Carmel fell just short of winning the Class 5A state championship last season, but the Greyhounds are favored to finish the job this year.
Even though Carmel quarterback Morgan Newton has moved on to play at Kentucky, the Greyhounds still open the season as the No. 1 team in the AP’s preseason top 10 poll.
Carmel’s top ranking is odd because the Greyhounds didn’t receive a single No. 1 vote. Carmel coach Mo Moriarity said the popularity of football in the state, especially in the Indianapolis area, has leveled the playing field and made the race for No. 1 wide open.
“You could probably take five to 10 teams, throw them in a hat, pick one and be pretty close to naming a state champion,” he said.
Carmel will be tested immediately. The Greyhounds open Friday at home against 4A No. 1 Indianapolis Cathedral, then play 5A No. 2 Center Grove, the defending 5A champion, at home on Sept. 4. Center Grove completed the biggest comeback in the 36-year history of the Indiana high school football tournament to beat Carmel 36-33 in last year’s state title game.
Carmel also plays No. 3 Warren Central and No. 4 Indianapolis Ben Davis this season.
“That’s the way it’s been for us over the years,” Moriarity said. “We feel like when the tournament gets here, we’ll have played in a lot of big games, so it won’t be new to us.”
The other top teams are Indianapolis Bishop Chatard in Class 3A, Heritage Christian in 2A and Sheridan in A.
Carmel’s quest to replace Newton is unsettled. Senior Adam Shaffer and junior Scott Stilson are competing for the job. Moriarity said he will name a starter this week, but both are capable and will play.
Track sprinter Devin Brinson and heavyweight wrestler Jesse Hollander will share the load at running back. The defense returns six starters.
“We like our defense, without question,” Moriarity said. “We feel like we should be pretty athletic. They run extremely well.”
Center Grove is No. 2 and received the most first-place votes, despite returning no starters on offense. Quarterback Jordan Luallen has gone on to Georgia Tech, but Kyle Barth, a 6-3 backup last season, is solid.
“Big, strong, quiet, throws a really good football,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “He would have started at a lot of places last year. He’s not quite as mobile as Jordan, but he might fool you.”
The key returnees on defense are cornerback Scotty O’Brien and defensive tackle Joel Cox. Garrett Mack moves from a utility offensive player to linebacker.
Moore downplayed the lack of returning starters. He said many of this year’s players got varsity time during blowouts last season.
“At a good program, seniors should be starting,” he said. “These kids on the field this year are seniors.”
Shakir Bell scored seven touchdowns last season and should emerge as the latest star running back for Warren Central. Derek Hart returns at quarterback after passing for 1,309 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
Running backs Phillip Dudley and Dante Asher lead the offense for Ben Davis. Dudley had 948 total yards and 11 touchdowns last season while Asher had 804 total yards and nine scores. Linebacker Isaiah Lewis, a Michigan State recruit, heads the defense.
Cathedral will rely heavily on running back Nick Najem and quarterback Kofi Hughes, an Indiana recruit. Najem ran for 89 yards and scored the winning touchdown against Fort Wayne Dwenger in the state title game.
In 3A, Bishop Chatard is No. 1 by four votes over No. 2 Bellmont in the closest of the preseason votes.
Heritage Christian quarterback Jackson Kirtley is back after passing for 3,618 yards and 46 touchdowns and leading the Eagles to the 2A state title last season.
Sheridan tops Class A, despite losing quarterback Nick Zachery to Indiana.
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