A young Northside football team will rely on size and strength in 2018

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, August 2, 2018

After a summer full of wind sprints in the heat and humidity, lifting weights and working on football basics, the 2018 high school football preseason finally began on Monday. Having lost 18 seniors to graduation, Northside finds itself with a young squad, but one the coaching staff believes will improve as the team plays and gains more experience.

“We’ve got about five or six seniors out of about 50 kids,” Northside head coach Keith Boyd said. “We’re going to be young but we feel like we can get better as the season goes on.”

Among the 18 players who’ve moved on, many played skilled positions. As a result, the Panthers lost a lot of offensive production — 1,966 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns to be precise.

But while a lot of productive runners are no longer with the program, Northside’s leading rusher from last year, Johnathan Clark, is back. The senior, who ran for 728 yards with four touchdowns and averaged 7.7 yards per carry, is the only returning running back who was given substantial carries last year and, as a result, will be leaned on this upcoming season.

As one of the few players with considerable experience, Clark will have more responsibilities on the field on both sides of the ball.

“We’re going to spread him around a little bit. He’s going to be at some wing, he’ll take some snaps at times. But we’re also going to be asking him to go on the defensive side and be our call safety, be our middle safety,” Boyd said. “We’re going to be asking a lot of the young man but we feel like with him being the only one with a whole lot of experience back there, as far as our specialty players go, that we have to lean on him a little bit.”

PLAY-ACTION FAKE: Carter Boyd fakes a handoff to Fred Taylor in practice. A junior, Boyd is the Panthers’ starting quarterback this season, and Taylor, a sophomore, will split time at fullback with Omari Crandell. (Sean Finnerty | Daily News)

Along with Clark, Northside will look to junior Zakkai Wilson to contribute on both sides of the ball this season. The nephew of former Northside, East Carolina and NFL player C.J. Wilson, Zakkai will feature as a running back and a defensive end after playing some on the defensive line last year, according to Boyd.

At 6 feet, 2 inches and 190 pounds, Wilson’s running style fits with what the Panthers plan to do in the running game.

“For us, a 4.7 (40-yard dash time) is a quick guy. (Wilson runs a) 4.7, 4.8, but a big body, he’s hit the weight room,” Boyd said. “We’re not going to be silky with our cuts and stuff like that, but we’re going to have some strong kids in the backfield. Maybe not quite as much speed, but if we can ever square up and get downhill, we feel like that’s our best chance to win.”

But while Northside has very little returning at the skill positions, its offensive line looks to be a unit with depth and experience. Boyd said last season the offensive line was forced to play with young and inexperienced players, but now it’s the opposite.

Boyd pointed to Samuel Arias and Parker Alligood as two returning linemen who’ve put the work in and look primed to be key players.

“(Arias and Alligood) have hit that weight room and I’ll tell you what, they’ve gotten bigger and stronger,” Boyd said. “They’re two of our five seniors but they’re up front on the offensive line and we’re going to lean on them a lot. They’re going to have to go both ways.”

The Panthers might have a young squad lacking in experience, but that doesn’t mean they’re lacking an identity in how they want to play.

“We’re not extremely fast but we’ve got a little size and we’re strong. So we’re hoping to play some defensive football on the offensive side. Take three yards and be happy,” Boyd said. “We’re not going to be really flashy but we’re hoping to use our size and strength, and maybe we can outmuscle some people. If we can’t do that, we’re not going to win many.”