gaston posted almost 1,000 all-purpose yards. Those numbers are key to an offense that needs to put up points. Bishop Luers was 8-0 when scoring 20 or more points last season and 0-4 when scoring in single digits. The only game in between was a 15-14 loss to Bishop Dwenger.
If Wayne does not succeed this season, it will have nothing to do with a lack of athleticism because the Generals have that for days. Coach Derrick Moore says that Brandan Young has made significant strides after one year in the program and with targets like Craig Young and Aarik Adams, the options will be strong.
Defensively, Darius Alexander will be a handful for teams in the SAC, but he is not alone. This Wayne team is deep in talent on both sides of the ball and are really just waiting to finish off that first big win. Week one will see them face a Bishop Dwenger team that has beaten them five straight times dating back to 2014 and has to be a game circled on the Generals’ calendar.
The last time Wayne had to build from a 0-10 season (2011) to be a contender in the conference, it followed the same formula that Moore has used. Under coach Robert Brown, the team went 0-10 in 2011, won three games in 2012, six in 2013 before sharing the SAC title in 2014 under one-year head coach Scot Shaw. The Generals dropped back to winless in 2015 under Moore and a mostly underclass lineup that has slowly built up their win totals. Will lightning struck again?
7. CONCORDIA LUTHERAN
Having Jake Byrd back under center is the biggest get for Concordia as they start the 2018 campaign. After missing the end of the season with a broken thumb, Byrd had to sit on the sideline as the Cadets fell in the sectional final to a Bishop Luers team they had beaten by three touchdowns in Week 4. Byrd threw for 1,692 yards before he went down and will now get to reconnect with favorite receiver Kamari Anderson-Drew (47 receptions for 1,020 yards)
Concordia has only had three winning seasons since Tim Mannigel took over in 2010, but have built a steady foundation in which they can play next man up for graduated players. This may be most evident if their defense succeeds now on the hands of returners Tristan Chambers, Liam Fletcher, Michael Fairfield and Nick Craddock.
Northrop is on the cusp of breaking through with a productive offense still capable of scoring a lot of points. Quarterback Bailey Meerzo threw for 957 yards last year and will have targets in Davieun Berry and Amarion Green to work with this season.
How Northrop does or does not succeed will play out on the defensive side of the ball, where it gave up 451 yards per game last year. James Jones could be one of the better linebackers in the conference, but will need some shows of strength around him from Caleb Martinez, Nigel Robertson and Raymond Logan.
9. NORTH SIDE
Playing younger did not pay immediate dividends for North Side last season, but if history is any indication, they could make some strides this year. Coach Mike Bravard’s debut was just the sixth winless season ever for North Side, but the team was able to get reps for their quarterback of the future, Ronald Collins III. Collins stumbled at times as a freshman, throwing 14 interceptions to just four touchdowns, but gained valuable experience and showed strength in his arm (60-of-142 for 633 yards) and on the ground.
The Legends return experience on the defensive side of the ball with seniors Quincy Moore, Arvonta Taylor and Landon Clark. Offensively, Collins will get help from athletic junior Alex Holliday-Robinson, who did not play varsity football last season after a transfer from Carroll.
10. SOUTH SIDE
The Archers went 1-9 with three skill position players who could have been listed among the area’s best. All three of those players are now gone and Amarion Green moved to Northrop. Senior Omar Jackson, who did a little bit of everything last year, is going to need to do a little bit of everything again. He threw for 290 yards, ran for 155 yards and received for 226 yards last season. South’s offense also returns Everett Merritt (23 receptions, 473 yards and five touchdowns) and a solid pair of offensive linemen in Braylon Dunn and Kyle Caudill.
While South Side’s defensive line has question marks, the secondary does return Gregory Humphrey, Aric Winborn and Jackson.
SAC HONOR ROLL
MVP: Jordan Presley, Bishop Luers
Best leader: XXXXX
Most athletic: Craig Young, Wayne
Best blocker: Joe Tippmann, Bishop Dwenger
Best hands: Trevin Taylor, Homestead
Best arm: Jake Byrd, Concordia Lutheran
Breakout star: Keshaun Fields, Wayne
Unsung hero: Ethan Hoover, Snider