North Raleigh Christian Academy suffered through a long 1-10 season last year, but fourth-year coach Rich Landis says the offseason wasn’t as long and discouraging as outsiders might believe.
The Knights, with a young team last year, kept their eye on the future. They have eight returning offensive starters and seven on defense.
“We were a very young and inexperienced team last year, but we obviously learned a lot going through a tough year,” Landis said. “We’re optimistic going into this season. We’re bigger and stronger and more experienced.”
Also note that the returning starters include the most important position on a football field. Quarterback Ryan Rock (6-1, 185) established himself as a team leader throughout his sophomore season.
“Ryan played all 11 games and did a good job while he learned a lot,” Landis said. “The great thing is he’s more mature mentally and physically. He continued to work hard in the offseason. Whether we’re running the ball or passing the ball, we expect to be better with Ryan running the team.”
In the Knights’ lone victory at midseason, Rock led the team to a 41-27 decision over Concord’s First Assembly.
Landis also changed the team’s offensive and defensive schemes. He feels they will better fit the program’s talent and depth. Among the eight starters, six are skill positions players at quarterback, running back (three) and wide receiver (two).
Building depth is an ongoing goal as Landis tries to increase numbers in the program that ranges from middle school through the JV team.
“We don’t have a true JV program right now,” he said. “We want to continue to grow the numbers with participation at all the levels. It’s a challenge to take this program to where we want to go, but we’re optimistic.”
The Knights play in the four-team NCISAA Big East with Wake Christian, Ravenscroft and Harrells Christian
Offense: Double wing option.
Contributors: QB Ryan Rock, RB/LB Mike Dunmire, RB/LB Parker Mayo, RB/DB Tyree Hawkins, RB Willie Norris, WR Logan Earhart, WR/DB David Kelso, OL, Kendell Mayo, OL Addison Blackwell, OL Ryan Eastman, LB Brady Forbes, DL Eli Bailey.
Expected team strength: Game experience that the upperclassmen gained last year
Question mark: Lack of depth
Player they’ll miss the most: RB Tripp Norris was a talented receiver with offers from Division III colleges, but he opted to give up football to pursue an engineering degree at N.C. State. The Norris family is still represented on the roster with younger brother Willie returning as a running back.
The main number: 6 – the losing streak the Knights need to snap.
The quote: Landis: “We don’t have a certain number as a set goal, but our team goal is to make a considerable jump in wins this year from last year.”
Game to watch: With the Knights focused on snapping their losing streak, the game to watch has to be the opener Aug. 21 at home and Concord’s Cannon School.