Gorch on the Porch: Heating up

File photo by Robb QuinnLa Porte's Drayson Nespo avoids the tackle of Michigan City linebacker Chase Triplett (No. 8) during the rivals' regular season game last season won by the Slicers.

Are you ready for one of the most overused questions in sports journalism.

“Are you ready for some football?”

Yes, I’m resorting to using that to describe the first day of official high school football practice across the region instead of figuring out a more unique phrase.

Simply put, La Porte County high school football should be very, very interesting this season with so many storylines. So as the season gets underway, let’s whet the appetite as opening night approaches on Aug. 18. We cover seven schools with football teams, so here’s seven things to watch among those squads …

1. Class movement: After a couple years in Class 6A, La Porte is back in 5A with its main rival, Michigan City. And it’s just in time since the Wolves and Slicers are both coming off very good seasons. A postseason meeting between them is more possible now with both teams on the rise. The Slicers are coming off a Duneland Conference title, while the Wolves went 7-4, reaching the sectional championship game.

The likelihood of either team winning a sectional title — it would be the Slicers’ first since 2014 when they reached the state final, while the Wolves have never won a football sectional since consolidation in 1995 with Elston winning the city’s only trophy in 1984 — have been greatly enhanced with Sectional 9 only having four schools.

Munster and South Bend Adams join Michigan City and La Porte in the sectional, so the county has a good chance at hoisting a trophy this season.

2. Cougar pride: Speaking of teams that reached the 2014 state finals, New Prairie has failed to advance out of the sectional each of the two years since playing at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Class 4A championship. Last year, though, might hurt more than the previous year since it really looked like the Cougars could go far in the tournament. Instead, Hobart spoiled the party in the 4A sectional final.

All-around athlete Nick Wilson will be back at quarterback — or whatever position you’d like to call him. The senior is listed at “Athlete” on the Indiana Football Digest Preseason 4A All-State team, and that’s probably the best description. He passed for 1,085 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while rushing for 1,652 yards and 20 more TDs.

This year, New Prairie will be looking for revenge against Hobart and everyone else in the eight-team Sectional 18.

3. Up and coming Satellites: New South Central head coach Buzz Schoff finds himself in a pretty good situation. The Satellites went 7-4 last season, winning the first game of the sectional before losing a close one to North Judson in the semifinal. They return the two most important skilled position players in quarterback Kyle Schmack and running back Jackson Meloy, both of whom are just juniors.

You can also count on South Central’s defense to be improved since Schoff was part of La Porte’s defensive staff when it reached the state final in 2014. SC’s coach the last two years, Eric Stephens, was the defensive coordinator on that Slicers’ squad. Schoff takes over for Stephens, who is now the athletic director at John Glenn.

4. Trojans bounce-back: Chesterton went from the top of the heap to the bottom in just one year. After winning a share of the Duneland Conference title in 2015, the Trojans went 2-8 last season and 0-7 in the DAC to finish last. So it will be a challenge for Mark Peterson to rebuild in his fifth year at the helm, especially after losing a pair of talented skilled position players (Valshawn Stewart and Rhett Rondinelli) to graduation. Louie Razo will be back at RB, while the QB position will come down to senior Andrew Zimmerman or junior Cory Boren.

5. Preseason honors: It’s never too early to think about who could win postseason individual honors. Last year’s award winners both graduated — offensive player of the year Aryuan Cain-Veasey and La Porte’s Nik Ormsby — so we’ll have two new honorees.

New Prairie’s Wilson looks to be the offensive frontrunner. He would have earned player of the year last year if not for Cain-Veasey’s monster rushing output. As for defense, the player of the year has been a La Porte linebacker the last two years (Ormsby and Matt Otwinowski), so maybe that happens again. Then again, City linebacker Chase Triplett could be a sleeper pick after several Wolves’ linebackers graduated and he will need to be a leader for Phil Mason’s squad.

6. Non-conference primers: La Porte and New Prairie meeting in the first week for the 17th straight season is always a nice, juicy primer for both of those fan bases. But Michigan City’s Week 2 matchup at Homewood-Flossmoor is a close second only because of H-F’s coach.

The last time the Wolves had a winning record before 2016 was 2009 when Craig Buzea was coach. He’s been the coach at Homewood-Flossmoor since leaving City after that season. It will be a great challenge for the Wolves since the Vikings are a power in Illinois, and Buzea has posted a record of 65-18 over the last seven years (31-6 in the last three). The long drive would be worth it for City fans to at least give Buzz a nice cheer (or the opposite, if you prefer) at the beginning of the game.

7. Defending champs: La Porte County does have an undefeated, defending champ this year, albeit a non-IHSAA program. La Lumiere posted its first 8-0 record, culminating the perfect season with a 28-20 win over Downriver in the Great Lakes Christian Athletic Conference championship game.

Repeating will be tough since the Lakers’ best players — running back Mike Setteducate (who had two rushing TDs in that championship), lineman Scotty Wilson and wide receiver Max Willoughby (who actually went to Marquette Catholic, but was allowed to play football for LaLu) — all graduated. But at least Lakers’ football is back on the map and deserves a little recognition.

Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at sgorches@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.

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