Erik Thompson is wondering how it all will mesh, how his returners will improve and how some youngsters will surprise leading up to a new season.
"It's kind of like Christmas morning," the Northridge High football coach said.
Except the Knights are staples in the daunting Region 1, a collection of schools known for their familiarity with one another and revolving year-to-year region champions.
"It's almost like we can call one another's plays," Thompson said. "It's hard to trick them. We look at it similar to the SEC: There's no week off and anyone can beat anyone."
Northridge will rely on returning senior quarterback Nate Kusuda, who threw for 15 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards in 2012 as a junior, to compete in the region. Thompson said this is the first time he's ever had a two-year starter at quarterback during his time with the Knights and that he's seen Kusuda put in the necessary work to be the leader of the team.
"I've seen him take tremendous strides," Thompson said. "He's made them physically as well as his arm strength and confidence. I expect big things out of him."
But the Knights must figure out how to replace departed running back David Adams, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
Thompson's plan is junior Dayan Lake.
Lake, a BYU commit, has started varsity since he was a freshman, starring on the defense as a cornerback. Part of the reason why Lake will be the new featured back is his talent, Thompson said. At 5 foot 10 and 185 pounds, Lake has sky-high potential.
"He's as talented as they come," Thompson said. "He's really fast and plays extremely hard."
Defensively, Northridge returns its leading tackler from a year ago, linebacker Austin Ricks. While the Knights lost some starters from last season's Class 5A quarterfinal squad, Thompson believes the defense can be better in 2013.
"The key to Northridge is our size and depth up front, and we've always been dead last in our region in those two areas," Thompson said. "But we're excited to have more depth than we have in the past."
ASSIGNMENT • Region 1
LAST YEAR • 9-3 overall, 4-1 Region 1
KEY RETURNER • Dayan Lake, jr., RB/CB. The BYU commit has the ability to make impact plays on both sides of the ball and will have the opportunity to showcase his speed and skill set as the featured back in 2013.
PLAYER TO WATCH • Beau Ballard, sr., DL/OL. A linebacker a year ago, Ballard will anchor both the offensive and defensive lines for the Knights this year, coach Thompson said.
BIGGEST HOLE • Offensive line. Thompson said the Knights always have struggled with accumulating consistent size across the line, and while there is talent there this season, the offensive line must ensure it keeps Kusuda on his feet and opens holes for Lake.
NEED TO KNOW • The Knights have made it to the Class 5A quarterfinals three consecutive seasons under Thompson.