Prep Football: Vikings out to prove themselves again in 2012By DOUG GORMAN
Northgate football coach Tommy Walburn can almost feel the energy pouring out of the Vikings’ locker room now that the team has begun practicing in shorts and helmets.
There’s reason for all the optimism.
Still, Walburn is trying to convince this year’s roster to put last year’s collection of accolades in the rearview mirror and turn their focus to the upcoming season after making the jump to Class AAAAA for the first time.
“That was then and this was now,” Walburn said. “This is a different team and a new year.”
Northgate kicks off the season on the road on Aug. 31 against Heritage of Conyers, the first of three, tough non-region opponents. The Vikings also face former 3-AAAA foe Griffin and a North Clayton team out for revenge following a 42-7 loss to the Vikings in the first round of last year’s Class AAAA state playoffs.
They aren’t having any problems getting focused.
Among the coaching staff’s top priorities this year are replacing running backs and Co-Offensive Players of the Year Alex Lakes and Payton Usher.
Lakes is headed to the Air Force Academy and Usher will join Mercer University’s new program, which will begin play next fall.
Lakes finished the year with 1,270 yards and 19 touchdowns, while Usher added 1,019 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Benton Washington and Marquis Jennings could be two of the go-to guys in the Vikings backfield this year. They are coming into the season after solid efforts during the spring.
Replacing quarterback Brett Misutka, who threw for 967 yards and 10 touchdowns, expects to be senior Josh Harrison.
Harrison also won over his teammates and coaches with a solid spring.
“We want to go out there and play well in every game,” Harrison said during spring drills. “The ultimate goal is to win the state title.”
Walburn says summer workout sessions were well attended as members of the football team showed up in big numbers.
“All you have to do is open the doors to the weight room and this team is going to show up,” Walburn said.”The thing that is so fun about coaching this team is everybody wants to participate and we have great kids."
Northgate’s defense could be a few steps ahead of the offense.
A year ago, the Vikings’ defense gave up just 11.9 points per game and most its starters return to that side of the football.
That includes three players who have already committed to Division I schools. Defensive end DeAndre Johnson has verbally committed to Georgia, defensive lineman Sean Spencer to Vanderbilt and defensive back Brandon Facyson to Virginia Tech.
“It’s great to have Division I guys,” Walburn said. “Still, not everyone can be a Division I player, but they can sure help motivate the younger guys.”
The Vikings will be part of Region 4B-AAAAA that includes Creekside, McIntosh, Starr’s Mill and Whitewater.
The other half of the subregion is made up from schools from Clayton and Henry counties — Forest Park, Mt. Zion-Jonesboro, Mundy’s Mill, Union Grove, Ola and Drew.
A year ago, Northgate’s victory over Whitewater kept the Wildcats out of the playoffs. Drew, which is in the other half of the subregion, was the only other team to make it to the playoffs. The Titans finished 7-4 and reached the state playoffs in just their second year of varsity play.