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Bowman Academy Eagles

Coach: David Nelson, sixth season

Last season: Team record 6-3

2017 postseason: Banned from participation by IHSAA

Top returning offensive players: QB George Johnson III (89-for-168, 1,263 yards passing, 140.3 yards per game, 9 TDs, 354 yards rushing, 39.3 yards per game, 2 TDs), WR Seveion Nelson (29 receptions, 294 yards, 10.1 yards per catch, 3 TDs), WR DeMarge Jones

Top returning defensive players: LB Isaiah Harris (108 tackles 12 tackles per game), DT Jakobi Mosley (54 tackles, 6 tackles per game), CB Derrick Hardiman

Three things you should know

1. Back in the postseason

Every varsity football team in Indiana automatically makes the playoffs, but Bowman Academy had no shot at postseason glory last October. The school was initially banned from postseason play in all sports for the 2017-18 school year due to “lack of institutional control” following multiple violations in the boys basketball program. Eventually some winter and spring sports were allowed into the postseason, but the football team took its 6-3 mark and watched the postseason from the bleachers.

“This season we’re going to take it game by game and keep trying to get wins,” senior receiver DeMarge Jones said. “We’re hard-working, and I’m happy to be here with my brothers.”

2. Harris leads the defense

Ranking 11th in the area in tackles last season with 108, Isaiah Harris is primed to get some attention for this his junior season.

The linebacker and tailback can run down any ball carrier and is fast enough to play defensive back at the next level, as several smaller schools are already asking about the 5-foot-10, 205-pound standout. He’s a threat a runner or receiver from the tailback spot, as well.

“We want to see how much he can progress physically, but his leadership is already really focused,” Bowman coach David Nelson said.

Harris should have support up front from Jakobi Mosley (5-10, 240) and some developing talents in the trenches.

3. Could this be the year?

The Eagles are 0-9 all-time against E.C. Central, but after one year off for the rivalry, the Cardinals are back on the schedule. Senior receiver DeMarge Jones thinks it’s time for that to change, especially after 63-0 and 56-6 drubbings in 2015 and 2016, respectively. They play in Week 2.

“I’m looking forward to facing off with them and settling the score,” Jones said.

Roosevelt Panthers

Coach: Craig Buckingham, third season

Last season: Team record 7-3

2017 postseason: Lost 47-20 to Boone Grove in Class 2A Sectional 33 semifinal

Top returning offensive players: RB Keontiz Shumake (14 touchdowns, 9 two-point conversions), WR Jeremiah Smith (9 catches, 241 yards, 26.8 yards per catch, 10 total touchdowns), QB Davorius Hyde

Top returning defensive players: NT Isaiah Miller (45 tackles, 4.5 tackles per game, 7 sacks), Smith (7 interceptions), DT Brian Hall

Three things you should know

1. Thunder and lightning

Two returning Panthers combined for 164 points last season as the Panthers finished second in the area in average points per game.

Senior Keontiz Shumake will be the “bell cow” of the offense, according to coach Craig Buckingham. Shumake never feels the need to bounce outside or get crafty to get his yardage.

“He hits the hole hard, and he brings his lunch pail every day,” Buckingham said of the four-year defensive starter who scored 14 touchdowns and nine two-point conversions out of the backfield last season.

Inside receiver Jeremiah Smith, who had five receiving touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns last season, will provide the razzle-dazzle aspects of the running game at times from the wing. Junior Jackie McPherson will get significant carries, as well.

2. Hall of terrors

The offensive line is smaller, quicker and stronger this season, but no one will have to use binoculars to find Brian Hall.

The 6-foot-2, 340-pound returning two-way starter will be easy for college scouts to spot.

His presence helps free up Isaiah Miller to make plays.

Center Brian Billinger will add veteran balance in the trenches.

3. Proving grounds

Last season’s win total (seven) was greater than the victory total of the previous four seasons combined (six), but 15 seniors, including Xavier Brown (1,112 yards rushing, 18 total touchdowns), matriculated from that team, leaving half a dozen holes on each side of the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve still got some pieces,” coach Craig Buckingham said. “Our theme this year is unfinished business. We have to continue the uphill battle.”

