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Andrean 59ers

Coach: Chris Skinner, third season

Last season: 8-4 (3-2 Northwest Crossroads Conference)

2017 postseason: lost 56-10 to West Lafayette in Class 3A sectional championship game.

Top returning offensive players: QB Zack Merrill (117 of 213), 54.9 percent completion percentage, 1,344 yards, 112 yards per game, 17 TD, 4 INT), C Ben Urchell (15 career starts), G Adam Warren (12 career starts).

Top returning defensive players: LB Cameron Williams (65 tackles, 46 solo tackles, 5.9 tackles per game, 20 tackles for loss, 15 sacks), LB River Walsh (75 tackles, 45 solo tackles, 6.3 tackles per game, 15 tackles for loss, 8 sacks), DE Evan Satoski (53 tackles, 4.4 tackles per game, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks).

Three things you should know

1. A kick in the dance

JJ Wadas' sophomore season was so impressive that he was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press. He was 44 of 46 in extra points and 8 of 13 on field goals. He also led the state with 45 kickoff touchbacks.

"We have a pretty good defensive unit and JJ is a big part of that," Andrean coach Chris Skinner said. "Having our opponents start at their own 20 a lot helps our defensive unit be even better."

Wadas attended kicking camps this summer and Skinner said he has improved in several areas.

He also had 36 punts and finished last season with a 33.7 punting average. Skinner said he was also good at punts inside the 20, another area that helps the 59ers defense.

2. The tip of the spear

Skinner knows he has a pretty good defensive front seven. The players on the defensive line are Evan Satoski, Jaylen Matthews, Carter O'Laughlin and Josh Hardaway. The 59ers could have one of the area's top linebacker groups in River Walsh, Cam Williams and Ryan Walsh.

In 12 games last season Andrean's defense held its opponents to 14 points or less eight times.

"The experience of our front seven is really good for us," Skinner said. "These are the guys who are going to lead us."

3. Time to step up

With the graduation of running back Teely Rhyne, who rushed for 1,209 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, Skinner knows it's a typical "Next man up" situation for his offense.

Instead of one horse in the backfield, the 'Niners will have three ponies behind quarterback Zack Merrill .

Andrew Benton, Ryan Walsh and Eric Hamilton will be in Andrean's running back rotation.

"I have confidence in all three guys," Skinner said. "It will be different than the last few years but I still think we can do some good things with these guys."

Highland Trojans

Coach: Pete Koulianos, first season

Last season: 4-7 (1-4 Northwest Crossroads Conference)

2017 postseason: lost 35-0 to Lowell in Class 4A sectional semifinal.

Top returning offensive players: QB Dean Foundos (24 of 73, 32.88 completion percentage, 5 TD, 3 INT, 554 rushing yards), OL Steven Niemann, WR Trent Slaven (12 receptions, 254 yards, 21.1 yards per reception, 1 TD).

Top returning defensive players: LB Brandon Phillips, DL Sam Perez, LB Trent Slaven.

Three things you should know

1. Trojans get a Re-Pete

Pete Koulianos was an offensive tackle on Lake Central's 1993 state runner-up team. After playing at the University of Indianapolis, he returned to the Region and was an assistant coach at Chesterton, Highland, Lake Central and Hanover Central, where he became head coach in 2015.

Hanover went 21-10 under Koulianos including one Greater South Shore Conference championship in 2016. He now returns to Highland replacing Trent Grider, who was 27-39 in six seasons.

Koulianos is one of four new coaches in the NCC this autumn.

The new leadership on the sidelines is joined by a roster filled with seniors who have been through the grind already. He is hoping the two go well together.

"This team is senior heavy, and they need to set the tone at practice and during the games. Their leadership will determine how this season plays out for them," Koulianos said.

2. A little offense, please

In five games last season the Trojans scored seven points or less. Koulianos said his team has some solid skill players and did last year, too. He said it wasn't the Jimmy and Joes it was the Xs and Os.

"Being consistent on offense will hopefully increase our chances to be successful. Turnovers and miscues were the downfall of the team last year," Koulianos said.

3. The Culture Club

Highland has not won a sectional championship since 1987. Yeah, it's been awhile. Playing in the same sectional as programs like Griffith, Lowell and Morton for many years have certainly made the task a lot tougher through the years. In 2012 the Trojans did making it to the sectional championship game, losing to Morton 34-0.

When Koulianos took over the Hanover program in 2015, it was the Wildcats second year of varsity football, so he has led a rebuild before.

