Northern has developed a rhythm over the past three years that it hopes will stop soon.
It goes like this: First, play the toughest nonconference schedule of any Triangle football team. Then, finish top-three in the PAC-6 and earn a low seed in the playoffs, where yet another tough nonconference opponent awaits.
Making the playoffs is good, but starting back-to-back seasons 0-6 has worn thin (the Knights are credited with going 1-5 last year after Greensboro’s Dudley High forfeited an undefeated season).
It gets no easier this year, but third-year coach R.J. Wilson will get to see just how good his team can be. If the Knights avoid another 0-for start, they might be good enough to contend for a conference championship.
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“The schedule’s not going to get any easier for us,” Wilson said. “We just have to start playing better and performing up to our opponents.”
Last year’s nonconference teams – if you count Dudley 11-0 instead of 0-11 – finished a combined 63-15. This year’s schedule features Fayetteville’s Seventy-First, Orange, Millbrook, Holly Springs and Southern, which went 54-13 last year.
Before Dudley’s forfeits, Northern opponents last season finished first, first, second, second, second and fourth in their respective leagues. This year’s were first, first, second, second and sixth.
Wilson has a roster full of seniors who played varsity as sophomores. Northern returns five offensive starters and seven on defense. The Knights – on a five-year playoff streak – were solid on defense, holding five teams to 22 points or fewer.
This could be the Knights’ breakout year. Northern has not won a conference title since 2004, its last in a streak of winning 20 league titles in 21 years. Or, the improvement may not show on the scoreboard each week.
“That’s one of the things that we have to coach against,” Wilson said. “Our expectations are to go out there and to win. We have a lot of guys with experience who have been through losing to these teams. We have to teach ourselves how to win.”
“Each name on that schedule is going to sound tough, but there used to be a time when they saw Northern on the schedule they would’ve thought the same thing.”
Contributors: QB Luke Fenlon; RB Domineke McNeil; WRs Johnathan Branch, Denzel Green and Cade Barnhill; OLs Blane Latta, Devin Mills, Andrew Eisenson and Lee Rodio; DL/TE Carl Fowler; DL Phillip Bell; LBs Demazio Samuel and Laurance Shaw; LB/TE Dallas Watson; DBs Khamauri Burton, Chris Singleton and Ankhenaten Martin.
Expected team strength: Linebackers.
Question mark: Kicking game.
Player they’ll miss the most: OL Trayon Smith. Smith was an N.C. Coaches Association East All-Star.
The main number: 15 – consecutive on-field losses, including playoffs, to nonconference opponents.
The quote: Wilson on Eisenson: “Nobody works harder than him. We have to pull him out of the weight room.”
Game to watch: Sept. 25 at Riverside. This rivalry game will have a major say in who finishes top-three in the conference.
Last five years
2014: 5-7 (4-1), 4A first round
2013: 3-9 (3-2), 4A first round
2012: 6-5 (4-2), 4A first round
2011: 4-6-1 (4-2), 4A first round
2010: 5-7 (4-2), 4A first round
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