The Northern Knights lost their first five games last year and appeared headed for another disappointing season. But after getting their first win over rival Riverside on Sept. 28, Northern won six of it last seven games, including its first playoff game in 10 seasons.
That one loss was a hard-fought, 7-3 defeat at the hands of PAC-6 champion Hillside.
But Northern coach R.J. Wilson isn’t interested in any moral victories.
“It was a close ballgame last year, but sometimes close games don’t mean as much as people think that they do,” said Wilson, entering his fourth season. “And it might mean that we will have to work significantly harder to overcome that hump. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
How excited are the Knights about the playoff victory? Not even a second-round loss to D.H. Conley could dim their spirits. Wilson says, they’ve been ready to get back to work since the loss.
And with 20 returning seniors, it’s understandable the squad can’t wait to hit the gridiron.
“Once you get that taste of success, it lets everybody know that they can be successful,” Wilson said. “From the week following that loss up until now, there has been nonstop work. They had a taste and we were so close in that game, and they know they have to work that much harder to get over the hump.”
Who are some players to watch?
It all starts with the signal-caller, and senior quarterback Luke Fenlon gives Northern veteran experience at the helm. Fenlon will be starting his third season at quarterback.
Joining him in the backfield are senior running backs Jaylan Burton, who’s hard to tackle, and De’shi Atkins, who can run over the best defensive lineman.
Veterans Carl Fowler, Dallas Watson and Raequan Taylor will anchor a defense that put the brakes on their opponents in the second half of last season.
Which players will they miss the most?
Domineke McNeill will be playing at Wingate, Ike Martin at UNC Pembroke and Laurance Shaw at Shaw University. Also gone are Demazio Samuel (who was a state wrestling champion,) Phillip Bell and Johnathan Branch.
Where will the team be the strongest?
Veteran leadership is key. Northern proved it could handle adversity after rebounding from a dismal start.
The Knights also remained calm in their first-round playoff game to rally to defeat East Wake, and almost upset 4A power D.H. Conley.
More on the Knights
Last year: 6-7 (5-1 PAC-6 4A), second round 4A playoffs
Five year average: 5-7 (4-2)
Preseason N&O rank: No. 14
Defense: 4-2-5, multiple
Coaches: R.J. Wilson (Head Coach, Def. Coordinator), Kerry Bacon (Off. Coordinator/QBs), Lennard Bartlett (DL), Chris Carver* (WRs), Will Cole (WRs), Ed Colson (LBs), Mike Ferguson* (RBs), Eric Ferrell* (DBs), Chris Joy* (DL), Lee Leathers* (OL), Mike Monsees* (OL), Chris Preachers (LBs), Arnold Ragland* (DBs).
Contributors: De’shi Atkins (Sr., RB), Cade Barnhill (Sr., WR), Jer’ald Brown (Jr., WR), Jaylan Burton (Sr., SB/RB), Andrew Eisenson (Sr., OG), Luke Fenlon (Sr. QB), Carl Fowler (Sr., DE/TE), Thomas Gongs (Sr., DE, LB), Jarrell Hallmon (Sr., CB), Blaine Latta (Sr., OG), Raequan Taylor (Sr., CB/WR), Dallas Watson (Sr., MLB/DT).
The main number: 20 – returning seniors who played significant minutes last season.
* Northern Durham alum.
Aug. 19 at Seventy-First, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Orange, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 , vs. Holly Springs 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 at Millbrook, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16 at Southern Durham, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23* vs. Riverside, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* at Hillside, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* vs. Jordan, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* at Person, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* vs. East Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 BYE
Nov. 4* at Cardinal Gibbons, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game.