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Chesterton Trojans

Coach: Mark Peterson, seventh season

Last season: 3-7 (2-5 Duneland Athletic Conference)

2018 postseason: Lost 55-7 to Valparaiso in Class 6A sectional semifinals

Top returning offensive players: WR Ben Slatcoff, RB Bryce Pickering, WR Jake Warren

Top returning defensive players: S Kyle McWhirter, DL Alex Dzugas, DE/OLB Drew Flowers

What you should know: Chesterton ran through five quarterbacks last season due to injuries and a suspension, dropping a pair of frustrating, close games to Hobart and Portage along the way. Peterson said the Trojans lost about 19 real contributors to graduation, but Slatcoff and Pickering are proven commodities at the skill positions.

Valparaiso departs the sectional — replaced by Portage — but Class 6A power Penn remains. Chesterton will need good line play, in order to maximize Slatcoff and Pickering — four of the five starters on the offensive line are gone, and the Trojans are in the process of piecing a new unit together.

“It's gonna be one of those things where we're gonna need to see our biggest gains on the offensive line, and I think they will, because they're young,” Peterson said.

Crown Point Bulldogs

Coach: Kevin Enright, eighth season

Last season: 5-7 (2-5 DAC)

2018 postseason: Lost 23-6 to Valparaiso in Class 6A regional final

Top returning offensive players: QB Will Pettit (107 of 247, 1,129 yards, 8 TD, 12 INT), WR Tysen Cazy (30 receptions, 437 yards, 4 TD), WR David O'Toole (24 receptions, 402 yards, 2 TD).

Top returning defensive players: S Alec Barancyk (71 tackles, 5.0 for loss, 6 PBU), DL Collin Flavin (37 tackles, 11.0 for loss), DL Silas Reeves (48 tackles, 5.0 for loss)

What you should know: Crown Point lost three All-Area defenders in Sam Krutz, Adam Hilliard and Ethan Potosky, but there's plenty of experience remaining. Flavin, Reeves and Calvin Pawlowski anchor a disruptive front, and Jake Woods is among the tested returners at linebacker.

Pettit, a junior, enters his second year as a starter looking to take a step forward. With running back Scott Mills departing along with his 997 yards, more responsibility could be on Pettit's shoulders.

“Will has worked extremely hard this offseason in all aspects of playing quarterback, whether it's the mental piece or physical piece,” Enright said. “To be honest, he's probably in the top two or three players in our program in the offseason that have really been dedicated and really worked hard to put themselves in position to compete at a high level on Friday nights.”

Lake Central Indians

Coach: Tony Bartolomeo, third season

Last season: 2-8 (0-7 DAC)

2018 postseason: Lost 42-14 to Merrillville in Class 6A sectional semifinal

Top returning offensive players: RB Sir Felix Garcia (96 carries, 427 yards, 2 TD), QB Mateo Cedano (20 receptions, 177 yards, 1 TD at WR), RB Ricky Guerrero (24 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD)

Top returning defensive players: LB Sam Long (88 tackles, 4.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks), LB Zachary Rangel (30 tackles, 1.0 for loss, 1.0 sacks, 2 INT), LB Mel Hay (28 tackles, 1.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks in 5 games)

What you should know: The Indians lost starting quarterback Zach Bundalo, leading receiver Quincy Tribble and six of their top seven tacklers. Cedano brings athleticism to the quarterback position, and Bartolomeo praised his new starter's intangibles.

Bartolomeo said Lake Central's numbers at the middle school and freshman levels are up, but it could still be another tough season. Ahead of the opening rivalry game at Munster on Aug. 23, the Indians will be focused on their line play.

One of Lake Central's two wins last season came against Munster, and a fourth straight victory over the Mustangs could provide some early momentum.

“You don't want it to be a process, but it's a process,” Bartolomeo said.

LaPorte Slicers

Coach: Jeremy Lowery, first season

Last season: 4-7 (3-4 DAC)

2018 postseason: Lost 49-7 to Michigan City in Class 5A sectional semifinal

Top returning offensive players: RB Isaac Alexander (141 carries, 675 yards, 4 TD), OL Alex Lewis, Collin Bergquist (99 carries, 442 yards, 4 TD)

Top returning defensive players: DL Matt Neff (50 tackles, 4.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks), LB Zach Purnell (62 tackles, 4.0 for loss), DB Alexander (42 tackles, 3.0 for loss, 4 passes defensed)

What you should know: Lowery takes over for Dave Sharpe and has brought new schemes on offense and defense from Paoli.

LaPorte will run a flexbone offense that isn't so different from Sharpe's “T” scheme, although the Slicers will use more formations than last season. Juniors Jack McGuire and Robbie Kiner are battling it out for the starting quarterback job, and the winner will get the chance to throw far more than Slicers' signal-callers have in recent years.

Defensively, Lowery has overseen a shift from a 3-4 alignment to a 3-5. The schedule isn't forgiving early, as the Slicers face New Prairie, Penn and Valparaiso to kick off the season — teams that combined for a 25-10 record last year.

“Our kids have been flooded with information, and it's a work in progress,” Lowery said. “What I enjoy about this group is and what I get excited about is we literally get better every time we take the field, and I think we're gonna do that for a while considering they've had so much thrown at them.”

