From A to Z: Here's what our Insider will be watching in 2021 IHSAA football season (2024)

Kyle Neddenriep|Indianapolis Star

Let’s go. Week 1 is here. A preview of the Central Indiana high school football season from A to Z:

A is for archrivals. There are a lot of great rivalries in the area, but the Bishop Chatard-Roncalli rivalry ramped up a few notches now that the teams are in the same field in Class 4A Sectional 22. Both Roncalli, the defending 4A state champion, and Chatard, the two-time defending 3A champ, have a lot of talent returning. They meet (for the first time) on Sept. 3 at Chatard.

B is for Bud Wright. The Sheridan coach keeps on keeping on. Wright, the state’s all-time coaching wins leader with 429, goes into his 57th season overall and 56th at Sheridan. He might use a golf cart to get around more than he used to, but the 80-year-old coach can still get it done.

C is for Caden Curry. I’m not sure I’ve covered a more dominant defensive lineman at the high school level. More than a third of his tackles last season (21 ½ of 61) were behind the line of scrimmage. The Center Grove standout is set to make his college commitment in coming months (possibly by October). Indiana is in the mix for Curry, along with a heavyweight lineup of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oregon. Can the Hoosiers land a commitment from Curry? It would arguably be coach Tom Allen’s biggest victory to date.

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D is for Danville. Jayme Comer led Danville to its first state finals appearance since 1999 last year in his first season as coach. What for an encore? Well, Danville brings back several key pieces, including Kale Payne at quarterback and Tyler Dostin at tight end. But Sagamore Conference rival Tri-West figures to be a serious challenger this year in Sectional 29.

E is for extra special. Omar Cooper is one of the best receivers I have covered (as a reporter, not a defensive back). The Lawrence North senior and Indiana recruit is coming off the rare feat of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The other three that come to mind as the best during my time at IndyStar are Warren Central’s David Bell, Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris and Cathedral’s Terry McLaurin.

F is for future. Two quarterbacks I’m looking forward to seeing perform this season —and beyond – are sophom*ores: Avon’s Mason Reynolds and Cathedral’s Danny O’Neil. Both have big arms and bright futures. Reynolds already showed a glimpse of what he is capable of doing last year in the sectional against Brownsburg when starter Henry Hesson was sidelined due to quarantine.

G is for Gillin. High school football is a more fun place with Mike Gillin coaching. What Gillin has done with the Mooresville program the past three seasons —from 3-9 to 11-2, 10-3 and 12-2 —is remarkable. Gillin needs nine wins this season to reach 350 for his career.

H is for Hoosier Crossroads Conference. The HCC has showed progress in catching up to the MIC as Westfield reached the Class 6A state finals a year ago. The door is open for the Shamrocks to make another run to the state finals with Carmel going to the south half of the bracket again. Brownsburg looks to be the next-best team in the conference, though the Bulldogs will be inexperienced at quarterback and have yet to break through and win a sectional under coach John Hart. But the conference should be strong again as Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers should be improved and Zionsville capable reaching the 5A finals for a second consecutive season.

I is for Irish. Cathedral was the only team on par with Center Grove last season and nearly took down the Trojans, coming up a yard short of salting the game away and then losing on a last-minute drive, 17-13. The Irish rolled to the Class 5A state title and finished 13-1. There are key players gone to graduation, including quarterback Nathan McCahill and receiver Cam Jordan. But this team is loaded with talent again and should be one of the best teams in the state. The first test at 6A state finalist Westfield on Friday will be really intriguing.

► More: Cathedral hands QB reins to a sophom*ore. But Danny O'Neil isn't your typical sophom*ore.

J is for John Harrell. Another tip of the cap to John Harrell and his most valuable website for keeping track of scores and making it easier for us covering high school football —and basketball. The real MVP.

K is for keeping it fresh. There are familiar names in new places as Mike Kirshner moves from Mt. Vernon to Warren Central and Jayson West from Warren Central to Franklin Central. I think both moves will benefit their respective programs with a new energy and fresh start. The same could be said for Beech Grove as former Southport coach Brandon Winters takes over. Other coaches starting at new spots are Evan Cottle (Covenant Christian), Phil Morris (Eastern Hanco*ck), Brad Purcell (Cardinal Ritter), Vince Lidy (Mt. Vernon), Brian Glesing (Shelbyville), Alex Bettag (Southport) and Shane Clampitt (Speedway).

L is for laughs. I enjoyed chatting with our preseason Super Team selections at our photoshoots. I threw a few random questions at them this year, which elicited some laughs, and I learned a lot. It should lead to some fun stories down the road this season.

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M is for Mr. Football. I would probably put Center Grove’s Curry and his teammate, quarterback Tayven Jackson, at the top of the list of candidates for 2021. A factor working against them, oddly, could be that the Trojans are too good. Even last year, Center Grove’s starters were out of the game in the fourth quarter. Their overall numbers might not be as gaudy as others at the end of the season. But I’m not sure that will matter if Center Grove is 14-0 again and wins another Class 6A title. It didn't hurt Carson Steele's chances.

