With only a week left on the calendar until the first official football practice of  the 2017 season and a month before Week 1’s Friday night lights, anticipation for what’s to come this fall is building. Who will standout this year? Who will surprise? How will the IHSAA’s new sectional realignments play out? In four more Fridays answers will begin to surface, depth charts will be finalized and
practices will fixate on game planning instead of tuning up as high school football returns. In preparation for the season ahead, here are four players and three games to watch for 2017.

Jarett Lewis, Eastern Hancock

The name Jarett Lewis has been synonymous with Royals football for four years now. A freshman contributor before taking the reigns as starting quarterback as a sophomore in 2015, Lewis took a step forward last fall with 1,823 passing yards and 257 attempts for 18 touchdowns.

While his yardage increased, in addition to his completions (compared to 146 in 2015), his interceptions also went up from six to 14. Despite the unwelcome trend, Lewis broke a pair of passing records for the Class 2A Royals and rushed for 123 yards and six touchdowns.

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With four of his top targets back, including do-everything athlete A.J. Muegge, a senior, Lewis has the potential to put up career bests in his senior campaign.

Eric Jones, Mt. Vernon

The human battering ram also known as Eric Jones was thrust into the spotlight as the Class 4A Marauders true No. 1 running back last year, and he responded.

Jones posted career highs across the board to earn Hoosier Heritage Conference honorable mention during his junior season. He was the fourth-best rusher in the conference and in the county. Jones rushed for five consecutive 100-plus yard games down the stretch and went ballistic with a season-best 195 yards and four touchdowns on Oct. 14 against Yorktown.

He finished the year with 1,136 yards, six touchdowns, and caught 25 passes for 146 yards and two scores for good measure. With a new head coach in Neil Kazmierczak and new field turf to replace the Marauders often muddied gridiron, the incoming senior could reach 1,000 yards once again, if not more.

Luke Ely, New Palestine

Much like standout Dragons’ captain Adam Kincaid last year, Luke Ely produces no matter what role he’s put into for the sake of the team.

Once a rising offensive star to watch after erupting for 580 yards rushing on 74 carries in limited action as a freshman in 2015, Ely was exclusively a defender in 2016. However, the potential as a rusher remains after posting a pair of 100-plus yard performances with seven touchdowns two years ago.

On defense, his talents are unquestionable. The team’s leading tackler with 85 total (69 assists) as a linebacker, the incoming junior recorded eight for a loss and four sacks to help the Dragons secure a fourth straight Hoosier Heritage Conference title.

He had a season-high 15 tackles against Columbus East in the Class 5A Dragons’ sectional loss and averaged 8.5 tackles per game. He was named to the All-HHC team and along with classmate C.J. Faubion and senior Josh Glover at linebacker, the Dragons will be strong on defense as the offense reloads by replacing several key skilled positions this fall.

Orlando Mojica, Greenfield-Central

Pigeonholing Orlando Mojica to just one skill set on the football field is about as difficult as trying to keep him from breaking off a big play.

Mojica did it all for the 4A Cougars last season. He was second in the county overall with 500 yards receiving on 30 catches with an average 16.7 yards per reception. He hauled in six touchdown receptions, but he was just as effective out of the backfield. The incoming senior rushed for 158 yards and racked up 991 all-purpose yards with 333 as a kick returner.

He averaged 19.6 yards per return with his longest run back at 80 yards and attempted a pass. His reception yardage defined breakout after posting a pedestrian 77 in limited looks as a sophomore.

With the Cougars moving up to 5A this fall and now pitted in the same sectional field as Mt. Vernon and defending Hoosier Heritage Conference champion New Palestine, Mojica’s playmaking ability will be needed.

Games to Watch

Mt. Vernon at New Palestine (Sept. 8)

• Few rivalry games determine supremacy in the county more than the Battle for the Boundary Rail. Marking the 50th regular-season meeting between New Palestine and Mt. Vernon, the two neighboring programs have locked up annually since 1968.

The Dragons tied the rivalry’s record for consecutive wins with a fifth straight last fall en route to a fourth Hoosier Heritage Conference championship and a fourth perfect regular-season finish in a row.

This year’s winner claims the Boundary Rail, a traveling trophy made from a piece of track that ran alongside U.S. 40, which is currently painted red.

Mt. Vernon at Greenfield-Central (Sept. 1)

• Pick a field any field. No matter the surface, which coincidentally both schools will roll out new field turf this fall, whenever the Cougars and Marauders meet, it’s a battle.

The Marauders won their sixth straight in the series with a sound 27-10 victory on their home field last year, but the Cougars nearly halted the streak in 2015 as Mt. Vernon narrowly won 20-14 in overtime.

The last Greenfield-Central win was 6-0 in overtime during the 2011 installment, which unfolded on the Cougars’ formerly natural surface.

Eastern Hancock at Shenandoah (Oct. 6)

• While their annual showdown with rival Knightstown is a highlight game for the Royals every fall, dividing families and even siblings, the Shenandoah game has become a true benchmark.

Repeatedly ranked in Class 2A, the Shenandoah Raiders go way back with the Royals as former affiliates of the White River Athletic Conference. With both joining the Mid-Eastern Conference, their meeting in 2017 will hold new meaning.

The two programs have split the last two games, with Eastern Hancock winning big 42-27 in 2015 before losing 30-25 in 2016. The Royals are 13-16 against the Raiders since 1994.

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.