HANCOCK COUNTY — The storylines are in place.

Tonight, with 7 p.m. kickoffs in Charlottesville, New Palestine, Noblesville and Plainfield, the Hancock County high school football season gets underway.

How will the Marauders do after heavy graduation loss from their state title team?

Defending Class 4A state champion Mt. Vernon begins its season on the road against Class 6A Noblesville.

The Millers handed the Marauders their only loss in 2021. Mt. Vernon won 14 in a row on its way to the school’s first football state title.

They have large numbers on their roster, 110 players, but many of them will be playing their most significant varsity snaps tonight.

The Marauders have replaced graduated players before. They’re 37-5 over the last three seasons and 26-2 in the last two.

They’ll have a lot of new faces, but you’ll recognize at least a couple.

George Burhenn, a Purdue commitment, is back at tight end and defensive back. Eli Bridenthal, a wide receiver a year ago, is expected to play at quarterback tonight.

Mt. Vernon comes in ranked No. 1 in Class 4A in both the Indiana Football Coaches Association Poll and the Associated Press rankings.

How will New Palestine fare moving back to Class 4A?

After being bumped up to Class 5A by the IHSAA Tournament Success Factor, New Palestine returns to the classification it lines up with by enrollment.

The Dragons are in Class 4A again.

The last time they played in Class 4A, they won the 2014 state championship.

In 5A, New Pal won back-to-back crowns in 2018-19.

Before they jump back in against schools their own size, the Dragons face a pair of the state’s larger schools.

New Palestine opens at home tonight against Class 6A Westfield, the state runner-up in each of the last two seasons. The Shamrocks are ranked No. 4 by AP and No. 6 by the IFCA. The Dragons play host to Class 5A No. 2 Decatur Central next week.

“We were freshmen on that really good 2019 team. I think we all saw the right way that it’s supposed to be done,” New Palestine lineman Thomas Wood said. “We were on the ’20 team and ’21 team and — for this community’s standards — they were not up to par. It’s good having an experienced team that has been through ups and downs.

“That’s big going into a big game, especially against Westfield, the two-time 6A runner-up. We will see what we’re about (tonight).”

The Dragons are ranked No. 2 in the Class 4A IFCA poll and No. 3 by AP.

Will they Cougars continue their climb?

It’s been a different Greenfield-Central football program since Travis Nolting took over in 2019.

Nolting brought in the unique run-oriented Wishbone offense. It took a bit to get used to, but is paying dividends now.

The program had lost 13 straight football games before handing the reigns to Nolting.

In 2019, they won twice, including a sectional game.

In 2020, they lost some Friday nights due to COVID-19, but finished 3-5, all coming in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

Last year’s team went 7-4 with two losses to the Class 4A state champs and two to Class 5A programs.

Many of those kids that were on the short end of the 2019 and 2020 campaigns are seniors now.

Andrew Zellers and Brayden Herrell are two of the area’s top returning running backs.

In just nine games last season, Zellers rushed for 1,090 yards, averaging 121.1 yards per game. Herrell rushed for 884.

On defense, the Cougars have the county sack king in Brad Allen. He had 16 as a junior and is the leader of a physical defensive unit.

Like the Marauders and Dragons, the Cougars will open playing up a class.

G-C plays at Class 5A Plainfield tonight. They beat the Cougars 21-14 at G-C last season.

Greenfield-Central is receiving votes in the Class 4A IFCA poll. Plainfield is receiving votes in the 5A AP rankings.

How will the new coach do at his old school?

Pat Echeverria returns to coach his first game at Eastern Hancock since 2013.

He helped lead the Royals to the 2013 Class 1A state championship game, where they dropped a 20-10 decision to Tri-Central.

The past eight years, Echeverria has coached at Zionsville and Pike, his alma mater. At Zionsville, Echeverria’s teams won three sectionals.

The Royals, now playing in Class 2A, were 5-5 last year and lost a lot of varsity experience to graduation.

They are the county’s only team opening the season against a program in their own class.

Eastern Hancock plays host to Alexandria. The Royals have opened with wins over the Tigers in each of the last two seasons.

Like Mt. Vernon, Eastern Hancock will be playing a lot of new players, but they still have the county’s top tackler.

Senior defensive back Kain Sotelo had 139 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2021.

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