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Michigan City football preview

August 17, 2018

Head Coach: Phil Mason, 16-8 in third year at M.C. and 129-69 in 18th year overall

Last year’s record: 9-4 (5-2 DAC), lost in Class 5A semistate to Kokomo, 21-14

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense

Key returners: OL Jared Brinkman, Sr., 6-2, 250 (three-year starter), DB Marquan Hurt, Jr., 5-8, 145 (23 tackles), DB Lyric McFarrin, Sr,. 5-9, 180 (64 total tackles), DL Royce Robinson, Jr., Sr., 6-0, 250 (missed nine games with knee injury), C Andrue Shanks, Sr., 6-1, 240 (three-year starter), WR Tyler Siegmund, Sr. 5-11, 175 (12.6 yards/catch), OG Ryan Stefanko, Sr., 6-3, 260 (three-year starter), OLB Chase Triplett, Sr., 6-3, 225 (140 total tackles), TE/DE Justin Wozniak, Sr., 6-3, 245 (18 tackles for loss)

Key newcomers:

• QB Bryce Hayman: It’s Hayman’s show with Michael McCullough, the 2017 News-Dispatch Player of the Year, off to college. The lefty doesn’t have the size of McCullough in the pocket, but he can be a dangerous asset with his legs if seeing over the big guys in the trenches becomes a problem at times. “It’s gonna progress every day. One thing that you need at this position is just to be a competitor and that’s what Bryce is. He wants to win. He wants to compete, and because of that, because he’s such a competitor, you don’t see him make those mistakes that you worry about,” Mason said.

• WR Demetrius Garrett: One of two guys on this list returning from a season-ending collar bone injury last year is Garrett. The 6-foot, 175-pounder figures to be a solid piece on the left side of City’s formations. “He didn’t get a lot of experience because of that (injury), but he’s filled in nicely so far and has done a really nice job for us on that left side,” Mason said.

• RB Detrick Merriweather: A transfer from rival La Porte after an ankle injury last season, Merriweather is slotted as the No. 1 running back on the City depth chart and has a huge fan in Mason. “He’s just a solid kid and a great character kid,” Mason said. “Detrick’s a guy who gives so much depth at the tailback position. He’ll open up as the starter and he knows what his role is. He knows he’ll get rotated in and out for us, but he’s doing a nice job.”

Five things to watch:

1. Quarterback play could make the difference between Michigan City making an even deeper playoff run to the 5A state final or an earlier exit than expected. Hayman will get the keys to Mason’s high-powered offense. McCullough was electric as the signal-caller for the Wolves last year and if Hayman can take care of the football and use his versatility with his legs to escape collapsing pockets, this team is going to be even more dangerous than they already are on paper.

2. If you haven’t seen this defense over the summer or at their scrimmage against New Prairie last Friday, you’re going to want to take a Friday night out of your schedule and come check this unit out. They’re lightning quick. They’ll hit you in the mouth. And, they just might be one of the five to 10 best defenses in the entire state of Indiana. That’s how good Triplett, Wozniak, Hurt and all these guys are. Points aren’t going to be easy to come by.

3. Will the Wolves be even hungrier and able to manage such high expectations? Last season was the best Michigan City has ever had on the gridiron. Mason expects the best from his team. They came within a score of playing for a state title last season in a monsoon on the road and much of that talent has returned. There’s no reason to think this team can’t win the DAC and won’t be playing around Thanksgiving if they’re healthy across the board and playing up to capabilities.

4. Speaking of health, the injury bug bit the Wolves down the stretch of their fantastic season a year ago. Robinson, Jr. was lost with a knee injury for much of the season. Former All-DAC offensive lineman and current Western Michigan freshman Braden Fiske had back issues, forcing Mason to move productive defensive lineman Oscar Potts from one line to the other. It’s clear the Wolves have an array of talent. Can they avoid more key injuries?

5. We know the Wolves can and want to throw the football, but with four returning starters on the offensive line, can they find a strong balance with their running game to complement the passing attack? The Wolves showed a few different options on the ground behind Hayman against New Prairie in their tune-up before Week 1 (including Hayman himself when plays broke down). If they find themselves in situations like in Kokomo last November in the pouring rain for example, will they be able to win in other ways?

2018 Schedule: Aug. 17: at Griffith, 7 p.m., Aug. 24: Homewood-Flossmoor (Ill.), 7 p.m., Aug. 31: at Chesterton*, 7 p.m., Sept. 7: Valparaiso*, 7 p.m., Sept. 14: at Merrillville*, 7 p.m., Sept. 21: Lake Central*, 7 p.m., Sept. 28: at Portage*, 7 p.m., Oct. 5: La Porte*, 7 p.m., Oct. 12: Crown Point*, 7 p.m. (* = Duneland Athletic Conference game)

Bottom line: Scrimmage or not, I came away impressed with Michigan City last Friday. The defense will certainly be the crown jewel of this team. The speed that unit has across the board is just scary, then you add in their physicality up front with a guy like Wozniak playing a full season off the edge. They’re well-coached and a unit that’s already jelling behind the scenes. Stability offensively is the main question mark with this team. Hayman’s not the biggest guy, but he’s a hungry kid, whether it’s baseball or football. You can definitely sense this bunch is motivated. They’re ready to go. The hype train is running 100 miles per hour as we speak, but this team could do some special things this season. You can just sense it.

-- Michael Whitlow

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