By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Jerian Beard might be the best-kept secret in Indiana.
The Anderson senior begins his third year as the starting running back coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,171 yards on 155 carries and scored 17 touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 347 yards and five scores.
Indiana, Ball State and the University of Indianapolis have shown some level of interest in his services for next fall. Still, somehow, his name remains relatively unknown outside of the city limits.
“In my opinion, he’s probably one of the top five backs in the state,” Indians head coach Randy Albano said.
Beard was diagnosed with diabetes in January shortly after helping the Anderson boys basketball team win the Madison County championship. A role player in that sport, he believed his real test with the disease would come on the football field.
So far, so good.
“He’s doing real well,” Albano said. “He had a good offseason. He’s a lot stronger than last year, a lot faster. I think he can match what he did last year and a little better. He’s going to have a good year.”
Despite heavy losses from a team that finished 4-6 in 2012, the prognosis for the Tribe as a whole is similarly positive.
Anderson opens the season Friday at Fort Wayne Wayne, an athletic team that paid its dues with young players in the past two seasons and could be ready for a breakout campaign. And IHSAA realignment that created a new Class 6A and left the Indians in 5A did little to help the team’s postseason chances.
Anderson was assigned to a sectional that pairs it with four of the state’s top 20 teams in The Associated Press preseason poll — No. 1 Indianapolis Cathedral, No. 4 Zionsville, No. 12 Decatur Central and No. 17 Richmond.
But the Tribe believes it can contend in the North Central Conference, where the Red Devils and No. 13 Kokomo are the preseason favorites. Anderson beat the Wildkats 41-33 in the final week of the regular season last year and played Richmond tough in a 47-34 loss in Week 3.
The Indians play both conference rivals at Collier Field this year.
“They feel like they’re gonna win every game,” Albano said of his players. “We were disappointed last year being 4-6.”
Defense often let Anderson down in 2012. The Tribe surrendered 40 or more points five times and allowed an average of 34.5 points per game. Much of that was the result of poor coverage in the passing game, but that’s an area in which the Indians believe they have improved.
Junior Alonzo West returns as the starting free safety, and he’ll be joined by Logan Thrush who was injured in last season’s opener. Beard and Nigel Simmons will be the starting cornerbacks.
“We feel like we’re a little bit deeper at corner than we have been,” Albano said.
The Tribe is also a little beefier on the defensive line with 6-foot-2, 330-pound nose guard Khalil Wilson leading the way. Sophomore Bryant White also is expected to make an impact at outside linebacker.
There is some concern at inside linebacker — where both starters graduated — and with an offensive line that will have just one returning starter Friday.
Center Weston Bell was injured on the first day of contact in practice, and the team also will be without its starting right tackle.
If the reconfigured line holds up, it will be a boon to several highly-touted skill position players.
“Our skill guys are as good as we’ve ever had,” Albano said.
Gavin Owens takes over at quarterback for four-year starter Curtis Wilson. He is a dual-threat runner and passer who is coming off an ankle injury on the junior varsity last year.
Owens’ targets will include wide receivers Brandon Chapman and West as well as tight end Robbie Peel. Anderson also is looking for big things from sophomore transfer Kassius Swain, a wide receiver/defensive back who moved in from Georgia and is still learning the system.
Swain is the nephew of former Indians quarterback and 2001 Herald Bulletin Offensive Player of the Year Maurice Swain.
In his fourth season at Anderson, and 26th overall, Albano feels as though the program is heading in the right direction.
“I just think the kids feel like they can play with anybody,” he said. “And you can’t really beat that.”