Carmel's switch merits a good look
Take a look.
And a second look.
And maybe a third and fourth.
If you've followed Lake County high school football in the past, it might take you that long to realize that you're looking at the Carmel football team.
"You won't recognize us this year," longtime Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. "I'd say people will be a little shocked with what we're going to do."
Carmel, which finished 5-5 last season, is going to be transitioning from its well-recognized run-heavy option offense that has been in place for nearly two decades to a more pass-friendly spread offense.
Because Bitto believes he's got the quarterback to do it.
And this quarterback, Athan Kalikmanis, is just a freshman.
And yet, "He's the best thrower I've ever seen in the high school ranks," Bitto said of Kalikmanis.
"When we committed to the option in 2000, people thought we were nuts," Bitto said. "But we've won 70 percent of our games since then. And even then, each year, we would still look to change up about 20 percnet of what we do, just to (keep it fresh). Well, we have changed way more than that for this year.
"You've got to change with what you have."
Kalikmanis is young, turning only 14 the day before Carmel's first game. But he is already a good size at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds and, according to Bitto, he seems to have a confidence and moxie that is usually reserved for upperclassmen.
"I've never had anyone this young start for me," Bitto said of Kalikmanis. "But he's earned it. It's not like we magically gave this to him. He has surpassed other kids pretty quickly. He is incredibly knowledgeable of the game. He's very accurate and he just throws the ball so well. I think he's going to be able to cause a lot of problems for defenses."
Not to say that Carmel's running game still won't do the same.
The Corsairs won't forget about the run, not when they have the likes of Zaire Barnes, Sean Lynch and Myles Tramill in the backfield. All three are returning senior starters, and Barnes has committed to Western Michigan after receiving multiple Division I offers.
Barnes was the team's leading rusher last season, but after star running back Rondel Jamison went down with a football injury midway through the season, Lynch stepped up and gave a spark. He finished with 10 touchdowns over just the final four games of the season.
"I just knew he would do a good job," Bitto said of Lynch. "He's tough and strong and such a great slasher."
The offense also returns starter Shaneal Greene at wide receiver, an Illinois State commit, along with linemen Brandon Evans, John Ivan and Jalen Snell.
Defensively, Carmel returns six starters, including linebackers Jake Cerwin, Trey Resetich and Jimmy Harvey.
Barnes will double up and also play safety, joining fellow returning safety Jonathan Young, and Ivan will also go both ways on the line and play noseguard.
While depth might sometimes be a concern with only 47 players on the varsity roster, leadership shouldn't. Bitto says he has been very impressed with the seniors.
"Number 1, to accept that you have a freshman quarterback could be hard for a bunch of seniors. But they have been great and they have done a great job with him," Bitto said. "Also, these seniors have a lot of winning experience. They were 8-1 as freshmen. I think that has translated into great attitudes and some very good leadership."