WATERLOO — DeKalb has a lot of momentum coming into the 2019 season. It won four of its last six games in 2018, the two losses were by a touchdown or less, and the majority of its roster returns.
The Barons finished the regular season with a winning record for the first time since 2008, and their season could have been extended if a two-point conversion had gone their way in the first round of their Class 4A sectional game against East Noble.
Leading the DeKalb offense will be a combination of junior Corey Price or senior Evan Eshbach, who transferred in from Wawasee during the middle of last school year. Price came on late last year, spelling Kyle Dunham at times, but he was used more as a runner than a thrower. In 2018 for the Warriors, Eshbach threw for 2,052 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I think those two have been good teammates to each other. They support each other. I think the guys around them have the same influence,” DeKalb head coach Pete Kempf said. “They both offer a different skill set.”
Kempf saw improvements made by both quarterbacks during the offseason, which could make the decision to start either one more difficult.
“I’ve been impressed with Corey’s improvement in throwing the ball on time and his location. He’s made some great throws this summer that last year he wouldn’t make. With Evan, seeing him for the first time in the offseason in the spring and summer, there’s a lot of what we thought he could deliver. He’s also a lot more athletic than he came in being kind of built in. He’s put on 10 pounds of muscle already,” Kempf said.
Whoever takes the snap for the Barons will have the option of handing it off to either Landon Miller or Tanner Jack. Like the quarterbacks, both running backs offer different styles. Miller, the bigger back of the two, isn’t afraid to run through potential tacklers, while Jack is a speedster who can break off big gains.
Last season, the Barons also had Jon Bell to take some of the touches. But with Bell graduating, it will be up to Miller and Jack to carry the load this year. Both were top-10 rushers in the Northeast 8 Conference last year. Jack rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns, and Miller gained 534 yards and seven scores.
Up front, Tylar Pomeroy and Hoyt Stafford return and both have offers to play at the next level after this upcoming season. Around them will be Logan Dallas, Jacob Leming, Tyson Conley and Trestan Kern all competing for three spots. All four would add to the size of the offensive line, which will be bigger than last year’s dominant unit.
Defensively, the Barons were No. 1 in the NE8 in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense.
Kempf said that quite a few linemen can play both ways because of the amount of talent they have on both lines.
Miller was in the top 10 in the conference in total tackles (58) and tackles for loss (9). Behind Miller are a plethora players with varsity experience and should keep this unit near the top of the conference, including Dominic Blevins, Jase Griffith, Carter Miller, Kai Zacharias, Ethan Brown, Jarrett McNamara and Nate Turnbull.
Newcomers to the defense are Nate Williams and Isaiah Hamblin.
“If we can solidify the secondary, prevent big plays from happening more than once or twice a game, our defense can be very solid again, because we return a lot of Friday night experience,” Kempf said.
DeKalb will open the season at home against Angola Friday at 7 p.m. Since beating Angola in sectionals in 2015, the Barons have lost three straight against the Hornets. The season opener is a key game for every team in the state. But for DeKalb, it will set the tone for the rest of the season.