Evaluation process begins as Vikings puts on pads for first time
by Doug Gorman
After five days of football practice in just shorts and helmets, the Northgate Vikings were eager to dress out in full gear Thursday evening.
It translated into a spirited two-hour practice as the team gears up for its season opener in four weeks at home against Heritage-Conyers.
Up first is a scrimmage at home against Veterans on Aug. 23.
'As far as putting on the pads, you can do a lot of things in shorts and helmets, but the game is played with pads on. We weren't going to get any better as a football team until we got out and got into full gear.'
According to Walburn the real evaluating can now begin.
'We are able to move some kids around,' he said. 'The next couple of weeks, we are going to start putting this puzzle together.'
Two area of concern for Walburn and his staff are finding replacements for four Division I signees.
Gone from the defensive and offensive line are Sean Spencer, who overcame two years of injuries as a sophomore and junior to have a stellar season last year and earn an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where he will play football for the Midshipmen.
De'Andre Johnson was also a standout on both sides of line, and signed his letter of intent to the University of Georgia.
Brandon Facyson played in the defensive backfield and at wide receiver for the Vikings before earning a scholarship to Virginia Tech.
Northgate comes into preseason drills trying to find it's third starting quarterback in three years. After waiting his turn for three seasons, Josh Harrison finally got his chance to step in under center.
Harrison might have played just one year as a starter, but he earned a Division I offer from Troy.
Now, Tyler Rowland, and Bo Zachary appear to be the front-runners to land the job.
Rowland took some snaps in a limited role last year.
Zachary moved into the Northgate district at the end of last season after playing his first two years at Valdosta.
'Both guys are great athletes,' Walburn said.
Freshman Bryce Bates is looking for playing time down the road. at quarterback.
One thing that has changed at Northgate is the way Walburn utilizes his freshman during the preseason drills.
The first-year players are practicing with the varsity in the early stages.
'I think we have a really good group of ninth graders,' Walburn said. 'They have done a really good job of participating this summer.'
It's a throwback to what Walburn use to do when he was head coach at Troup and Crisp County.
'I just want to make sure they know they are part of the team,' he said. 'We will break them off and they will practice on their own, but we might find one or two who can step in a help us right away.'
Northgate enters the year trying to improve on last year's 5-6 season. The Vikings lost in the first round of the playoffs to Harris County.