Vikings begin drills looking to fill holes left by graduation
by DOUG GORMAN
Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn couldn't help but quote the late country music singer George Jones' classic hit 'Who's going to fill their shoes?' when referring to this year's Viking football roster.
It about sums up Northgate's most pressing needs.
It's also a question that has been on the minds' of Walburn and the entire Vikings' football community since last November when three Division I-bound players ended their Northgate careers with a 31-14 playoff loss to Harris County to end its season at 5-6.
Those players included of f en s i ve a nd de f ensive lineman Sean Spencer, who will play football at the Naval Academy, offense and defensive lineman De'Andre Johnson, who signed a letter of intent with Georgia, and Brandon Facyson, who played both wide receiver and in the secondary for the Vikings.
Al l three ea rned Al l Region 4-AAAAA honors during the 2012 campaign with Spencer overcoming season-ending injuries the previous two years to earn Al l-Region Defensive Player of the Year accolades.
'We just can't replace that size on the line and Facyson's experience and skill,' Walburn said. 'That's the nature of high school football. We are going to have to play some people who just lack experience.'
It will also be time to find a replacement for quarterback Josh Harrison.
, Walburn is conf ident the team can move past the graduation hits.
Heading into Thursday's f irst allowed practice in helmets by the GHSA, Walburn, however, was conf ident the team can move past the heavy hits from graduation as the program welcomed back 86 varsity players and another 40 to this year's freshman team.
'It never gets old,' he said about the first day of practice.
The GHSA allows twohour practices in shorts and helmets for the f irst f ive days of practice, with each player needing to complete each two-hour session to be eligible to start practice in pads on Aug. 1.
With just over a month until the Vikings' season opener on Aug. 30 at home against Heritage-Conyers, getting every player acclimated is imperative toward success.
'We have been working all summer,' Walburn said. 'What we are going to do is put in something from the special teams every day, so when we get into pads, we can be ready to go live. We are also doing a lot of fundamental work.'
It will also be a time for evaluating players at the different positions.
'When we get into pads next week, we will be one step ahead of the game,' Walburn said.
The Vikings went to a handful of passing league events this summer, including competing against East Coweta home and home.
They a l so competed aga inst LaGrange, and Lanett, Ala..
'I don't go crazy over that stuff,' he said. 'I like going because I like to see how our kids stack up against other teams. It also gives them a chance to have a little fun.'
With the quarterback job up for grabs, the passing league gave the candidates a chance to compete against some live competition, Tyler Rowland returns with the most experience. Although he is yet to start a game, the junior served as Harrison's backup last year.
He will be challenged by Bo Zachary, who transferred in from Valdosta. He is also entering his junior year.
'Both have had really good summers,' Walburn said. 'We feel like we have two really good players at the position. They will battle it out, and will see who is the best player. Whoever it is, the other is a good enough athlete they can play somewhere else.'
According to Walburn, the competition is good for the two candidates.
'In my years in coaching, no matter what position you play, if you want to get on the field, if you have somebody pushing you for playing time, it only makes you better. There is nothing worse than having a player who knows he is good, but there is nobody pushing him.'
Bryce Bates is the third candidate. Freshman Bailey Lane give the squad hope for the future.
'The only thing that we lack at quarterback is game experience,' he said. We are just looking forward to seeing how they do in pads. 'The good thing for us is we have five game before we move into the region, so we have time to figure some things out.'