Uncharted territory

Published 1:32 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS MULTITALENTED: Tailback and linebacker Rockne Butler lays down a block in practice on Tuesday.

MULTITALENTED: Tailback and linebacker Rockne Butler lays down a block in practice on Tuesday.

Boyd’s Panthers team unlike any he’s ever coached

PINETOWN — The south side and north side of the county have always produced two different styles of athletes and, subsequently, two opposing styles of football.

Traditionally, according to Seahawk head coach Jeff Carrow, the Chocowinity-Aurora area is known for small, agile athletes with good speed. Southside rarely gets the tall, built athletes, although linemen Austin Jordan and Josh Crance seem to contradict that stereotype this year.

In the Pinetown-Yeatesville-Bath area, Panthers head coach Keith Boyd says size sustainable for a Class 1-A team has always been abundant. It’s customarily been the lively, versatile playmaker he’s lacked. But this year’s team is different than any Boyd has ever coached.

Gone is Chowan prospect Dale Russ, who carried the offensive and defensive line and was the team’s undisputed leader. Northside also no longer has the luxury of Antonio “Bootman” Woods at fullback. Woods, a 6-1, muscle-bound back, was able to plow his way through opposing defenses and open up pockets in the defense.

“Antonio leaves us with hard shoes to fill. It’s hard to replace a guy with his size and strength,” Boyd said. “We have some guys, we’re just going to try to treat that position a little differently this year. We don’t have anybody who we can plug right back in to his position with his credentials. So we’re going to hit the edges a little more and maybe not be such a pound and ground team. We’re not getting away from that, but we just don’t have that kind of guy leading us on the blocks like that.”

Coming off its best record in a decade, Northside’s personnel change is drastic on paper. Boyd admits running an identical style of offense as last year, which had Malik Slade at quarterback, would be unwise and potentially detrimental. So, he’s opening the playbook and customizing it to fit his playmakers. And while not as physically intimidating as Woods or Russ, guys like Noel Howson, Colby Woolard and Rockne Butler are showing off their athleticism and positional flexibility in practice.

Above all else, this team is battle tested. The group of nine freshmen who were on an understaffed 0-9 team four years ago is now a bunch of seasoned veterans ready to propel Northside to a winning record.

“I’ve never had a team quite this fast, but I’ve never had a team quite this small,” Boyd said. “It’s uncharted waters for me. We’ve always been big, but not fast. Now, we don’t have the size, but it’s more speed then we’ve ever had. Athletically, it could be the best team I’ve ever had. Now, is that going to ring true on Friday nights on the scoreboard? It just depends what everyone else has got.”

The Pam Pack defensive line, made up of Tyler Dugger, Caleb Alligood and Ikeem Thompson is one of the smallest in the Coastal Plains Conference, but Boyd believes they compensate for weight with physicality and athleticism. All three, including Dugger, who Boyd sees as the closest choice to replace Russ this season, need to hold off opposing offenses just long enough for Northside to execute its double-wing attack. On the offense line, which will consist of Jacob Boyd, Colby Woolard and Caleb Alligood with Reggie Slade and James Barrow at tight end and fullback, respectively, is no bigger, but explosive in nature. That aspect of the line alone is enough for Boyd to be optimistic heading into next week.

“We’re going to try to hit the edges,” Boyd said. “We’re not big upfront, but we feel like we can sustain blocks for a little bit to give us some creases. If we get into the second or third levels, we have guys that can make people miss and get it in the end zone. “

Northside is injecting speed into every aspect of the game. Cornerback Kermani Slade, arguably the fastest guy on the roster, and Howson will be responsible for returning kicks. It’s rare you see a quarterback awaiting a kickoff, but Boyd sees Howson as a multipurpose, multitalented commodity.

Northside will try to outhustle and outsmart every team it matches up against. The season will come down to whether or not the Panthers’ athleticism can trump the oppositions’ size.