The Star’s Preps reporters Kyle Neddenriep and Mark Ambrogi provide their predictions for the upcoming high school football season:
(In predicted order of finish)
Carmel (10-4 last season)
The Greyhounds appear strong at the skill positions with senior quarterback Isaac James (922 rushing yards) and senior running back Shakir Paschall (1,077 yards) a formidable combo.
Hamilton Southeastern (7-3)
No longer locked into a nine-game Hoosier Crossroads Conference regular season, the Royals will be tested with nonconference games against Carmel, North Central and Cathedral.
The Tigers have turned into a program that seems to reload every year under coach Rick Wimmer. Senior running back Maurice Campbell (882 rushing yards) could have a big year.
An experienced offensive line and senior running back Hayden Stinnett (358 rushing yards) are good places to start for the Millers, along with receiver Joey Herron (348 receiving yards).
Ben Davis (8-3)
Quarterback Kyle Castner (1,782 passing yards, 19 TDs) and running backs Chris Evans (530 rushing, 440 receiving) and Dorian Tate (422 rushing) lead what should be an explosive offense. The defense is also stacked.
The Red Devils were hit hard by graduation after losing in the regional last year. This year’s edition may feature more of a defensive look with more experience on that side of the ball for coach Derek Moyers.
The Orioles might be a trendy sleeper pick, though a tough early-season slate includes games against Lawrence Central, Ben Davis and Hamilton Southeastern in the first three weeks.
The Bulldogs will look to bounce back from their first losing season since 2008 with two returning starters on the offensive line and junior running back Toks Akinribade and sophomore quarterback Hunter Johnson.
Warren Central (11-3)
The Warriors were not a dominant team in 2013 but played together and relatively mistake-free in the tournament. Can Jayson West find the right concoction again in his second year as coach?
Lawrence Central (3-7)
The Bears fell hard last season after a 3-0 start as the offense struggled. Tech transfer James Gilbert will gain eligibility in the second half of the season and provide punch at running back.
North Central (3-8)
First-year coach Kevin Kreinhagen will attempt to ignite a program that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2006. The Panthers weren’t far off last year, losing four games by a touchdown or less.
Lawrence North (0-9)
The Wildcats haven’t won a game since the end of the 2011 regular season but did make strides in Patrick Mallory’s first year as coach. The schedule remains just as difficult, however.
The Cardinals had a magical season in 2013 — at least until the regional at Center Grove. Coach Bill Peebles returns an experienced quarterback in junior Luke Johnston (2,695 passing yards, 29 TDs).
Franklin Central (4-6)
The Flashes had trouble with injuries and consistency last season, which ended with a 28-14 loss to Tech in the sectional. Franklin Central’s last winning season was in 2007.
Perry Meridian (5-5)
The Falcons are breaking in a new quarterback in sophomore Tristen Tonte, but return seven starters on offense, including running back Andrew Robinson (751 yards, 14 TDs).
Tony Henderson steps in as coach at Tech after stints at Howe and Marshall and success with both programs. The Titans have made progress but still haven’t won a sectional title in program history.
Center Grove (11-2)
The Trojans will load up for another tournament run led by running backs Max Norris (1,251 yards) and Titus McCoy (442 yards). It would be surprising not to see Center Grove in the semistate again.
Columbus North (3-7)
New Albany (6-4)
— Kyle Neddenriep
The Shamrocks, 5A runner-ups last season, return seven starters, including defensive end Jacob Robinson and two starting receivers.
After winning three consecutive 4A state titles, the Irish won in their first year in 5A. The Irish must replace a lot of key players but possesses good depth on both lines.
Decatur Central (5-5)
Dual-threat QB Tommy Stevens returns to lead high-powered offensive attack. Defense should be improved.
Pat Echeverria, who led Eastern Hancock to the Class A state title game, takes over as coach. Ten starters are back for the Eagles, five on each side.
The Warriors return 13 starters, including seven from an offense that averaged 30 points per game. Isaiah Calaway should be one of the best receivers in the area.
Floyd Central (8-3)
The Grizzly Cubs are seeking to be above .500 for the first time since 1996.
Jennings County (3-7)
Bloomington North (7-5)
Brad Rose takes over as head coach for the Artesians.
Bloomington South (4-7)
Bedford North Lawrence (1-9)
— Mark Ambrogi
New Palestine (13-1)
The Dragons have nine starters back, including talented two-way starter, TE-DE Noah Grable and RB James Young (1,250 yards).
Mt. Vernon (9-3)
The explosive Marauders are 25-10 in coach Doug Armstrong’s three seasons.
Pendleton Heights (4-6)
Seven offensive starters, including QB Jesse Furlow (2,147 yards, 20 TDs) and RB Chris Clemons (439 yards), and six defensive starters return.
Offense should be much improved with eight starters returning, including RB Cameron Nuckols (773 yards) and QB Jeremiah Fields (807 yards).
Muncie Central (6-4)
Beech Grove (2-8)
The Hornets are seeking their first winning season since 2009.
New Castle (0-10)
Bishop Chatard (9-4)
The Trojans graduated 16 starters but have two strong anchors on offense in linemen Adam Solomon (Illinois commit) and Matt McCann (Purdue commit)
The Rebels should be strong defensively with the return of seven starters, including leading tackler, safety Nat Otley. RB Colin McManama, leading rusher with 1,351 yards, is one of three returning offensive starters.
