Bring up Northwest Indiana to Wabash football coach Don Morel and you instantly get a smile.

“Let’s just say the Region has been good to us,” said Morel, the 2018 North Coast Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. “We have had a great history with Region kids.”

Expectations are always high for the Little Giants, who haven’t had a losing season in 29 years. That trend should continue as Wabash was voted by the league’s coaches to win the NCAC title again in 2019.

“The kids have higher expectations than me,” Morel said. “That’s what makes it such an easy place to coach.”

What has Morel licking his chops is the return of Lowell’s Ike James. The former Times Offensive Player of the Year went down in the second game last year with a knee injury. James, who rushed for a team-high 1,311 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2017, had 227 yards and a TD in 2018 before being placed on the shelf.

James, a transfer from St. Joseph’s College, rushed for 238 yards and three touchdowns in his Wabash debut on Sept. 2, 2017. Having him back is definitely a shot in the arm – and backfield – for the Little Giants.

“We’re super excited to get Ike back,” Morel said. “Plus, he got a medical redshirt out of it and has two more years with us.”

The Region blood runs deep on the gridiron in Crawfordsville. Over a dozen players from Northwest Indiana are on the roster, including standout defensive backs and Duneland Conference products Artie Equihua (Crown Point) and Patrick Kelly (Valparaiso).

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“Artie is like a six-year senior – he’s been here forever,” Morel said. “He’s played so much football for us and was a captain last year. He was all-conference at safety and is going to med school.”

Kelly played in all 10 games and had two picks last season.

“Patrick started as a sophomore (last season) and did an incredible job,” Morel said. “His upside is really through the roof.”

Defensive linemen Don Schuch (Crown Point) and Malcolm Lang (Gavit), center Jake Slager (Lowell), offensive lineman Patrick Marsh (Munster), and defensive back Adam Zorich (Whiting) were others Morel raved about.

“We were 9-1 last year and the kids felt it was a so-so season,” Morel said. “That’s the kind of expectations we have here and that’s why kids come here.

“We’re truly excited for the season. We have a lot of starters back and a lot of good players in the mix, especially from the Region.”

The Little Giants begin their season Sept. 14 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

The Times welcomes information about local athletes for inclusion in Region Collegians. E-mail Brian Waddle at bjwaddle@comcast.net.