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FOOTBALL: 2008 Preview: Duneland Athletic Conference

2007 DUNELAND ATHLETIC (final)

                              W-L   DAC                Offense-Defense
Merrillville                  12-2, 6-1                361-179
Crown Point                8-3,  6-1                 278-182
Chesterton                 6-4,  4-3                 212-248
Valparaiso                  6-5,  4-3                  263-292
Lake Central               7-5,  3-4                 218-218
Portage                      5-5   3-4                   178-176
LaPorte                      3-7   2-5                   234-269
Michigan City               2-8,  0-7                  215-266

MERRILLVILLE – The Duneland Athletic Conference is getting better.

For years, Michigan City was a soft spot on the schedule. An easy win. Since joining the DAC in 2003, Lake Central has been very beatable. That changed in 2007. The ultimate DAC success story is Crown Point, a team that was 0-10 in 2000 and now has won or shared the last three league titles.

But none of those teams is the favorite in to win the Duneland Conference football championship in 2008.

Merrillville is.

Two northwest Indiana squads lost to same champions in 2007, and, of the two (Lowell and Merrillville), the Pirates have the most returning this season. Merrillville has, arguably the best offensive player (Dolapo Macarthy), the best defensive player (Dionte Day) and the best special teams player (Ryan Stokes) in all of Northwest Indiana.

But the biggest compliment to the DAC this year is not so much at the top but at the bottom. Perennial dormant Michigan City has 20 returning starters. Last year’s seventh place team returns a 1,000-yard passer and a 1,000 yard rusher. Don’t get caught up in all the good players who graduated last year. You might get caught watching the paint dry on the picket fence. No one in the entire league is weak.  Which, in this case, make the league, as a whole, very strong.

MERRILLVILLE (12-2)

The best QB in the DAC is Division 1 prospect Dolapo Macarthy (6-6, 208), who was 109-of-24 last year for 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The best defensive player is low-riding speedster Dionte Day, who had 190 tackles at linebacker in 14 games in 2007 and the best special teams player is senior Kicker Ryan Stokes who was 11 of 16 on field goals and 44 of 46 in extra point last year with a 55-yard kickoff average.

The Pirates have six starters back from the No. 1 defense in Northwest Indiana in 2008 including corner back and track sprinter Keith Dockery (6-0, 176), Division 1 defensive end Aaron Kaczmarksi (6-6, 250) and linebacker Chris Stokes (5-8, 208), who can be confused for Day on the field.

If the Pirates have question marks they are on the offensive line, which is led by senior Christina Beezhold (6-4, 268). The key player may be long snapper Joey Nelson (6-2, 210), who will make the shot gun snaps to Macarthy.

The first half of the schedule is the toughest in school history with perennial powers Warren Central and Griffith on the road followed by rival Crown Point at home and rebounding Portage away.  But Merrillville could go 0-2 and still win the regional title.

CROWN POINT (8-3)

The Bulldogs are 31-5 in the last three years, the best stretch in school history. But they undergo an offensive makeover this year. After four seasons of left-handed passing QBs in Matt Jansen and Blake Mascarello, rookie senior Marcus Shrewsbury (6-2, 210) takes over and he’ll bring a roll-out run-pass double threat to the CP side. After three consecutive 1,000-yard rushers (Donny Keiser, Jon Sertich and Russell Chick), the next star runner may be senior Nick Bruno (5-6, 155) or slippery rookie Mason Popovich (5-9, 170).

The Bulldogs strength will be on defense where Bruno (84 tackles) returns at safety with experienced seniors Danny Osojnicki (6-0,175) and Nate Haverstock (5-8, 150), a potential, star kick returner on the corners.

If it wasn’t for Merrillville’s Stokes, CP’s Michael Lipton (6-2, 210) would be the DAC’s premier place kicker. Lipton has kicked four field goals in each of the past two seasons and he followed his (45-of 52) 92% score on extra points in 2006 with a (32 of 35) 91% rate in 2007.

CP’s question, like Merrillville’s, is the offensive line where senior Nick Colonna (6-2, 240) is the only returning starters. Big John Cooke (6-4, 280) and tall Chris Lakich (6-5, 220) are being counted on to lead the way.  CP will be defined by their DAC and sectional match ups with their neighbor and arch-rival Merrillville.

LAKE CENTRAL  (7-5)

Lake Central’s 7-5 record was the best since they joined the DAC in 2003. There are no questions about LC’s offensive line led by senior veteran tackle Mark Kalinich (6-4, 305), veteran Jeremy Harrison (6-3, 250) who could be joined by senior Keenan Wick (6-3, 246), junior Nick Spryka (6-4, 280) and center Nick Terry (6-0, 254).

It will probably be QB Corey McNulty (6-1, 195) making his starting debut at QB with halfback Dillon Jamrosz (5-9, 180), and senior receivers Drew Dumont (6-1, 185) and John Hurley (5-11, 180). LC should have a powerful offense.

The defense is all new around noseguard Nick Laya (6-2, 252) and linebacker Tylor Foster (6-1, 215) and that’s a factor in a league full of good quarterbacks but LC’s nonconference schedule is not as tough as what Merrillville or CP plays. The Indians should stay above .500 during the regular season and LC looks like they have a cold-weather, late season offense.

MICHIGAN CITY (2-8)

Here’s the team to watch in the DAC as they return 20 starters for second year coach Craig Buzea including senior quarterback Nate Scully (6-2, 180) who was 108 of 216 for 1,741 yarsd and 20 TDs in 2007.

