On its fourth coach in seven years, Northern Vance entered last season with fingers crossed for the best-case scenario and bracing for the worst that comes with so much turnover.
The turnaround was one not even coach Cory Lea saw coming.
The Vikings went 5-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs. All of a sudden, it’s hard to temper expectations in Northern Vance’s last year in 3A before realignment kicks in.
“Just being able to win more games in that season than they had been able to in the last four combined – that was way beyond our expectations,” Lea said. “Realistically we were looking at doing no worse than they were the year before (2-9).”
What are the team strengths? Weaknesses?
The Vikings are athletic, and the speed on defense helps make up for a lack of size. Only one lineman from last year weighs more than 200 pounds.
Who are some players to watch?
Lefty Elijah Stewart moves from wide receiver to quarterback, where he’s coached by former N.C. State four-year starter Jamie Barnette. He’ll have many sure-handed receivers to choose from in Jeremee Silvers, Keon Fogg and Julye’jawhan Boyd. Hunter Pruitt did well as a freshman starting at center.
On defense, tackle Todd McKoon plays bigger than his 5-foot-7, 165-pound frame. Nick Kearney and Tevin Wimbush stand out in the 4-2-5 look.
The Vikings also have one of the best kickers and punters in the state in Brooks Faulkner.
“I have no doubt Brooks will have to abandon soccer after this year (because he’ll) get a football scholarship,” Lea said. “I’ve seen Brooks kick (a field goal) from 55 (yards away).”
What led to the turnaround?
The Vikings players bought in and everything stems from that. Northern Vance was great in rush defense and got gutsy play from quarterback Kris Haywood.
“We came in with a pretty definite vision of what we wanted to do,” Lea said. “We did a really good job of winning games we were supposed to win, being able to raise some eyebrows in games we knew there were going to be challenges. The only game we just laid an egg was at Orange (48-0 loss).”
More on the Vikings
Last year: 5-6 (2-4 Big 8 3A)
Five year average: 2-9 (1-5)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Offense: Multiple spread
Coaches: Cory Lea (Head coach/Off. coordinator), Darry Ragland (assistant head coach), Antwain Cook (Def. coordinator/DL), Jamie Barnette (QB), Lee Wood (RB), Tony Mitchell (OL), William Boyd (DL), Lloyd Watkins (ILBs), Michael Rice (junior varsity/OLBs), Michael Schatz (DBs), James Clauberg (DBs), Jamal Bullock (DBs)
Contributors: Elijah Stewart (Jr. QB/WR), Jonathan Simmons (Sr., RB), Jameel Johnson (Jr., RB), Jeremee Silvers (Jr., WR), Keon Fogg (Sr., WR), Julye’jawhan Boyd (Sr., WR), Hunter Pruitt (Soph., OL), Dylan Robertson (Sr., OL), Nyke Ricks (Sr., DL), Todd McKoon (Sr., DL), Nick Kearney (Jr., LB), Tevin Wimbush (Jr., LB/S), Savion Mitchell (Jr., DB), Mikel Brown (Jr., CB), Brooks Faulkner (Sr., K/P)
The main number: 4 – the Vikings won just four games in the previous four seasons combined before going 5-6 in Lea’s first year.
Aug. 19 at East Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. vs. Warren County, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 1# vs. Southern Vance, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 vs. Bunn, 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 16 at Carrboro, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23 at J.F. Webb , 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* at Southern Durham, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7* vs. Orange, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14* vs. Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 BYE
Oct. 28* at Northwood, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* vs. Cedar Ridge, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game; #Thursday game.