Last season: 7-2 (4-0 GLAC, sectional quarterfinalist)
Returning starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Coach: Jay Novak, 16-15 in fourth year at school, 19-32 in sixth year overall
Inside the Cardinals
1: The Cardinals season ended earlier than expected in a 28-22 loss in the sectional opener to Munster and forced E.C. to take a look at themselves and who they play. Novak has since beefed up the nonconference schedule to include Indianapolis Northwest, T.F. South, Munster and Hobart. "We'll have to be on our game each time, but these are the type of games we need to play to prepare us for later on in the season," the coach said.
2: With QB Devonte Jones (2,599 total yards, 29 TDs) and Tylee Rimmer (1,392 yards, 19 TDs) gone, the offense is seeking larger roles from a handful of pieces as Tom Brankin joins the coaching staff from Calumet to implement his "Shotgun Wing-T" scheme. "We wanted that system and that running game," Novak said. "We're still going to put our athletes in space. We've always ran Wing-T principles, we'll just run it out of shotgun and that'll allow us to still do what we want to out of the spread game. I think once we do put it all together then it could get really fun."
3: Stepping in to run the new offense is senior Jashon Jones. "He's worked on his mechanics and learning how to read a defense. He's definitely grown," Novak said. There will be a plethora of options to work with in seniors Jordan Velez, ZaShonne Pfeiffer, Derrick Robinson and speedster freshman in Charles Stokes, as well as Sydrick Sinclair and Michael Perkins in the backfield. "We have several guys that we'll be able to move around the offense," Novak said.
4: Sinclair (106 tackles) was an All-GLAC selection at MLB and pairs with another four-year starter in OLB Nick Davis. Add in Perkins and the Cards have a venerable LB crew. Senior Christian Talley (6-foot, 290 pounds) is a third-year starter at DT that Novak expects to open some eyes, while fellow DT Jaron Holden (6-6, 330) is someone who Novak believes could become a Division-I player. Velez, Stokes and Pfeiffer will be factors in the secondary. Edwin Merlos will kick and punt after connecting on 27-of-27 extra points and 5-of-7 field goals (long of 38) as a freshman.
5: E.C. lost three on the offensive line but returns tackles junior Malik Ray and Holden. Sophomore starters Jordan Williamson and Jorge Martinez are both bench-pressing over 300 pounds. Talley rounds out the rest of the line at guard. "We had some buy-in in the weight room," Novak said. "I'm excited because these are guys we'll have for a couple, few years."
— CJ Peters