High School Football

For Vikings, season opener a time to get rid of the 'butterflies'

by Doug Gorman

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Senior Tyler Rowland returns as the Vikings' starting quarterback heading into tonight's opener.

Northgate football coach Tommy Walburn is anxious to see if his team can carry over the momentum from last week's scrimmage victory against Veterans into tonight's season opener at home with Shaw at Henry Seldon Field.

There's good reason for Walburn to feel optimistic heading into his sixth season at the helm of the Vikings and 14th as a head coach.

Each year, the feeling remains the same for that first official kickoff under the lights.

'It hasn't changed since that first year I was a head coach,' Walburn said. 'The guy who gave me my first job told me when you quit feeling excited about the job, you need to get on out of it. I still get butterflies, but my butterflies come from the preparation. The butterflies go away once the game starts. We as a staff have to have a level head to make decisions once the game season starts.'

Northgate certainly has reason to feel optimistic heading into tonight following last Friday's scrimmage against Veterans. The Vikings outscored an opponent that went 8-4 last year by a 28-14 margin.

'I think we might have come out with a little deer in the headlights early, especial ly with some of our younger guys, but we have made some adjustments,' Walburn said.

'Overall I was pleased with it, but we weren't perfect, but then again, I don't think anybody is perfect. There are not many teams playing their best ball right now.'

Shaw enters at 0-1 following a disappointing 40-21 loss at Luella, which used a ground game to battle back from early deficits of 7-0 and 14-7. The Lions scored 12 unanswered points in the third to pull ahead for good.

Northgate may hope to use the same formula tonight with a wing-T attack led by key returners including senior quarterback Tyler Rowland and running backs Kevin Teasley and Ton Evans.

Standout junior linebacker James Skalski managed to work his way into the offense in last week's scrimmage in a change of pace as a fullback.

Last season, Teasley averaged 5.5 yards per carry and rushed for 470 yards and two touchdowns, while Evans, averaged 11.1 as a freshman in 2013.

Shaw counters with a group of athletes capable of improving on last year's 4-6 record.

'They always have good athletes,' Walburn said. 'They really scare me on offense. They run a spread no huddle [and] call it from the line. Their quarterback is very quick and can make you miss. They have some really tall wide receivers.'

Defensively, the Vikings counter with a group that includes Skalski and converted offensive lineman Kyle Feldbauer at linebacker. A junior, Skalski has already fielded multiple Division I offers after leading last year's lineup with 112 tackles. The starting punter and kicker is equally consistent, having booted a game-winning field goal against Union Grove last year.

Feldbauer has move into one of the linebacker spots after playing primarily on offense last season, but Walburn admits it might be his natural spot on the football field.

Northgate may want to control the clock, not only to keep Shaw's offense off the field, but avoid challenging a solid group of defensive backs led by seniors David Whitehead (6-0, 170) and Quinard Thomas (5-11, 180) as well as sophomore Tyrone Davis (6-0, 170).

'Defensively, I am impressed with their secondary,' Walburn said.

While avoiding costly penalties through most of last week's scrimmage, Northgate turned the ball over four times against Veterans. The Vikings also got to put some of their inexperienced sophomores and juniors into a Friday night environment under the lights - something Walburn said is always good in a game that doesn't count.

'We got to wet our whistle a little bit last week but it was a more of a controlled situation,' he said. 'But there won't be any controlled situations in this one, no gentleman's agreement tonight.'

The Raiders program has hit bumpier times over the past seven years after winning at least 10 games during a span from 1999-2007 when Walburn faced it head-on during his head coaching days at Troup.

'We are worried about them, but we are more concerned about us.' he said. 'We are going to do what we do. It's the only thing you can control.'



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