WICHITA, Kan. In 2018, Northwest became just the second Wichita public school to reach a state championship game in 22 years.
Aug, 31, 2018; Wichita, Kansas, USA; during a City League football matchup between the Bishop Carroll Eagles v the Northwest Grizzlies at Carroll Family Stadium ©Kelly Ross CIK
This season, they’re looking to return. But this time, with a different result.
“You work all winter and spring and you’re trying to get a bad taste out of your mouth after losing the state title game after having such high hopes,” said Northwest head coach Steve Martin.
After a perfect 11-0 run, the Grizzlies fell to St. Thomas Aquinas 49-28 in the 5a state championship.
However, with the loss of two of the best players to ever come out of the GWAL, in All-American running back Breece Hall and now Oklahoma defensive end Marcus Hicks, Northwest is left with a gaping hole to fill in their roster.
Martin says, his players are capable of stepping up.
“These guys grow up behind those guys, so they know they have big shoes to fill,” said Martin. “Now is their time to do it. We rely on the next in and that’s what these guys are proving all summer.”
On top of losing Hall, who ran for 2,127 yards and 29 touchdowns, the Grizzlies’ offense lost the second of three players to rush for over 1,000 yards last season in running back Roy Johnson. Johnson ran for 1,233 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Between senior safety Jamar Martin who will convert to running back this season, and juniors Julius Bolden and Javon Wheeler, Martin says the Grizzlies will still have a strong running game without Hall.
“We’re excited about those guys. The backs are not a question mark, when I said that this summer it was about we didn’t know who was going to take the job. We knew we had talent, now it’s just who’s going to take the job.”
But returning to lead the offense, is senior quarter back Reagan Jones. Jones threw nearly 4,000 yards of total offense, with 31 touchdowns and 1,393 rushing yards.
“It’s huge having your quarterback back when you’re trying to replace a guy like Breece on offense,” Martin said. ”He just needs to understand that he just has to get guys in place and he doesn’t have to do anything special he just has to get us lined up because we’ve got some good speed.”
Despite losing his favorite target in Kale Patterson, who led the team in receptions and yards, Jones is confident in the Grizzlies’ offense.
“I’m 100% confident in this offense,” Jones said. “We got guys like Zion coming back.”
Senior Wide receiver Zion Jones caught 30 balls for 617 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018.
On the defensive side of the ball, on top of the loss of Hicks, the Grizzlies lost senior leader Josh Carter, who piled up 136 tackles last season. Northwest will look to improve on a defense that allowed 10 of 13 opponents to score at least 20 points last season
Martin says the loss of Carter’s leadership will be felt in the locker room, but Jones is ready to step up.
“Coming last year I didn’t really get a chance to be a leader as much as I wanted to because we had guys like Breece and Josh stepping up and helping me out,” Jones said. “They really translated that into this year so I could step up and be the guy this year.”
The Grizzlies will open up their season at home on September 6th at 7 pm. against rival Bishop Carroll, who they beat twice last season.
2019 NORTHWEST SCHEDULE
9/6 - vs Bishop Carroll
9/13 - vs Wichita East
9/20 - @ Great Bend
9/27 - vs Wichita West
10/4 - @ Kapaun
10/11 - vs Garden City
10/18 - @ Wichita Heights
10/24 - vs Wichita Southeast