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FOOTBALL: RSN Top 10 – Week #1

There’s a “Buzz” surrounding Crown Point football heading into the year, and yes, that pun is intended. With Craig Buzea coming back to Indiana after a decade in Illinois, and bringing an outstanding coaching staff with him, the future is looking bright in the County Hub. It may take a couple of years for the program to reach its full potential, but there’s no doubt its heading in the right direction and the foundation is being laid in 2021.

The Red Devils flew under the radar a bit last year as their only two losses were on the road to Andrean, an eventual sectional champ, and 4A runner up Hobart in the sectional title game. Lowell was hit hard by graduation losses, but running back Joey Heuer, fresh off a 1,300 yard season, is back to lead the way out of the backfield. With some inexperience in the lineup, don’t be surprised if this team gets better as the year goes on and makes a strong run at a sectional championship.

The Wildcats took a step forward last year, appearing in the sectional championship game for the first time in program history. While they didn’t advance to the Regional round, it still showed that this is a program on the rise. Replacing QB Blaze Cano and RB Adam Graham won’t be easy, but Gannon Howes (928 receiving yards last year) is a target any new signal-caller will love to have and the defense, underrated a season ago, returns eight starters. This could be the year HC makes it to Regionals, as there’s no clear favorite in the Sectional #25 field.

The surprise entry in this year’s pre-season RSN Top 10, there may be more excitement around the West Side Cougars heading into this season than there has been since Lonnie Johnson, Jon’Vea Johnson and Ramone Atkins were on the roster. This team very likely won’t average the 52.5 points per game like the 2013 Cougars did, but a pair of 1,000 yard rushers are back in Payton Jordan and Camajay Griffin-Terrell, so big numbers might be commonplace on that new turf at the West Side Football Grounds.

The Trojans were close to finally breaking through to the Regional round, but fell 14-10 at Elkhart in the sectional title game. Three of Chesterton’s five losses were by single digits, so while a .500 record isn’t exactly ideal, Chesterton was close to being considered amongst the Region elite. With a backfield full of returning starters, including third year QB Chris Mullen, and a defense that has seven starters back, the Trojans will be experienced at most levels of the field. The early season portion of the schedule is tough with Hobart to open the year, followed by perennially good TF South from Illinois and then Michigan City, so we’ll get an early idea of what Chesterton is made of.

Adding to an already storied history, Hobart advanced to Indy for the first time since 1996 last season, so the buzz around the Brickies is at a fever pitch. Hobart has no shortage of key players to replace, including a pair of Division I guys in Zach Vode (Western Michigan) and Bobby Babcock (Illinois State), as well as quarterback Riley Johnston (IU track) and running back/linebacker Tyler Turley. But, four offensive linemen are back and that will be huge for continuity with a new backfield. Defensively, look for Jake Simpson to be a force off the edge.

There’s a lot to be said for teams returning experienced players, and boy does Michigan City have that with a combined 17 starters back from the 2020 campaign that saw them lose all three of their games by just one possession. With experience under their collective belts, and the lessons learned in those narrow losses, we may see a City team that looks close to the caliber of 2016-2018 squads that won a combined 26 games with two trips to semi-state.

The Vikings have established themselves as one of the premiere programs in the northern half of the state with three straight trips to the semi-state round of the tournament (one in 6A and two in 5A) with a state championship appearance mixed in. So despite the fact that the Vikings graduated a lot of talent from last year’s squad, especially along the lines and in running back Tommy Burbee, they get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to 2021. Plus, they have seven defensive starters coming back along with quarterback Logan Lockhart and RB Tommy Vinyard, who ran for 853 yards last year. Don’t be surprised by another semi-state appearance.

After back to back semi-states, will 2021 be the year that Merrillville makes it to Indy? The running game is always key to post-season success and the Pirates are set there with Lavarion “Tank” Logan returning to the backfield after rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns a season ago. Quarterback Angel Nelson is also back after throwing 24 TDs last year. Defensively, big time recruit Kenneth Grant anchors the D-Line and will be a player that opponents try to game plan around.

One word keeps coming up when talking to Region football folks about the Andrean 59ers: physical. With a defense that returns seven starters, including highly coveted recruit Drayk Bowen, the Niners should be capable of keeping most, if not all opposing offenses in check. Offensively, they have production to replace, mainly 1,000 yard running back Ryan Walsh and Nicky Flesher who hauled in 10 TD passes, but the Niners don’t rebuild – they reload, so there’s no reason to think we won’t see playmakers at 5959 Broadway.

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