"He works extremely hard in the offseason," said Merrell. "He's confident. He believes in himself. He's going to go hard every play."
And he's going to have plenty of help corralling opposing ball carriers. Fellow senior and linebacker Jared Wheeler just missed the 100-tackle mark last season, racking up 95. And strong safety Kenny Wooldridge (who also is a standout at receiver and handles the punting for the Crusaders) logged 62 stops.
For all the upperclassmen leading the defense, CHA's offense will be piloted by a sophomore. However, Bryant Hodge got a wealth of experience as a freshman. The 5-9, 155-pounder accounted for 1,403 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns.
The Crusaders are jumping up to 2A from Class A, where they went 5-5 last season. CHA ended the season winning five of its last seven games and closed with a two-game winning streak in which the Crusaders scored a combined 75 points.