Strong arms, swift legs, savvy and swagger.

Quarterback talents abounds in the Duneland Athletic Conference this season with all eight schools returning an experienced signal-caller, a few of them in their third varsity year behind center.

"They got experience last year and now we're all going to reap the benefits," LaPorte coach Dave Sharpe said. "Everybody does a little something different."

Sharpe's own Nolan Lorenz orchestrates the Slicers' Full House T, a good thrower who doesn't get to spin it much in a run-dominant offense. Portage's Anthony Maceo is a runner, and Jake Leffew of Valparaiso a prototypical pocket passer and Michigan City's Michael McCullough the true run/pass threat of the four seniors.

It doesn't stop with them, Merrillville's Cameron Wright throw for 1,340 yards in less than seven games as a sophomore and Zach Bundalo of Lake Central wracked up 1,245 through the air as a 10th-grader.

"Honestly, I'd rank myself as the best in the DAC," McCullough said. "Being a dual threat quarterback helps the team a lot more I feel I can get the job done a lot more effectively. I'm able to create plays, turn bad into good, make something out of everything."

The nearly 6-foot-3 McCullough ran for 290 yards and threw for 1,641 last season. He spent the offseason getting stronger, putting on about 15 pounds (to 185), and working on his throwing accuracy.

"I improved even more than I thought I could," he said. "It's my third year starting. I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel a lot of teams are going to try to take away our running first and that's going to open up the passing. I feel the only people who can stop me and our offense is ourselves."

Like McCullough, Maceo played as a sophomore and adapted to a new coach with a new offense as a junior. He ran for 1,450 yards and passed for 670, topping McCullough in total yardage. He's worked on developing finesse in the aerial side of his game to make himself more dangerous.

"I'm a running back playing quarterback," said Maceo, a sturdy 5-10, 185-pounder who figures to play another position in college. "I'm mediocre at passing. If I had to pick from the two, it would definitely be running the ball. I like the physical aspect. Some games, I may run 40 times. I'll do my part of the load, whatever the team needs."

For as much as Maceo likes to run, the 6-2, 190-pound Leffew likes to pass. He's been a quarterback since he started Pop Warner in third grade. He completed 55 percent of his passes last year for 1,355 yards and figures to have more rein to let it fly this season.

"I think I'll have more freedom, more opportunities," Leffew said. "I think I make all the throws well. I wouldn't say I'm a dual threat. I feel comfortable in the pocket with the line we have and the wide receivers making plays. If I wanted to run the ball, I would have been a running back. We all have roles to fill."

Among the DAC QBs, the 6-2, 213-pound Lorenz has had to fit talents to a system more than the others, but he's happier winning than putting up stats. He was a near 50-50 split last year with 613 yards rushing and 698 passing.

"I was OK with the role I had," he said. "The way our offense worked, I wasn't going to complain. It's a lot tougher in this offense to show you can throw, Coach Sharpe has been talking about bigger role, carrying the ball, maybe throwing some more. I'm ready for that role. I'm more accurate. I'm getting more velocity on the ball. (The DAC quarterbacks) are all good players. I think I'm just as good as any of them."

Like any good quarterback, all of them embrace the responsibilities of the position and the pressure that comes with it. Given the nature of what he does as a runner, Maceo may wear the biggest bull's-eye.

"I take it as a challenge," he said. "If they want to come after me, I'll give them what they want. I feel real confident, but not cocky. I'm ready to play, to come out on fire. I'm excited to see what my guys can do. I feel we can go far. I know I'll leave it all on the field for Portage."

It's been 15 years since the Indians have won a sectional. Maceo would love for that to be his senior legacy.

At Valparaiso, where there's been nary a sectional win since 2011, it's first things first, and Leffew's excited to point the way.

"Our main goal is to win the DAC, take that momentum and see how far it takes us," said Leffew, who has been offered by Southern Illinois. "From this point on, it's just being consistent. We were up last season and at the end, we got down. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder. It made us work hard in the offseason so it doesn't happen again. I feel we're so close as a team, if everything clicks, it'll be a really fun season."

Class 5A offers hopes at a deep run for LaPorte and Michigan City, who will likely have to go through the other at some point to hoist hardware.

"Hopefully take the DAC again, make a deeper run in the tournament. and finish out my career by heading back to (Lucas Oil Stadium)," Lorenz said.

Any kind of title would be historical for City, which has never won the DAC or a sectional. How cool would that be?

"It's my senior year, I want to make the most of it," McCullough said. "Right now, I have no (college) offers, but after the season, things will change. I feel if a big-time school gives me the chance, I could succeed at it. I definitely think we can make a sectional run, I feel a state championship could happen, too."


Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.