High School Football
Vikings ready for first official action of fall with scrimmage
by Chris Goltermann
Two straight days of rain could make any head football coach uneasy about the potential headache to one's practice schedule.
It could have been a blessing in disguise, however, for Northgate's staff.
The final two days prior to tonight's scrimmage at Veterans were as much a wash as thundershowers limited the Vikings to the gym. But in head coach Tommy Walburn's mind, even if the sun were to have come out on Wednesday or Thursday, the team was still simply 'treading water' until they got to chance to test themselves against an opponent in helmets other than those that resemble Alabama's.
Northgate should get the litmus test it hopes for while facing Veterans for the third consecutive year in the preseason, this time back at Perry High School at 7:30 p.m.
'Until we play against another opponent, see how we stack up and then come back in on Sunday and make adjustments to get ready to start our season, we're not going to get any better,' Walburn said. 'That's kind of my anxiety this time of year. I can be in the huddle and we can do do-overs, line it up and run it again. [Tonight] there won't be none of that. And next week especially there won't be.'
Elsewhere in Coweta County, the 2014 season begins for GISA schools Heritage and Trinity Christian, while Central Christian takes a 1-0 record into its second 8-man game.
The Hawks open the season under the guidance of D.J. Clay, who was named interim head coach on Monday following the unexpected resignation of Kevin Prisant.
Heritage hosts Flint River at 7:30 p.m., with the program honoring its first head coach, Ron Beaucham, as well as members of the Hawks first varsity season from 2006.
Trinity Christian travels to Dawson to face Terrell Academy. East Coweta and Newnan are off after hosting scrimmages last week.
Northgate should get the test it hopes for against a quality opponent in tonight's scrimmage. Heading into just its fifth varsity season, the Warhawks more than doubled its previous win total, finishing 8-4 under Bruce David and going 7-0 in Region 2-AAAA en route to a division title. The four losses by Veterans came against teams with a combined record of 41-10.
'They'll be one of the better teams we'll face all year long,' said Walburn, 'an old college buddy' of David's. 'We've really had a good offseason. Our players have worked hard. We've got a chance to a pretty good football team.'
A Viking team that returns the talent to be among the top challengers in subregion 4A-AAAAA this fall still expects to rely heavily on a large sophomore class, most of whom are making the transition to varsity play. It includes running back Ton Evans, who showcased his big-play abilities as a ninthgrader while gaining 411 yards and three touchdowns on 11.1 per carry.
Tonight's format will have the varsity play a live first half with only one kickoff for each team. Northgate will use the third to test its depth, especially on the front line, with a chance to players to earn time when the season starts next Friday at home against Shaw.
'I look at it like an NFL preseason game. I've tried to avoid playing a big rival on a scrimmage. We've got some goals we need to work on,' Walburn added. 'We can make these gentlemen's agreements and we're not going to deviate from the agreement.'
Freshman backup quarterback Kyle McLaren also gets his first crack at varsity play while entering the year behind second-year starter Tyler Rowland. Northgate is also taking its ninth grade backfield to get some reps in the fourth quarter.
Logistically, tonight presents as much an opportunity for Viking players to adjust to road trips, as well as more detailed oriented aspects behind the scenes.
'We've got some inexperienced players that we're counting on. You've got to learn how to pack your bag, load it on a truck, ride a bus for a couple of hours,' Walburn said. 'All those logistics. We can get all the bugs worked out.'
Rowland leads an offense including top returning backfield members Evans and senior Kevin Teasley against a Veterans defense with seven returning starters including senior tackle Jamar Simmons (6-3, 275).
Nor thgate's defense should equally get a chance to test itself against junior quarterback Logan Byrd, who threw for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. Byrd also rushed for eight scores and presents a challenge at 6-3, 235-pounds.
The Vikings counter with a unit that looks to be led this year by junior Jamie Skalski. The hulking 6-2, 225 linebacker's early Division I offers include South Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Marshall and North Carolina.