Koulianos knows there is talent inside his building and there always has been. There is one thing he's trying to change and it's in the chest of each player.

His goal is to get the kids to believe they can win, changing the culture and mindset of the players and the school, he said.

Hobart Brickies

Coach: Craig Osika, first season

Last season: 6-4 (3-2 Northwest Crossroads Conference)

2017 postseason: lost 19-7 to South Bend St. Joseph's in Class 4A sectional opener.

Top returning offensive players: RB Sal Valle (787 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns), WR Matthew Benton (4 receptions, 25 yards), C Max Sallizar (Started all 10 games).

Top returning defensive players: DB Sal Valle (34 tackles, 1 INT), DE Orion Yester (6.5 sacks), LB Drake Recio (25 tackles, 7 tackles for loss).

Three things you should know

1. Brickies trying to make Craig's list

When Ryan Turley resigned at the end of last season with a 40-35 record in seven seasons, including the 2016 sectional championship, there was some questions about who would take over.

When Craig Osika was hired, a Hobart alum who had been an assistant there since 2005, the players were excited that the program stayed in house.

The Indiana University grad and NFL player said there's no place he'd rather be.

"I grew up here and I played here," Osika said. "That gives me a connection with these kids and the community. It's been going very well. We are all excited about seeing where we can take this."

2. Who will be behind center?

After Friday night's scrimmage against Valparaiso, it was still uncertain about who will end up being the Brickies' quarterback. Senior Ryan Leto and sophomore Riley Johnston each shared snaps against the Vikings and both showed very solid play.

Leto did throw a nice touchdown pass early in the competition.

"I thought the offense was pretty good," Osika said. "We were facing a very big and tough team. I thought both quarterbacks did some good things. We just have to keep working to get better in all aspects of the game."

3. Pieces in the Valle

Hobart linebacker Sal Valle played very well against the Vikings. He had three monstrous hits and several other tackles against Valparaiso. His speed and nose for the football could be seen by the fans at the game.

Last season Hobart had two shutouts and in two other games the Brickies held their opponents to seven points.

"Our defense was pretty good last season and I'm hoping we will build of of that," Osika said. "We have a lot of guys back and we have a lot of depth. The kids are working hard and I think this unit can be really good this season."

Kankakee Valley Kougars

Coach: James Broyles, first season

Last season: 3-7 (0-5 Northwest Crossroads Conference)

2017 postseason: lost 49-10 to South Bend Riley in Class 4A sectional opener

Top returning offensive players: QB Wade Williams, RB Donald Nannenga, WR Jackson Grace.

Top returning defensive players: DL Luke Linton, DL Alan Fau, LB Nathan Swafford.

Three things you should know

1. A parade of brotherhood

With James Broyles taking over the program so late, in July, after the resignation of Derek Thompson, Broyles knew that getting everyone on the same page was very important.

"We talk about it every day," Broyles said.

At Saturday's Touch of Dutch parade in DeMotte, the Kougars marched with the Fallen Soldiers of Indiana float, carrying American flags and holding photographs of military folks who had been killed while on duty.

"They saw the tears on people's faces and heard people say, 'Thank you do much for doing this,'" Broyles said. "A little kid pointed to a picture and said, 'That's daddy' with the mother crying, too. It was an emotional time. For them to be a part of something like that is very important.

"Things like this will bring us together."

2. Compete or get beat

The Kougars' last winning season was in 2014. K.V. has won two sectional championships in school history, in 1984 and '85.

The lack of long-term winning is something that Broyles wants to change.

"We need more desire and passion, in every game and on every play," he said. "That is a big key for us. I tried to tell kids at the start that if you want a spot, go out and take it. Your attitude will determine a lot of this. I want them to give everything they have.

"I want them to make everything a competition because that's what Friday nights are."

He said quarterback and defensive end Wade Williams has led in this attitude. So has Donald Nannenga, a running back and linebacker, and Trevor Hilton, a two-way lineman.

"If you want something bad enough you'll go get it," Broyles said. "That's what we want the kids to do."

3. Strength in numbers

Broyles is a 1996 K.V. grad who went on to play at Indiana and Southwest Missouri State. He then had training camp workouts with the Chiefs, Rams, Buccaneers and Packers.

The hours he spent in the weight room helped to make these doors open for him.

"We've got a nice group of strong individuals," he said. "We've got a lot of kids who've spent time in the weight room. We have to play physical. If we can do that on every down, it will give us an opportunity."

Lowell Red Devils

Coach: Keith Kilmer, ninth season

Last season: 14-1 (5-0 Northwest Crossroads Conference)

2017 postseason: lost 14-7 to East Central in Class 4A state championship game.

