EDITOR’S NOTE » This is one in a series of previews of Utah’s high school football programs. They will run throughout the summer leading up to the 2014 regular season, which begins Aug. 21.
"The proof is in the pudding," as Northridge coach Erik Thompson says.
His Knights, talented and young, have to go out and prove it in 2014. And they must do so in a much different way than 2013. The fast-paced aerial attack that produced two 1,000-yard throwers a year ago is in the process of being morphed into something more suitable for the skill players returning this year. Thompson said Northridge returns eight starters from a year ago, three on offense and five on defense.
"We’ve got some work to do, but we’re highly optimistic," Thompson said. "I think we can compete with anyone on any given day, but we’ve got to avoid injuries, find and develop some depth to spell some of our guys who will be needed to play both ways."
The No. 1 example of that is BYU commit Dayan Lake. The jack-of-all-trades who lined up at cornerback, wide receiver and running back a year ago will shoulder much more of the offensive load from the tailback position, Thompson said. Which leads to the transformation of the Knights’ offense, expected to be led by senior quarterback and dynamic athlete Ben Jackson.
"Ben’s different than anyone we’ve had in the past," Thompson said. "We have to implement some new things, and it was nice to have an offseason to do that. Ben is an electrifying runner, he’s really quick and fast and does a grab job with the zone read. Our offense would be throwing it at least 40 times a game last year. Hopefully that number will get reversed this year."
Defensively, Thompson said his group may have to play a bit differently. The strength on that side of the ball comes in the defensive backfield, where three of last year’s four starters return, highlighted by Lake.
"Football starts in the trenches, and you have to have good offensive and defensive lines, but we might have got it backward," Thompson said. "We don’t have a great amount of numbers returning, so hopefully our secondary can be so good that we’re allowed to bring more pressure and use that to stop the run."
Thompson, like other coaches in Region 1, expects 2014 to be a toss-up. He said it will likely be another year in which the last game of the season could either decide who’s out of the playoff picture, or who hoists the region crown.
Last season » 4-6 overall (4-2 in Region 1)
Key returner » Dayan Lake (RB/CB). The BYU commit has been dubbed a shutdown corner since his sophomore year and will need to stay healthy in order to have a large impact on both sides of the ball for the Knights in 2014.
Player to watch » Noah Kramer (NGL/OL). At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, the junior is expected to have a breakout season. He just picked up an offer from BYU and is starting to come into his own, Thompson said.
Biggest hole » The trenches. Between both the offensive and defensive lines, coach Erik Thompson said the team may start seven juniors, who either chipped in briefly in 2013 or who don’t have much experience at all. But Northridge’s head coach said that group is progressing nicely and are picking things up as fall camp goes along.
Need to know » Jackson took over for an injured Nate Kusuda last year and nearly had identical numbers to the former Northridge quarterback, but will likely be spearhead a run-first, zone-read offense in 2014.
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