N is for names. Franklin Central lineman Ethan Hutt certainly has a football name. Lawrence North lineman Lincoln Washington is presidential and his teammate, Jayden Longest, has a good name for a receiver (or a kicker).

O is for offense. If you like points, Covenant Christian (52.5 points per game), Lutheran (48.2), Center Grove (42.1), Roncalli (41.9), Mt. Vernon (40.9) and Cathedral (40.5) all ranked in the top-20 in the state last season. Not coincidentally, four of those teams (Covenant Christian, Center Grove, Roncalli and Cathedral) won state championships.

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P is for pandemic. Even a month ago, I would not have expected to be concerned about missing games, schools returning to virtual learning, etc., due to rising COVID-19 cases and positivity rates. But here we are. Two months ago, the seven-day average of new COVID cases was below 200. On Tuesday, it was over 2,500. Students are wearing masks again at school. There is no doubt there are going to be games cancelled again this season. It is already happening. It is going to take leadership within the schools and teams —coaches and players —to keep the train on the tracks.

Q is for quarterbacks. There are a lot of good ones in Central Indiana this season. Center Grove’s Jackson, Roncalli’s Aiden Leffler, Carmel’s Zach Osborne, Bishop Chatard’s Carter St. John, Mooresville’s Nicholas Patterson and Westfield’s Maximus Webster were all on our preseason Super Team. But there are a lot of other good ones, including Edinburgh’s Riley Palmeter, Lapel’s Brennan Stow, Eastern Hanco*ck’s Houston Swan, Ben Davis’ J’Uan Swanson, Mt. Vernon’s Gehrig Slunaker and Danville’s Kale Payne to name a few with experience. It should be a good year for quarterback play.

R is for recruiting. In-state recruiting is maybe more interesting than it has been in several years. Indiana has commitments from the No. 2 in-state prospect on the 247sports list in Bloomington South linebacker Dasan McCullough, No. 9 in Lawrence North receiver Omar Cooper and No. 14 in Fort Wayne Snider lineman Demon Moore. Center Grove’s Curry is No. 3 and is considering IU. Purdue has the No. 6 (Brebeuf Jesuit defensive end Joe Strickland) and No. 7 (Gibson Southern quarterback Brady Allen) and Notre Dame has No. 4 (Zionsville tackle Joey Tanona) and No. 8 (Lawrenceburg tackle Ashton Craig). Only two of the top-10 are committed to out-of-state programs: No. 1 Charlestown offensive tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin (Kentucky) and No. 5 in Center Grove’s Jackson (Tennessee). Last year was also a strong year for in-state recruiting and keeping the top talent in state.

S is for streak. New Palestine’s ridiculous 65-game regular-season winning streak finally ended last year at the hands of Mt. Vernon. It goes down as the second-longest streak in state history behind Penn’s 89 from 1985-96. But it is still incredible to look at New Pal’s overall body of work over Kyle Ralph’s eight seasons as coach (96-6 record with three state titles). The Dragons are still playing up a class in Class 5A from their enrollment as well.

T is for tough. Going back to the “P” letter above … I firmly believe this current generation of teenagers will be tougher as a whole for going through these past two years like they have. They will truly have the “back in my day” stories to tell their kids and grandkids.

U is for underrated. If you are looking for a couple teams to potentially rise up after losing seasons, I’ll give you a couple of candidates: Speedway and Greenfield-Central. I think I overlooked the Sparkplugs when I wrote a few weeks ago about potential sleeper teams. Speedway has a tough schedule in the Indiana Crossroads Conference, but there is talent there for first-year coach Shane Clampitt. Greenfield-Central has not won much yet under third-year coach Travis Nolting, but the Cougars are headed in a positive direction and have a lot of experience returning.

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V is for victory formation. Hopefully it happens at some point for Shelbyville, which comes into the season with a 25-game losing streak. The Golden Bears were hit with the 35-point mercy rule in every game last season. Kudos to those kids who stuck it out and will start over this season under first-year coach Brian Glesing.

W is for Western Boone. The past three years have been an incredible run for Justin Pelley and the Stars. The three-time defending Class 2A champs now jump into 3A due to the tournament success factor. Expect Western Boone to be competitive in 3A, but also appreciate what the program has accomplished in winning three consecutive titles. It has only happened twice previously in 2A (Franklin Central from 1980-82 and Fort Wayne Luers from 2009-12).

X is for x-factor. Decatur Central has one in senior Javon Tracy, who can play offense, defense and special teams. This could be a special season for the Hawks, who open with New Palestine and will have to tangle with Cathedral in Class 5A Sectional 13.

Y is for youth. These juniors might not be well-known yet, but Lawrence Central defensive lineman Josh Mickens and Cathedral defensive lineman Kendrick Gilbert will be soon —and they are already to college coaches.

Z is for zzzzzzz. Get some sleep now. We’re about to get started.

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

SECTIONAL-BY-SECTIONAL PREVIEW

Class A:Click here for more

Class 2A:Click here for more

Class 3A:Click here for more

Class 4A:Click herefor more

Class 5A:Click here for more

Class 6A:Click here for more

From A to Z: Here's what our Insider will be watching in 2021 IHSAA football season (2024)

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