For more on prep football, follow The News-Sentinel staff and The Pig on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ThePig_ns
A year from now, local high school football teams will have new living arrangements, new friends and new rivals.
Carroll and Homestead will leave the Northeast Hoosier Conference and move into the Summit Athletic Conference. Leo will bolt from the Allen County Athletic Conference and join Huntington North in whatever they're calling the remodeled NHC. It'll be fun.
But what about the here and now, before the move?
That's a bit awkward.
“I have a lot of NHC history; I played at Carroll,” East Noble coach Luke Amstutz said during Media Day on Friday at North Side High. “It really saddens me. I'm distraught we're breaking it up. I love our rivalry with Carroll so much and I love playing Homestead, but it is what it is. People a lot smarter than me make those decisions. We'll let them make those decisions and we'll show up and play.”
Carroll and Homestead didn't have much choice in the matter. The NHC decided to dissolve and reorganize without them. (Don't call us; we'll not call you.) So Carroll and Homestead are building new condos in the SAC. Leo found the invitation to step into one of those NHC gaps too enticing to pass up, and ended its decades-long ACAC affiliation. Huntington North is able to pull itself into a more geographically suitable conference.
So now we're faced with the long goodbye, with one last go-round in their current conferences.
All three Allen County teams would love to take a trophy with them as they move on. All three have a shot at doing so, too.
“It's a final chapter,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman said. “We're closing the chapter on one phase and opening another. Our kids are excited.”
Carroll coach Doug Dinan said he hasn't mentioned a single word to his team about wanting to win the last NHC title, since his focus is on building for the postseason. But his players know the scenario. They know the other NHC schools' push to separate from the larger-enrollment Carroll and Homestead schools was part of the reason for the change.
Carroll has never won the NHC football title, although the Chargers tied for second each of the last three seasons. Despite losing star Justin Tranquill to a new injury, the returning players enter 2014 with spirits high.
“We're looking to go out with a bang,” Carroll senior lineman Ammon Carr said. “Not only our class, but the whole school. …We're looking to finish this season dominating the NHC.”
Homestead, which has won or shared 16 titles in 25 years of the NHC, would love to claim some final going-away hardware as an exclamation point on its conference run. The offense returns quarterback Logan Ormsby and four standout wide receivers (Ben Skowronek, Austin Krider, Carlos Sanchez and John Lark), so a title isn't farfetched.
“We'll be talking about it; we hope that's the case,” Zolman said. “We hope we're contenders. There are a lot of good teams in the conference, a lot of good players.”
Leo, meanwhile, has an affiliation with the ACAC that goes back to the beginning of time, or at least before the advent of personal computers.
While the school has outgrown some of the smaller foes of the ACAC, it won't be easy to put years and years of tradition behind after this season.
County rivalries with Heritage and Woodlan will come to an end after this season, as Leo will not have either school on its non-conference schedule in 2015 or 2016.
“It's kind of bittersweet because we've been in it so long,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “We've always had a pretty good relationship with the other county schools and coaches. To think about not playing Woodlan again or Heritage again is tough. They've always been on our schedule and they're great schools with good people in those communities.”
Nothing last forever, not even the tradition-rich landscape of high school football.
“We would love to be the last NHC football champions,” said New Haven coach Jim Rowland, whose team won its first-ever title last season. “There's a long road ahead. It'll be a competitive year like it always is in the NHC. But it's something we'd love to have.”
Make sure to get out this season for the end of a Friday night rivalry era, whether it's Carroll vs. New Haven, Leo vs. Adams Central, Homestead vs. Norwell or some other soon-to-be-lost-forever matchup.
Times are changing. Whoever takes a conference title this season will earn one that can never be claimed the same way again.