Inside the Indians
Last season: 3-7
Returning starters: 9 (7 offense, 2 defense)
Returning offensive leader
Gage Pearman, Sr., QB, 50 carries, 112 yards, 3 TDs; 84-154-8 passing, 1,225 yards, 10 TDs.
Returning defensive leader
Kenyota Rollins, Sr., DE, 85 TKL, 45 solos, 6 TFL.
Kenyota Rollins, Sr., DE. A Division-I prospect, Rollins has bulked up to 225 pounds. "He's a freak in the weight room," coach Wally McCormack said. "He's very strong and a lot more athletic than you'd think for a guy his size. The biggest thing for him is he's been around the game. Now he knows he's pretty good."
He's got next
Chris Russell, Sr., DE. The bookend to Rollins, Russell may qualify as the team's biggest surprise. "He's got the perfect defensive end build," McCormack said. "He's long, he runs really well and he's got some nasty in him. He might be our most improved player."
The Times' breakdown
Pearman is looking good, seven months removed from an ACL tear, and has a large stable of receivers, led by Cody Maldonado. Explosive running back Hashim Simpson (knee) won't be ready right out of the gate, but the backfield is in good shape with Nathan Cherry next in line. The Indians return only two starters on defense, but McCormack expects to be drastically improved on that side of the ball. Rollins, Russell and Tyler McCann lead what could be Portage's best line in years. McCormack also likes a senior secondary comprised largely of former receivers. "They've played so much offense, they have a real good understanding of the passing game," he said. Nathan Johnson makes the kicking and punting game a strength. Portage has closed the size, strength and skill gap significantly in McCormack's second year, but with road trips to Mishawaka, Penn, Lake Central and Merrillville, followed by a home 'opener' with Crown Point, they could be pretty good and be 0-5. "Nobody outside of our eight coaches may realize that," McCormack said. "We have to get off to a good start, somehow."
— Jim Peters