As I sat in the North Central High School pressbox Friday night, watching some of the best seniors from the 2015 football season go head-to-head during the North-South All-Star Classic, it dawned on me.
There were only five more weeks left. Four more Fridays until, once again, this will become my normal routine, my favorite time — when high school football will officially return.
My mind kept wondering throughout the All-Star Classic. Who will standout this year? Who will surprise us? Who will earn a spot in this game for Hancock County?
To be honest, I merely glanced at the 2016 schedule up to that point and hadn’t even cracked last year’s stat leaders. I know, but needless to say, I went straight to both on Saturday morning.
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So in anticipation for what’s to come, I decided to get caught up quickly as I (like many) begin to countdown the days to kickoff.
As a result, here are my five players and five games to watch for 2016, in no particular order.
Of course, things can change. Players might decide to hang up their spikes unexpectedly, their positions might switch, or an injury could happen (for everyone’s sake, I hope they don’t), but I narrowed it down (and it wasn’t easy).
Trust me, this list could easily run 10 deep.
Five Players to Watch
David Judy, New Palestine
The Dragons run just as much as they love to pass, but coach Kyle Ralph knows what fed his team’s state-record 7,701 yards of offense in 2015 — the front five.
Along with sophomore tackle Austin Keele, Judy will return as the elder statesman and will be relied upon to play a vital role in the trenches.
Named to the IFCA Class 5A Junior All-State team, Judy helped the top-ranked Dragons rushing attack rack up 4,827 rushing yards. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound offensive guard was named an 2015 All-Hoosier Heritage Conference honorable mention as a junior.
Adam Kincaid, New Palestine
The mantra “next man up” always applies at New Palestine, and Adam Kincaid fits the mold. Rotated into the backfield last season, Kincaid had several breakout moments.
The powerful speedster had a season-high 82 yards rushing on six carries against Mt. Vernon in 2015 and finished with nine rushing touchdowns on the season. He amassed 378 yards on 54 carries overall, averaging 7.0 yards per carry.
A starter at safety, he was named to the IFCA Class 5A Junior All-State Team after accounting for two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, a forced fumble, a sack and 70 total tackles.
On offense, however, he could offset the losses of quarterback Alex Neligh and running back Nick Brickens, which both led the Dragons’ rushing attack in 2015.
Jarett Lewis, Eastern Hancock
A starting quarterback as a sophomore a year ago, Lewis played like anything but. Composed and key to the Royals’ 9-0 regular season in 2015, the 5-foot-9 incoming junior passed for 1,750 yards, competed 92 of 146 pass attempts and connected for 19 touchdowns.
He rushed for eight touchdowns, proving to be a focal point in the team’s goal line offense and showed a glimpse of his untapped potential against Knightstown last season. Lewis ignited the Royals’ top rival for a season-high 275 yards passing and five touchdowns while rushing for another.
Devin Denny, Eastern Hancock
Behind New Palestine’s Alex Neligh and Nick Brickens, no one was more prolific in the county rushing the football last season than Devin Denny.
The leading rusher for coach Jim O’Hara’s Royals with 1,627 yards on 170 carries, Denny scored 13 touchdowns and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. He had a season-high 204 yards in a win against Shenandoah.
A dual threat, he also had 373 receiving yards and six touchdowns to earn All-Mid-Indiana Football Conference honors and Associated Press All-State honorable mention.
Nathan Seifert, Mt. Vernon
As a 6-foot-2 junior last season, Seifert was a throwback of sorts. Starting both ways at running back and linebacker, he often hit first and hit hard.
Devastating on both defense and offense, Seifert led the team and the county with 150 total tackles (86 solos) and averaged 13.6 tackles per game. He had seven tackles for a loss and recorded a sack, a pick and a forced fumble.
The All-Hoosier Heritage Conference honoree also rushed for 940 yards, nine touchdowns and had 120 yards receiving. A 1,000-plus yards isn’t out of the question for Seifert and neither is double-digit touchdowns for the bruiser.
Five Games to Watch
Greenfield-Central at Eastern Hancock (Aug. 19): Thankfully, the two-year scheduling partnership with Class A Indianapolis Shortridge is no more. Last season’s 70-0 win for the 4A Cougars left many clamoring for a change, and we got it with this surprising inter-county Week 1 matchup.
Yes, the Cougars haven’t had a winning season since 2011 (at 6-5), but a win against Eastern Hancock to open the season would ring in the Adam Sherman era with a resounding bang.
Again, yes, the host Royals are much smaller at 2A, but with Jim O’Hara at the helm, that number goes out the window.
Eastern Hancock has been a force the past three seasons (two with O’Hara) at 34-5, but oddly enough the Royals have lost four straight Week 1 home openers. Their last opening-week win at home came way back in 2004 against Triton Central, 40-7.
New Palestine vs. Whiteland (Aug. 19): Bumped up a class due to the success factor last year, the New Palestine Dragons had to wait until the 2015 postseason before they faced their first Class 5A opponent. There will be no repeat this fall.
Opening the season at Lucas Oil Stadium in the 2016 Indianapolis Colts Horseshoe Classic, the 5A Dragons don’t just jump right into their — potentially permanent due to new IHSAA success factor changes — class, they get a possible Sectional 14 foe in Whiteland.
These two programs didn’t meet last postseason, which makes the matchup all the more compelling. Plus, it’s on neutral ground, where the Dragons are 4-4 since 2008.
Mt. Vernon vs. Shelbyville (Oct. 8): Expectations should be high at Mt. Vernon this fall. With several key starters returning and two losses by three points or less in 2015, the Marauders, which were 6-5 last year, get to take their talents to downtown Indianapolis in October.
Invited to play in a Saturday showcase on the field turf at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Marauders’ ground game could fly — along with their hard-hitting defense. And they’ll need to with Shelbyville returning a pair of senior All-Hoosier Heritage Conference threats in quarterback John Lux and wide receiver Damon Lux.
Greenfield-Central at Mt. Vernon (Sept. 2): The Marauders rallied back to win 20-14 in overtime against Greenfield-Central last year. Down 7-0 early, and tying the game 14-all in the fourth quarter with field conditions less than ideal, the Cougars won’t need added motivation for this Week 3 showdown.
Greenfield-Central has lost five consecutive to its conference rival, dating back to a 6-0 overtime win in 2011.
Eastern Hancock vs. Shenandoah (Oct. 8): There were plenty of games on the Royals schedule to choose from, but this one always stands out. While their Week 3 game at home against Northeastern deserves recognition along with their bitter rivalry game at Knightstown in Week 5, Shenandoah remains a historic rival, stemming from their White River Athletic Conference days.
And what better place to settle the latest chapter than at Lucas Oil Stadium? Joining Mt. Vernon for the three-game showcase, Eastern Hancock returns to the house Peyton Manning built for the first time since their state tournament run in 2013.