T.F. North Meteors

Coach: Tristan Stovall, first season

Last season: Team record 2-7 (0-6 South Suburban Blue)

2017 postseason: Did not qualify for IHSA playoffs

Top returning offensive players: RB Semaj Brown, OT Christopher Lockridge

Top returning defensive player: DT Lockridge

Three things you should know

1. Stovall is experienced

Stovall is in his first head coaching position but brings extensive experience with him. He’s been an assistant football coach in the Chicago area for 26 years, most notably at Morgan Park and Proviso West, usually on the defensive side of the ball. His last job was as defensive coordinator at De La Salle Institute.

“After 26 seasons of helping everyone else build, I felt like it was time for me to put my own system in place for myself,” he said.

The Meteors haven’t won a conference game in almost three full seasons but the collective attitude is already different, Stovall said.

2. Gonzalez is a weapon

Kicker/punter Enfren Gonzalez will be a special teams asset, Stovall believes. He’s kicking 45 yard field goals in practice after spending the offseason in the weight room. “He’s come a long way,” Stovall said. “He works like a linebacker but he just kicks.” Gonzalez is part of a 12-member senior class. Stovall’s lofty goal is to get each of those players a college scholarship. “If I can get them all in school than the program won,” he said.

3. Scheme is not important

T.F. North will run a spread offense and have multiple looks on defense, but Stovall said what they run is less important than technique. “If a kid is technically sound, he can play in any system,” Stovall said. “We’re just taking it back to the beginning.” The philosophy on defense is to play fast and speed up the clock.

TF South Rebels

Coach: Bob Padjen, second season

Last season: 6-4 (3-3 South Suburban Blue Conference)

2017 postseason: Lost 41-14 to Danville in first round of Class 6A playoffs

Top returning offensive players: QB Kamron Clayton (10 TD passes, 1.0 TDs per game), WR Dion Brunt, RB Michael Smith (400 yards rushing)

Top returning defensive players: LB Michael Smith (59 solo tackles, 27 assists, 8.6 tackles per game, 13 tackles for loss, 3 sacks), DE Diondre Trotter (24 tackles, 2.4 tackles per game, 2 tackles for loss, 1 blocked kick), DB TyShaun Harvest

Three things you should know

1. Michael Smith is a beast

It’s not easy to crack the starting lineup as a sophomore for a big program that has made the playoffs 20 of the past 24 seasons, let alone flirt with 100 tackles while playing both ways. Michael Smith is a special player. The junior linebacker and fullback is already on the radar at Illinois and Northern Illinois, and his HUDL highlights should gain views exponentially as this season rolls along.

This season he’ll run the defense from the middle linebacker spot, which is fine with coach Bob Padjen since Smith is big (5-11, 195), aggressively physical and highly coachable.

“He’s got to have a big year for us,” Padjen said. “He’s a unique kid, and we hope he keeps improving. He’s got good character, great grades and will end up some place.”

2. Clayton surrounded by skilled athletes

Senior quarterback Kamron Clayton will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal during his second season running the offense.

Tailback Jamarrion Gaines went to state in track, and receivers Dion Brunt and TyShaun Harvest are standouts with tight end Diondre Trotter keeping defenses perplexed in their coverage responsibilities.

Clayton, Michael Smith and Brunt were the elder council among the players this offseason, leading workouts and holding teammates accountable.

“They were the glue that held us together,” coach Bob Padjen said. “Clayton is just a kid that has really worked hard, gone to QB camps and done everything you’d expect and more. He’s gotten faster with a stronger arm. He can throw the ball a long way. Hopefully we have guys that will be able to catch it.”

3. Cause for concern besides Cohs

With skill players in abundance, the Rebels will be made or broken by offensive line play.

Senior center Tristyn Cohs is the one constant for a team that lost a dozen reliable starters from last season, many of them hogs. Cohs, at 6-4, 250, will lead the way on a unit that is shallow despite nearly 100 players in grades 10-12.

“The seniors have to carry their load, stay healthy and get some help from the younger guys fast,” coach Bob Padjen said.

— Compiled by Times correspondent Paul Trembacki

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