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NC hoping to be dealt a winning hand with Cards

Posted: August 16, 2012 12:19 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Some coaches dread playing week zero games. Not Louis Clyburn.
For the second time in Clyburn’s four seasons as the head coach at North Central, the Knights will get a head start on a majority of the teams in the state when they host Cardinal Newman in tonight’s season opener.
While many coaches would like to get an extra week of preparation in, Clyburn is of the opinion that his players are ready to go. That is a far cry from the former Duke offensive lineman’s first year in Boonetown in which he hurriedly put things together for an early opener with McBee. On that night, the Panthers waltzed to a 62-0 win to christen the Clyburn era at NC.
Now, with the majority of his staff intact from the 2009 campaign, there is a sense of eagerness in the days leading up tonight’s contest not only on the part of Clyburn, but his players, as well. This is not a team which is trying to find its way through the dark. Instead, it is one which has bought into the system and is champing at the bit to play in a game which counts, regardless of its early starting date.
“I’m excited about the week zero game,” said the fourth-year Knights’ boss. “Last year, we were playing in the jamboree in Camden and some other schools playing in it were ready to get started (the following week.) You almost get antsy.
“There is probably more urgency with the behind-the-scenes things which take place this week for the coaches and myself as the athletic director, than there is for our players. Certainly, we don’t have every piece of our offense and defense in, but like I told our guys the other day, we have more than enough plays and more than enough defenses that we have installed and that we’ve had reps doing to go out and win a football game.”
The visiting Cardinals are in the same situation which NC found itself in 2009. CN is led by a first-year head coach, Brannon Tidwell, who takes over a team which comes off a 1-9 season and has won just two games the previous three years.
But with a new coach comes optimism. More players want to be a part of the program, which has been the case with the Cards who are expected to suit up some 38 players this evening. Given that fact, there is an element of danger associated with this game which was not there when Clyburn brought CN on his team’s schedule last fall.
“With teams like this,” Clyburn said, “it’s a little bit of a risk when you schedule them. But we feel good about it. We feel good going in that our kids are going to play hard. They’re excited and they’ve been working toward this for a long time.
“We talk, a lot, about how much have you invested and that you can’t expect different results if you are doing the same thing; that has been our theme. We’ve tried to do more and do things a little differently. Hopefully, this season, especially this first game, we can get some different and positive results.”
The guests come into this pairing with Kody Watson returning at quarterback to direct a multiple offense which Tidwell has installed.
The Knights have scouted the Cardinals at a scrimmage and have a limited amount of film on the SCISA AAA entry. CN had several coaches in the stands to take in North Central’s game with Buford in last Friday’s Camden Shrine Club Jamboree, leading Clyburn to play it close to the vest.
“There’s not a lot of film to study on (CN),” Clyburn said when asked what he expects from the guests tonight.
“They do a little bit of what we do on offense with, maybe, a little more two-back like we will face when we play Indian Land and Columbia later this year. They will go four wide. There’s a little bit of an unknown factor there, but what we’re trying to sell to our kids is that, fundamentally, we have all of our bases covered.
“We control what we can control; we block well, we tackle well and when we throw and catch it, we have to have good ball security. We also have to try and create turnovers and be sound in the kicking game. If we can do all that, then we can increase our chances of coming out on top, regardless of who you’re playing; especially going up against a team which is a little bit of an unknown. It wasn’t like this when we set this game up.”
Among the newcomers for the Cardinals are tight ends Austin Ajukwa and Jacob August, who both came over from the school’s basketball team. August will also line up at defensive end with Ajukwa playing in the secondary. In Ajukwa, Watson has a target to which he can throw an “alley-oop” pass and the 6-foot-5 leaper can go over defenders and bring down the football.
What the Knights’ defense would like to do is to give the hoopsters a rude introduction to the game of football and get physical with them.
“One of the things we have sold hard to this football team --- and having all those guys banged up and not playing in the jamboree last week is a result of that --- is that we’ve tried to increase the toughness and the physicality of this football team,” Clyburn said. “That is going to be our objective coming into this game.
“We want to be physical, we want to be tough and make sure that on every single play that  those guys (the Cardinal basketball team members) are going to get hit. Maybe, they’re not used to that. That’s something which can get them out of their game and out of their rhythm.
“That needs to be our rhythm; to be a tough, hard-nosed football team. I think we’re getting there. We haven’t arrived yet, but right now, we are certainly a more physically tough football team than we were last year at this time or, since we’ve been here. That’s something which is fun to watch and we’re excited about it.”
Playing a more physical brand of football, Clyburn said with a smile, has led to more of his players receiving ice bags following practices. But after sitting out five starters last Friday, he deemed his squad as healthy and ready to go for tonight. He said he is excited to see how his team reacts when the lights come on this evening.
While pleased with his team and the way it comes into the season opener, Clyburn warned that Cardinal Newman is a formidable foe which has earned the respect of the NC staff.
As for the Knights, Clyburn understands how important it is for his team to get off to a quick start after having some tough losses in the non-region portion of the schedule last year.  
“Our kids are ready to go out and win a football game; do what they’re supposed to do and what we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “The 2012 season is here and, we’re excited about it.”

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