Hammond Golden Bears
Last year: 5-5 overall, 5-4 league.
Coach: Bill Smith, fifth season (13-27).
Last playoff appearance: 1985, lost in Class B quarterfinals.
Keep an eye on: MLB/G Brandon Flores. When Coach Bill Smith needs to find the senior captain, he knows where to go: the weight room.
"It's like the kid never leaves," he said. "He's in there before school, takes his weight training class during the day, and then he's there after school, every day. He'd be there all day if he could."
Flores did his share of heavy lifting during the offseason, throwing up a school-record 405-pound bench press as smoothly as he threw down opposing ball carriers last season, when he finished with a team-high 107 tackles.
"I'm not that big," said the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Flores. "So I better be strong."
The three-year starter hopes to improve a defense that was a weakness last year.
"I knew what was going to be expected of me, and being counted on to lead us really motivated me when I was lifting weights," said Flores, who also had three sacks and forced two fumbles last year. "I hear about us having potential all the time, and now I want for us to live up to it. I want for us to be one of the teams in the state playoffs."
For that to happen, Flores, who also starts at right guard, must make holes for senior running back B.J. Smoot (851 yards, 10 TDs) and help junior quarterback Zack Swope, the team's backup last year. He replaces senior Kevin Burnett, who has been moved to receiver alongside sophomore Bobby Kunlo and junior Pat Coppinger.
Senior Jerrel Daniel and junior Marcus Matthews will lead a young line, which also features senior Mark Greenstein and junior Mike Smeltz.
But Smith said the play of Flores -- nicknamed Tex after moving into the school district from Killeen, Tex., as an eighth-grader -- will be a decisive factor if the Golden Bears are to post their first winning record in nine years.
"He's our leader in every way: He's our strongest player, our most emotional player and our most intense player," Smith said. "A lot of what we do revolves around him."