nce upon a time, Lafayette Jeff was one of the kings of North Central Conference football.
In one stretch from 1978 to 1982, the Bronchos won 30 consecutive NCC games. Lafayette Jeff was nearing the peak of its wide-open offensive era under coach Fred Kutruff when it won the most recent of its 15 conference championships in 2000.
Then the Bronchos ran out of All-State quarterbacks and state record-setting future pros (Dustin Keller). Since beginning Hoosier Crossroads Conference play in 2005, Lafayette Jeff has had two winning seasons.
Now back in the NCC and paired with Tippecanoe County rivals Harrison and McCutcheon — along with Kokomo and Logansport — in the West Division, there’s an optimistic feeling inside the locker room these days.
“I think that got in people’s heads, knowing we had to go to those tough Indy schools each week,” senior lineman Chad Brown said. “Everybody got down before we even really got off the bus. We knew we didn’t have a big chance.”
Coach Andy Kennedy, who was a linebacker for standout Lafayette Jeff teams in the late 1980s and early ’90s, has noticed what a difference the move to the NCC has made in his players’ attitudes.
“There’s a rejuvenated excitement,” Kennedy said. “It’s funny. As a coach, you don’t know if it’s better or worse. You just know you’re not playing Southeastern, Fishers, Avon, some of those juggernauts every week. I think physically we kind of got worn out a little bit by that conference. Mentally, I think it took its toll over the course of time.”
That mental stress affected Kennedy, whose teams have won just eight games during the past five seasons, and his staff.
“As coaches, there’s no doubt it takes its toll a little bit,” he said. “You are playing against several Division I athletes, big-time college athletes, every week. It’s hard to game plan against some of those guys because they are tremendous athletes.
“It takes its toll mentally because you start to demand more out of your players. There’s a give and take there when there’s a frustration on both sides as coaches and players.”
Although the Bronchos have to replace standouts like four-year starting running back Darian Green, quarterback Matthew Johnson and defensive back Woody Archibald, a winning season doesn’t seem like an impossible dream now.
“This team is excited to put their mark on the new conference,” Kennedy said. “As you get out of one and get into the other, you want to turn that corner a little bit. I think they are very excited to do that.”
Lafayette Jeff Bronchos
Head coach: Andy Kennedy (14-48 in seventh season at Lafayette Jeff; 23-49 in eighth season overall)
2013 results: 1-9 (1-9 Hoosier Crossroads Conference); lost to Merrillville 39-18 in sectional quarterfinal
Class: 6A, Sectional 1 (Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville)
Sectional championships: 5 (1981, ’82, ’89, ’91, 2002)
Regional championships: 0
Home field: Scheumann Stadium, 1801 S. 18th Street
Returning starters (offense/defense): 7/4
Rushing: Brandon Gawlik (5-10, 185, sr., QB) 3-17 yards
Passing: Brandon Gawlik (5-10, 185, sr.) 4-11, 67 yards
Receiving: Austin Collins (6-3, 180, sr., WR) 4-35 yards
Tackles: Tanner Collins (5-11, 180, sr., LB) 68
Interceptions: Sam Collins (5-10, 150, DB) 1
Others to watch: Dan Ricksy (5-8, 160, jr., RB/DB), Desmond Wilson (5-9, 145, sr., WR), Chad Brown (6-2, 290, sr., RT/DL); Colton Page (6-1, 290, jr., RG), Alex Jones (5-10, 250, sr., RT), Vince Miralez (5-7, 214, jr., C), Jerom Bustillos (6-3, 260, sr., LG), Cameron Ulmer (6-0, 365, sr., NG), Jordan Rogers (5-10, 220, jr., DE), Mitchell Becker (6-0, 245, sr., DL), Brooks Wade (6-1, 170, sr., WR), Keaton Schrkengast (6-4, 190, jr., TE/DL)
Outlook: The Bronchos lost a lot of speed when running back Darian Green and state 100-meter champion Matthew Johnson departed for Ball State. The duo accounted for more than 1,400 of the 1,615 rushing yards lost to graduation. But coach Andy Kennedy hopes Ricksy, who had four carries for 14 yards a year ago, can pick up much of Green’s workload. He impressed Kennedy with his play during the summer and in two-a-day practices.
Ricksy will be running behind an experienced offensive line, anchored by Brown.
“We should be a lot stronger up front than we were last year,” Kennedy said. “I think we’re going to rely heavily on our offensive line this year.”
Kennedy also holds high hopes for wide receiver Desmond Wilson and senior quarterback Brandon Gawlik.
“Wilson is extremely quick and can start and stop and do some things like Darian could last year,” Kennedy said. “Brandon Gawlik has had a great summer. He’s excited for the opportunity.”