A big offensive line includes Kenny Sheppard (5-10, 210), Darius Johnson (6-1, 250), Raphael Young (6-5, 255), Scott Kalvaitis (6-0, 245) and big junior Tyler Prybylla (6-6, 285) in front of multi-sports star Adam Harmon (5-9, 180).

Ten starters return on defense including Ryan Issac (6-5, 265) and Michael Brooks (5-11, 240) on the line and two-year starters Austin Evans (5-11, 230), Scott Boeckling (6-1, 205) and Adam Harmon at linebacker. The secondary is big and fast with Blake Surface (6-4, 170), DaQuay Sherrod (6-1, 165) and Phil Taylor (5-10, 165). There is absolutely no chance Michigan City will go 0-7 in the DAC In 2008 and they have the potential to play for the sectional championship.

LaPORTE (3-7)

LaPorte has the DAC’s top junior quarterback with junior QB Dustin DeMuth (6-1, 180), another running-passing threat. Senior running back Carlton Austin (6-1, 200) in the only returning 1,000-yard rusher in the DAC, which shows how the formerly power-based conference has changed.

DeMuth completed 85-of-175 last season for 1,225 yards and 10 TDs while Austin carried 209 times for 1,048 yards.  Senior fullback Bryce Holland (6-0, 190) also has 1,000-yard potential but only with blocking so John Saylor (6-1, 240) and Trevor Sales (6-2, 250) are among those who must contribute.

The Slicers have a quality defensive end in Bryan Willis (6-4, 190) and a defensive leader in Scout Nickell (5-11, 250) at tackle but they have an inexperienced defense and just four home games. LaPorte games may be long and high scoring but keep in mind; they are not in the DAC-dominated 5A Sectional one. You may have a better chance to beat Penn this year than you do to beat Merrillville.

CHESTERTON (6-5)

Chesterton is like Crown Point in that a three-year starting quarterback (Alex Beierwalter) graduates. And the change here could just as striking as senior Aaron Knight (6-0, 195), a converted wide receiver will be the QB and the Trojans will be more of an option running team.

This may be ‘change you can believe in’ because Chesterton ran the option before Beierwalter and they simply go back to it now. Fullback Sloane Malay (6-1, 206) will block for a cast of thousands including Ryan Kanarian (6-0, 170), Taylor Brown (6-0, 175) or Phil Frech (5-8, 165), a hurdler on football coach John Snyder’s track team. Here’s another team with offensive line issues but the defense could be powerful. Morton-transfer Frank Raudry (6-2, 220) and John Thanos (73 starters) are hard-hitting linebackers, DeAndre Dukes (6-0, 220) and Joe Raffin (6-3, 175) are solid linemen.

Chesterton isn’t very big in a league where you need to be but the option equalizes that. No one else runs the option in the DAC so everybody has to have along practice week before they play the Trojans. Chesterton could finish last or they could play for the sectional title.

VALPARAISO (6-5)

Valparaiso also replaces a three-year starting QB (Alex Sarkisian) and it could be junior Zack Lilovich (6-5, 220) or Brian Bartholomew (6-1, 185) taking over. But the Vikings return 14 starters including senior linemen Neil Sarkisian (6-2, 230), Zach Grenier (6-3, 265) and Devon Scott (6-3, 230) plus junior tight end Jon Holloway (6-2 238).  Even receivers Kevin Piet (6-2, 175) and Matt Hittinger (6-2, 180) that have Duneland Conference size. Piet caught 46 passes for 703 yards last year.

All-DAC kicker Tony Hite hasn’t done it as long as Merrillville’s Stokes or Crown Point’s Lipton but he was 29-of-32 on extra points in 2007 and he booted six field goals.

Valpo’s defense has not been good for two years (they allowed 292 points 11 games last year) but they should be improved in 2008 as returning linebacker Tony Gallinati (6-0, 2000 made 88 tackles last year and Ben Olejniczak (6-2, 185)  combined with teammate Ben Kollar (6-0, 175) for 127 stops. Hittinger, JJ Pellar and Matt Hills returning the secondary and Ben Tobey (6-3, 210) anchors the line. Here’s another team that should light up the scoreboard and play high-scoring entertaining games.

PORTAGE (5-5)

There are questions about Portage as QB Jason Melcic may be academically ineligible until October but soph newcomer Zack Huston (6-0, 180) is highly-regarded. Senior halfback Charles Davis (5-10, 185) should help Huston out some. Senior tight end Clark Mussman (6-4, 225), who averaged 19 yards a catch last year, will help more and returning linemen Cesar Granillo (6-4, 255), Vince Phillips (6-1, 235) and Nate Coleman (5-10, 220) will help a lot more. Newcomers Kyle Keith (6-2, 205) and David Spurrier (6-5, 270) are also counted on in the offensive line, which should lead this team.

The Portage defense returns four starters but Justin Ortiz (6-0, 170) a quality defensive back who was injured much of the 2007 season, may also be ineligible. You’ve got to have size on the defensive line in the DAC and Marcus Bush (6-4, 265) and Nate Hurley (6-4, 275) can step up to the plate there. Senior linebacker Ryan Cherry (87 tackles) blocked four kicks in 2007 and he plays along side junior Justin Rhein (5-10, 170).

Portage lost four games by a TD or less in 2007 and they didn’t have a very good offense. The Indians didn’t score more than 28 points in any game last year. With the experience on the offensive line, that, at least will change.

 

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