Tigers must replace QB Isaac Harker (607 passing yards, 757 rushing yards) and top rusher Jamason Wright (1,650 yards).
The Quakers should be led by junior RB Jacob Maple (1,428 yards), a powerful kicker in Ball State commit Morgan Hagee. The interior defense line should be strong with Bryce Biddle as an anchor.
The Warriors return 13 starters, including eight on defense. Senior defensive back Jonathan Curtis led the team in tackles last year with 103.
Several returning starters on defense, including DB David Masayile and LB Brian Strong, should spark improvement for Pioneers.
The Space Pioneers are 3-27 in the last three seasons. They were outscored by 42 points or more seven times last season.
Columbus East (15-0)
After winning 17 games the previous two seasons, the Woodmen slipped a bit last season.
Junior RB DeShaun French (924 yards), senior WR Mitch Orem (29 catches), junior DE Alonzo Couch (78 tackles) are key offensive returnees.
East Central (4-7)
Franklin County (3-7)
South Dearborn (0-10)
— Mark Ambrogi
Brebeuf Jesuit (11-4)
After winning its first sectional last year, Brebeuf advanced all the way to the state championship game. The Braves should be loaded again, led by LeVante’ Bellamy (2,340 rushing yards, 35 TDs) and quarterback Aaron Banks (2,093 passing yards).
The Bruins bring back a lot of talent at the skill positions, including quarterback Jake Hendershot (2,564 passing yards, 837 rushing), juniors Wes Cook and Colton Jobe and sophomore Casey Coll. Tri-West has had its season ended by Brebeuf two of the last three years.
Western Boone (7-4)
Riggs Baxter caught 50 passes for 807 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as a junior and is also dangerous in the return game. The Stars haven’t won a sectional since 2001.
North Montgomery (7-3)
West Vigo (1-9)
Guerin Catholic (5-8)
Former Lawrence North coach Tom Dilley takes over a program that has won its sectional three of the last four years. The Golden Eagles again will play a rigorous schedule before getting to the tournament.
Indian Creek (9-3)
Indian Creek brings back 15 starters from a team that knocked off Batesville and Hamilton Heights in the sectional before losing 24-20 to Guerin. Senior running back Dokken Egenolf returns from an injury that limited him to one game last season.
Hamilton Heights (8-3)
Purdue basketball recruit Grant Weatherford (1,073 receiving yards) was considered a Division I football prospect and is excellent in the return game. The Huskies lost to Indian Creek 34-27 in the sectional semifinal last year.
New coach Robert Orkman looks to build off the success started by Anthony Henderson, who is now at Tech. The Patriots were immediately competitive after returning to the tournament again last year.
— Kyle Neddenriep
Oak Hill (9-4)
QB Brady Cherry (2,400 passing yards, 23 TDs) and RB Joe Hart (22 TDs) head list of senior returnees.
Eastern (Greentown) (2-8)
Cardinal Ritter (13-2)
Defending Class 2A state champions must replace a lot of key players, including QB Jake Purichia. Raiders return six starters, three each on offense and defense.
Longtime Sparkplugs assistant Steve Wray takes over for Denny Pelley (196-82 in 24 years at Speedway)
Strength is the return of several skill players, including QB Sawyer Donovan (1,311 passing yards) and Zac Butler (1,643 rushing yards, 16 TDs.)
Senior RB Trevor Ellis leads the offensive returnees with 1,112 rushing yards last season.
Park Tudor (2-8)
Senior DT Brandon Tiassum, a Notre Dame recruit, will set the tone on defense.
South Vermillion (2-8)
The Crusaders graduated 20 players and return only one starter on offense (G Chris Wilson) and three starters on defense.
Heritage Christian (5-5)
After registering a 62-22 mark in the previous seven seasons, the Eagles failed to beat a team with a winning record last season.
Broad Ripple (5-5)
The Rockets face a competitive schedule with four 4A teams, including Chatard, and two 3A squads.
Union County (3-7)
Triton Central (9-3)
The Tigers, who lost in the sectional final to Paoli, figure to contend again.
Crawford County (2-8)
Eastern (Pekin) (2-8)
Manual was winless last season in its first full season since 2009.
— Mark Ambrogi
The Blackhawks, who will feature RB Austin Hoover (2,174 yards, 33 TDs), figure to bounce back after a rare losing season. This is Bud Wright’s 50th year as coach, 49 at Sheridan.
Blue Devils were solid in their first full season of football since 1980. Kalien Guilloy, a 6-5 TE, leads the returnees with 340 receiving yards.
Clinton Prairie (5-7)
Indiana Deaf (5-5)
After being 1-37 the previous four seasons, the Deaf Hoosiers made significant improvement last season.
Clinton Central (1-9)
Eastern Hancock (14-1)
The Royals have a new coach in Jim O’Hara, who won a state title at Cathedral in 2006, and a few key starters back from last year’s state runner-up team.
Monroe Central (6-5)
Union City (5-5)
Cambridge City Lincoln (1-10)
South Putnam (11-2)
The Saints are seeking to win their second sectional title, the first coming in 2009.
The Hornets had their first winning season since 2007.
Offense should be a strength for the Lancers as six starters, including three-year starting RB Kevin Johnson.
Trinity Lutheran (4-6)
South Decatur (3-7)
West Washington (5-6)
North Decatur (2-8)
— Mark Ambrogi