High School Football
Full steam ahead: Vikings putting losing season in rear-view mirror
by Doug Gorman
Northgate football coach Tommy Walburn has been around the game long enough to know how vital the off-season, especially the summer, can be when it comes to getting ready for the upcoming fall.
The Vikings began practice on Monday in shorts and helmets with more than 80 varsity players out for the first two-hour afternoon session, and the veteran coach, who is about to go into his sixth season at Northgate, likes what he sees.
“We have really good numbers out here, and everybody is working really hard,” he said. “I really like our enthusiasm.”
One of the things Walburn won’t have to worry about as the team moves into full pads today in preparation for the season opener at home against Shaw on Aug. 29 is finding a new quarterback.
Tyler Rowland won the job the second week of the 2013 season and comes back with a year of experience under is belt.
It’s the first time in three years there won’t be a competition at Northgate to find who lines up under center.
“That is a plus for us,” he said. “He has a year of experience under his belt and that is only going to help.”
Rowland threw for 466 yards and Quarterbacks coach Justin Crews works with a pair of Vikings during Thursday’s practice.
four touchdowns when he became the third starting quarterback at Northgate in as many seasons.
He comes back for his junior year about 40 pounds stronger.
“He has done a great job in the weight room,” Walburn said. “He is becoming a leader. He has improved his speed. That is going to help us offensively. He might not be Michael Vick, but I feel like we can do some different things because of him.”
There is also some talent behind Rowland at quarterback. Terrence Carter, who played the position in middle school before being moved to wide receiver and defensive back, has shifted back to quarterback while join- ing incoming freshman Kyle McLaren.
McLaren led Madras to a county title last season.
There is also depth at running back including Kevin Teasley who was the Vikings’ third leading rusher a year ago with 470 yards and two touchdowns.
Ton Evans also had a breakout fresh- man year and rushed for 411 yards and scored three times.
“I think what has hurt us the last couple of years is just our front line is pretty good, but there has been a lack of depth,” Walburn said. “We have more depth now than we have had since I have been here.”
The Vikings only have two seniors on defense, but they return with plenty of experience including juniors James Skalski and Ryan Feldbauer who will secure the linebacker spots.
Skalski was second on the team in tackles last year with 112.
Walburn admits he and the coaching staff will know more once the team puts the pads starting today.
“That kind of separates the men from the boys,” Walburn said. “We don’t expect to lose anybody,” he said.”We have been working hard in the off-season.”
“The Vikings went through some growing pains last year, only posting a 4-6 record and missing out on the playoffs when they lost a play-in game to Mundy’s Mill in the 10th week of the season, but the Northgate is ready to move past last year’s campaign.
“We have put all that in the rearview mirror, Walburn said.”
Despite reclassification, Northgate stays put in a 13-team Region 4-AAAAA alignment. But some of the region opponents have changed.
Northgate’s subregion returns McIntosh and Starr’s Mill, but equally adds Morrow, Mundy’s Mill, Forest Park, and Drew out of Clayton. They will also play Woodland-Stockbridge in a Region 4-AAAAA crossover-game.
State playoff positions will again be decided by a region play-in game during the final week of the regular season. One change, though, will have subregion leaders going head-to-head for a true region championship.
“Every year I have been here, we have played that last region game where it means something,” Walburn said. “Even if we lost, we were at least playing to get in the state playoffs. I feel like if you are in a subdivided region, and you are the top seed, you should be playing for something. The travel schedule should be a little less hectic the next two years too after picking up Shaw and Troup among non- region games. The opener against Shaw is set for Aug. 29 at Henry Seldon Field.
“We are glad the subregion is on this side of Interstate 85,” Walburn said. ”It’s hard to get over the Interstate 75 on a Friday night. Until you have tried to do it, you don’t understand.”
The Vikings short-term goals are just to get better each day.
“We have a really good bunch of sophomores and they are going to have to step up,” Walburn said.