WICHITA, Kan.—Northwest comes into the 2012 campaign as one of the top teams in the city. Although it’d be nice for the Grizzlies to win city and its district, that’s not the end goal for this year’s squad.
Coach: Steve Martin (First year at Northwest, 31-11 in three years at Troy)
2011 Recap: Finished 7-3, lost 21-14 to Derby in the first round of the state playoffs.
Returning Starters: 6 Offense, 4 Defense
Key Returning Players: Chris Hughes (QB), Deron Thompson (RB), Kyle Lee (OL), Alex Lee (OL), Bryce Morgan (OL), Isaiah Wattree (OL), A.J. Collier (DL), Dakota Dilsaver (LB), Brylan Donaldson (DB)
2012 District: at Campus, North, at South
During his time at Wichita Heights, Steve Martin was a defensive coach who relied on his team’s speed and athleticism rather than its size. That style of coaching helped Heights win a state championship in 2010. He brings that same philosophy of speed and athleticism to Northwest’s offense in the form of a hurry-up style offense.
Quarterback Chris Hughes will be the first to play in this new system that will utilize the option much more than in years past. Running back Deron Thompson is fast. He took fifth place at the state track meet in the 100-meter dash. As the main option for Hughes to toss to on the option play, Thompson is likely to be one of the top running backs in the city, if not the state. Couple the speed and elusiveness of Thompson with teammate Christian Sanders, and Northwest has one of the top backfields in the city. Sanders in the son of North high great Byron Sanders and nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
Behind every good offense is an offensive line. What Martin calls the “Grizzly Hogs,” this offensive line is anchored by four returning starters in brothers Alex and Kyle Lee. Also returning is Isaiah Wattree and Bryce Morgan. These four guys could be a huge boost to an already potent offensive attack. When Northwest’s run game is established, it will open up the playbook to go through the air.
The Northwest receivers will create matchup problems for opponents. Whoever isn’t in the backfield between Sanders and Thompson will line up at receiver. Also, the loser of the quarterback battle between Hughes and Erin Gaither will be going wide as well. Sophomore Karol Williams will also see playing time at the receiver position.
The pride of the Grizzly defense the past few seasons has been its linebackers. But the loss of standout Jacob Davis could be problematic for Northwest. However, Dakota Dilsaver will take over at the middle linebacker spot, a position that Martin believes is the most important position on the field. Dilsaver will have some pressure on him to live up to the position. He led the team in tackles last year and with the work he’s put in this offseason, he should be even better in 2012.
Justin Gourley returns on the 2012 version of Northwest’s defensive line. He and AJ Collier will anchor the line. Mike Bell will play the defensive end, and will be a problem for most opponents to block because he is so fast and can turn a corner quickly. Bell can help the Grizzlies tremendously in 2012 to be a defensive force not only in the city, but the state.
Brylan Donaldson is the lone returner on the defensive back squad at cornerback. Opposite of Donaldson will be TJ Thurman, a former running back. Thurman isn’t the biggest guy, but he is the kind of player Martin likes; small and fast, and likely to pack a punch.
ODDS AND ENDS:
Northwest is likely to make the playoffs in 2012, as its biggest challenge in district play will be Wichita South. The other teams in Northwest’s district are North and Campus. Although South will be Northwest’s biggest trouble in districts, Carroll will likely be the squad’s toughest opponent all season, as the Golden Eagles be almost every team’s toughest opponent.
In 2011, Northwest waltzed through its district schedule, but lost to Derby 21-14 in the first round of the state playoffs. Obviously, the Grizzlies are looking for a much better finish to the season than a loss in the playoffs. The old saying ‘end on a win’ is more than applicable to this year’s Northwest team.