Top returning offensive players: QB Ethan Igras (77 of 151, 51.10 completion percentage, 1,416 yards, 101.1 yards per game, 13 TD, 7 INT), RB Tyler Wildman (188 attempts, 885 yards, 59 yards per game, 4.7 yards per carry, 7 TD), G Bryan Schantz.

Top returning defensive players: DE Blake Jansky (83 tackles, 56 solo tackles, 6.9 tackles per game, 21.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks), DL Chandler Austgen (80 tackles, 36 solo tackles, 5.3 tackles per game, 11 tackles for loss), DE Mike Langen (63 tackles, 36 solo tackles, 4.2 tackles per game, 8.5 tackles for loss).

Three things you should know

1. The record says it all

Ethan Igras owns a 19-2 record as a starter for the Red Devils. Along with a good arm, he also rushed for 604 yards last season in taking Lowell to the Class 4A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Coach Keith Kilmer said that last year's senior group had a lot of bigger names and games, but that doesn't take anything away from what Igras did.

"Just look at his record," Kilmer said. "Of course we had other players that people talked about more, but Ethan did what we asked of him and he did it well. It is a new year and there are a lot of changes.

"We are excited with the challenge. And whatever we do Ethan will play a big part in all of it."

2. Blake the Snake

Last season, Lowell had one of the best defenses in Indiana. The Devils had five shutouts and in 15 games only four teams got into double digit points against them.

Defensive end Blake Jansky was at the font of the charge, spending much of Friday nights in the backfield disrupting offenses with quick feet and blazing hits.

"Blake is a tough kid, an incredible athlete," Kilmer said. "His motor never stops running and it's always running real hot. He has a nose for the football and does a great job finding it.

"I think we could end up being a pretty good team this season and Blake will play a big part in that."

3. Weather the Storm

Kilmer won 43 games the last four seasons and won four sectional championships because he had a dominant senior group last season, surrounded by talented members of the other classes.

There were 23 seniors on last year's state runner-up team, which means there are a lot of holes to fill.

"We're going to have to weather the storm at the start of the season," Kilmer said. "We've got some young kids with talent who haven't spent a lot of time on the field because of the seniors.

"The start of our season is tough and if we can get past that and give our younger kids a chance to mature I think we'll be all right at the end of the season."

Lowell opens with Crown Point followed by Portage and Morton.

Munster Mustangs

Coach: Jason Grunewald, first season

Last season: 4-6 (3-2 Northwest Crossroads Conference)

2017 postseason: lost 28-14 to Michigan City in Class 5A sectional opener.

Top returning offensive players: QB Javaughn Richards (24 attaempts, 77 yards), RB Michael Dywan (35 attempts, 171 yards, 2 TD), C Freddy Jumonville.

Top returning defensive players: LB Jelani Warner (51 tackles, 3 sacks), LB Michael Dywan (63 tackles, 6.3 tackles per game, 1 INT), DL Anthony Moore (10 tackles).

Three things you should know

1. End of an Era

Until this season, there had only been two coaches in the history of Munster football, John Friend and Leroy Marsh. Jason Grunewald was hired in May becoming the third coach.

Grunewald was given an interim head coach title.

Marsh was in the program for 45 years and Grunewald played for Marsh before graduating in 2004 and he went on to play at Valparaiso University. He returned to the Mustangs staff in 2008 and has been the running backs coach and offensive coordinator since 2012.

Most of Munster's coaching staff returned to work with Grunewald this season.

"I want to continue the good traditions we've had here at Munster for over 50 years," Grunewald said. "We want to continue to be a good, well-disciplined team, a class-act program. We will strive to win.

"I believe we will win but we will not lose our class or our focus on that. I believe in Munster football."

2. Some things never change

Marsh was a lineman in high school and college and he built the Munster program around the line. Grunewald said he has a very good group this year ready to continue on the tradition.

Anthony Moore, Jonah Clark, James Kocal, Ali Soto, and Freddy Jumonville are all seniors and got plenty of snaps last season.

"They will be fun to watch in the trenches," Grunewald saud.

3. Fresh faces

There are a lot of young players trying to find a place on the field. The one player that has Grunewald excited is senior quarterback Javaughn Richards, who did not complete a pass last season in limited duties.

The athletic QB who can run and throw, will be directing the Mustangs offense this fall.

"He is a very dynamic player with the ability to throw and run the football," Grunewald said.

Compiled by Times sports writer Steve Hanllon

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Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.