Merrillville Pirates

Coach: Brad Seiss, fifth season

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Last season: 7-4 (5-2 DAC)

2018 postseason: Lost 17-13 to Crown Point in Class 6A sectional semifinals

Top returning offensive players: OL Martes Lewis (Junior All-State, Minnesota commit), WR Armani Glass (41 receptions, 703 yards, 9 TD), WR Jeremiah Howard (38 receptions, 598 yards, 6 TD)

Top returning defensive players: DL Kenneth Grant (5.0 tackles for loss), DB Davin Latiker (57 tackles, 5 passes defensed), LB Devin Sanders (50 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 6.0 sacks)

What you should know: Merrillville's offense has one of the highest ceilings in the Region, thanks to returning quarterback Aahric Whitehead and a stable of explosive weapons.

Glass and Howard are among the Region's top returning wide receivers, and running back Damian Dixon should be improved after tearing his ACL on Aug. 25, 2017, in a loss to Penn.

It helps to have All-Area left tackle Martes Lewis protecting Whitehead's blindside. Ideally, Whitehead will have plenty of time in the pocket to take advantage of Glass' and Howard's speed in the downfield passing game.

“We have some really high-end guys on both sides,” Seiss said. “The fact that we have two receivers who at any point in time have the ability to take the top off the defense is big for us. It's not just pushing it down the field. They can take intermediate routes and do some special things with that too.”

Michigan City Wolves

Coach: Phil Mason, fourth season

Last season: 10-3 (6-1 DAC)

2018 postseason: Lost 35-10 to New Palestine in Class 5A semistate

Top returning offensive players: QB Michael Bradford (64 receptions, 409 yards, 3 TD at RB), WR Demetrius Garrett (29 receptions, 663 yards, 10 TD), WR Kaydarious Jones

Top returning defensive players: DB Marquan Hurt (76 tackles, 6.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 3 INT), LB Robert Jefferson, Nate Ware

What you should know: The Wolves are back with a vengeance after last year's near-miss in the DAC. Bradford, a former running back, takes over at quarterback and has plenty of playmakers around him.

Mason said Bradford is more than just a Wildcat option, as the junior played quarterback as a freshman and prior to high school. Sophomore Giovani Laurent should also see time at quarterback, and Mason said the team will figure out the best way to use him over the course of the season.

Valparaiso's arrival in the sectional makes things tougher, but a deep postseason run is in the cards regardless. If Michigan City gets consistent play across its defensive line, it could have the Region's most well-rounded defense.

“We're replacing four of five starters on the offensive line, which is probably the most difficult transitional part with this team,” Mason said. “Defensively, we only lose three starters. Now, those three starters were all-state, all-world players for us. But, the back end of that defense is really talented, the linebackers are really good and Ernie Frierson is back to anchor that front.”

Portage Indians

Coach: Darren Rodriguez, fourth season

Last season: 4-6 (3-4 DAC)

2018 postseason: Lost 12-7 to Crown Point in Class 6A sectional semifinal

Top returning offensive players: QB Zack Warchus (54 of 122, 44.3 completion percentage, 798 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT), H-back Scott Hansen (18 receptions, 325 yards, 3 TD), QB/WR Tylee Swopes (4 receptions, 40 yards)

Top returning defensive players: LB Xavier Alvarez (55 tackles, 3.0 for loss), S Hansen (53 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 4 INT), DB Isaac Hegwood (49 tackles, 3.0 for loss, 3 passes defensed)

What you should know: Portage returns much of its offensive production from a year ago but must replace seven defensive starters.

Rodriguez said he'll use early-season games to test different combinations of players on his defense, but the schedule starts out plenty tough. The Indians travel to defending Class 4A regional champ Mishawaka on Aug. 23 before hosting Lowell a week later.

“There's some guys that even are really good kids that are top-notch, they've gotta get that first game and get the feel of what it's like,” Rodriguez said. “We're trying to find the best 11 kids that can help us on the defensive side.”

Fewer questions exist on offense. Warchus can move the ball downfield with his arm and legs, and Hansen is a threat in the backfield or out wide.

Valparaiso Vikings

Coach: Bill Marshall, second season

Last season: 10-3 (7-0 Duneland Athletic Conference)

2018 postseason: Lost 14-10 to Carmel in Class 6A semistate game

Top returning offensive players: QB CJ Opperman (94 of 210, 1,187 yards, 5 TD, 6 INT), RB/WR Antonio Osorio (24 receptions, 197 yards, 3 TD), WR Luke Patterson (8 receptions, 167 yards)

Top returning defensive players: DL Cooper Jones (49 tackles, 10.0 for loss, 7.0 sacks), DL Dylan Dingman (69 tackles, 2.0 for loss, 10.0 sacks), LB Peyton Krutz (54 tackles, 3.0 for loss, 3.5 sacks)

What you should know: After finally topping Penn in last season's sectional title game, Valparaiso joins DAC rival Michigan City in Class 5A this season. The Vikings had spent every season in 6A since the IHSAA expanded to six classes for football in 2013.

That doesn't mean the competition will drop off, though. Michigan City could be the Vikings' top challenger in the DAC, and 5A power New Palestine likely lurks if either DAC school makes it to Indy.*

Jones is one of a few players in the conversation as the Region's best. The Vikings lost just under 2,500 yards rushing from Jackson Kurth and Jesse Harper, so they'll need to reload offensively to advance to regionals again.

“Playing City during the regular season, we're gonna get to look and see what they had, and then to hopefully play them in sectionals is even better,” Opperman said. “I feel like it'll be a better matchup in sectionals if we play them, because they're gonna show some new stuff and we'll show our new stuff.”

*Editor's note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version.

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Porter County Sports Reporter

Robbie Weinstein covers Porter County prep sports and Valparaiso University athletics for The Times. You can find the Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University grad posted up on the nearest field of play or in front of the TV.