ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)– Hononegah has been on a roll in football. The Indians have won or shared the NIC-10 championship four of the last eight years. Three times in that span they went undefeated in conference play, that includes last year. So, are the Indians the team to beat again?

The first challenge for the Indians is replacing six all-conference players on their defense from last year who graduated.

“We lost a lot of guys who were big on our defense last year,” said cornerback Isaiah Houi. “We had the best defense in the conference, so that’s going to be hard to replace, but we’ve still got studs right now.”

Hononegah head coach Brian Zimmerman prefers to focus on the players who are back rather than the ones who have left. “I’m going to stay on the positive side and say the fortunate thing is we have three returning starters that were sophomores last year.”

Houi is back at cornerback. 6’2 300 pound Michael Floryance is back at nose guard, and Miles Schmidt returns at middle linebacker. Schmidt could be headed for a big year.

“He grew and was a beast in the weight room,” said Zimmerman. “I’m looking forward to see what he can do. He’s got a high motor.”

Along with Floryance, the Indians will have another player with some experience on the defensive line in senior Nick Carratt.

“I feel like we’re not replacing guys as much as we’re reloading and getting back after it,” said Zimmerman.

The Indians are reloading at quarterback with junior Cole Warren. He started a couple games last year when COVID sidelined Isaac Whisenand. Warren played very well in those two games. He finished the season with more than 400 yards passing and six touchdown passes with only one interception.

“I’m extremely comfortable with him stepping in this year,” said Zimmerman. “He’s a leader.”

“I know the speed of the game and how everything runs and stuff. I know the signals and all that,” said Warren. “I’m really just ready to hit the ground running.”

Warren will have a pair of big targets in receivers Cody Neiber and Chase Kemmet. Houi will be another target as a slot receiver. He brings the speed element to the offense.

The running back position has several candidates, but as of now no one locked-in as a starter.

“We’ve got some young juniors right now that we’re kind of rotating through two, three, four different guys to be quite honest with you,” said Zimmerman.

The Indians generally have an advantage over their opponents with big offensive linemen. They were hurt by all-conference player Jacob Klink’s decision not to come out for the team this year, but the Indians still have some size up front, just not a lot of experience or a lot of depth.

“Our depth at offensive and defensive lines is probably the only concern that I might have,” said Zimmerman. “I think we’ve got a lot of depth at the other positions.”