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Knights have plenty of new faces in different places

Posted: August 20, 2013 3:33 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Some people are tougher to please than others.
After having posted the most successful football season at North Central since 2006, Knights’ head coach Louis Clyburn said while he was glad his program started getting over the hump, he felt a 5-6 record --- which was later improved to 6-5 following a forfeit when it was discovered that Keenan used an ineligible player --- could have been even better.
Clyburn points to his team’s bitter 28-22 loss at Pelion and a 35-14 setback to Andrew Jackson, in a first round state class AA home playoff game, as a pair of contests which, take away a mistake here or there, the outcomes could have been reversed. In all, however, for a program which had won a combined four games in the previous three seasons, last fall was a huge step in the right direction.
“Looking back on last year,” said Clyburn, now in his fifth season at the helm in Boonetown, “we felt like we probably didn’t exceed expectations. Honestly, in my opinion, we barely met them.
“We did have a great year … the best we’ve had here at North Central in a long time. At the same time, you look back on it and look at the Pelion game, which we should have won. There were a couple games that we look back on and feel that same way about them. That is what drives you for the next season.”
What made the 2012 Knights so special, said their head coach, was that those graduated seniors were a part of the first group of players which Clyburn and company welcomed in as freshman in 2009. Most of them had two or three years of varsity experience by the time they left the program.
The loss of those players means opportunities for the younger Knights who enjoyed a successful off-season when it came to showing up for workouts. Clyburn could not have been more pleased with the large numbers which greeted both he and his staff each day the weight room was open.
“We lost a group of seniors in which every one of them had been an integral part of our program,” he said. “That being said, the group we have coming back has been one of the hardest-working and most determined groups we’ve had since we’ve been here. Does that equate to automatic success? That will be tough to tell because the experience just isn’t there, yet.”

Included in the 2013 graduates were seven offensive starters including three-year starting quarterback Grayson King. What was a spirited competition to fill King’s shoes in the spring continued through the pre-season with NC expected to employ a pair of signal-callers --- at minimum --- when the Knights open the season at Cardinal Newman on Friday night.
Junior Hunter Wyant served as King’s chief back-up last year. He has company at the position in the form of classmate William Jenkins who, if not at quarterback, will be the lead tailback. The duo has taken the majority of the reps in practice with seniors Curtis Merritt and junior John Bowers also in the mix.
One difference this season is that the Knights will use the quarterback as a running threat as well as a passing threat. For that reason, Clyburn said he needs to have more than one quarterback ready to play at any time.
Jenkins has to be considered the best runner of the four after being used at running back as a sophomore and having rushed for a 440 yards, a  figure which leads all NC returnees in that category. Wyant threw for 100 yards on 7-of-12 passing in 2012 with two going for touchdowns. He also ran for 66 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“This is a growing process for us,” Clyburn said of the still-fluid battle for playing time at quarterback. “The more experience these kids get, the better we should get. As long as that determination and drive that they’ve shown all off-season, all summer and all pre-season stays there, they can get seasoned quickly and we can make progress on both sides of the ball.”
One thing which Clyburn is trying not to do with all his quarterbacks is flooding them with a plethora of formations and X’s and O’s. Instead, the NC offensive staff is trying to simplify things and let the game come to each one at a sensible place.
Lining up behind whoever is taking the snaps will be a set of ball carriers which make up the most experienced part of an offense which will employ more two-back sets with one and, sometimes, two tight ends.
In senior Tristan McCathern and Jenkins, the Knights have a set of backs who rushed for 641 and nine touchdowns and 440 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, respectively. Due to his responsibilities on defense, McCathern may not see as much time in the backfield this season as he did a year ago.
They, along with senior Reggie Outten (245 yards and 3 TDs in ’12) and sophomore Antonio Parks (108 yards and one TD), give NC plenty of depth and talent in the backfield, leading to Clyburn and company’s tweaking the offensive package for this coming season. Sophomore Delmarcus Wood has also played his way into the battle for playing time.
The receiving corps was hit hard by graduation with NC’s four leading receivers having walked across the stage to receive their diplomas last June. That has left a mad scramble between the returnees for those spots.
At tight end, senior Warren Moseley (two catches for eight yards and a TD in ’12) will take over at tight end with the scrappy Bowers, junior Will Mathis and senior Lamont Frazier either spelling Moseley, joining him in a two tight end set or, in the case of Bowers and Mathis, flexing out to wide receiver.
Senior Mike Ostas is the team’s leading and most experienced wide receiver. In 2012, he caught four passes for 48 yards.
Aside from Ostas, NC has been breaking in players trying to get a starting job. Seniors Paul Blackwell and William McInvaille had a catch each last year with Blackwell’s going for a 50-yard touchdown. Now, both will get their chance to play a leading role.
In the battle for playing time at wide out will be freshman Zack Jones and sophomore Romesz Coleman, who are still getting the feet wet as they adjust to the varsity game. Clyburn could also use Merritt, a starting cornerback, at slot receiver.
“We have some veterans there,” Clyburn said of his receivers, “but we’re searching for a playmaker. The only ones who have jumped out in the pre-season have been Ostas, Bowers and Mathis.”
Graduation gutted NC’s offensive line with three starters having to be replaced, including two who were three-year starters. Battling for starting time there are two players with no varsity and little junior varsity experience.
For a coaching staff which includes three former college linemen, this unit has been the object of plenty of scrutiny in the off-season. Due to that inexperience, Clyburn said the Knights will have plenty of roll-out passes in order to move the pocket and take some of the pressure off the blockers.
The two returning starters along the front line are senior left guard Matthew Sowell and junior left tackle/center Darius Myres.
Sophomore Kirk Hudson, who played on the defensive line and at tight end last fall, has been moved over to left tackle and will start there should Myres be needed to snap. Fellow sophomore Josh Lawson will also see time at left tackle.
Brian Ray, a junior, came out for football after having wrestled at NC and will play right guard while another wrestler-turned gridder, 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior David Martin could get the starting call at right tackle. “He’s a freshman in a senior’s body,” Clyburn said in referring to Martin’s inexperience on the football field.
Senior Trey Hardin will see time at both guard posts while 6-foot-3, 230-pound freshman Jerimiah Jenkins is making a case for playing time at tackle, tight end or, playing along the defensive line.
Junior Javon Kershaw brought playing experience to the center position after having seen time with the varsity last season. His progress was temporarily halted by a broken hand in the first week of practice has him currently sidelined. Junior Cody Privette, who did not play last season, has been moved to center and could see time at center behind Myres.
“Once we get Javon back,” Clyburn said, “we’re going to get some guys who we can rotate in and we’ll have some numbers that we can play with on the offensive line.”
The Knights will continue to operate out of the no-huddle offense, although, this season, there will be some wrinkles added. One of those new looks will be the players going into the huddle, on occasion, in order to make sure everybody is on the same page.
“The beauty of the no-huddle is that you can either slow things down or speed them up. You can change the tempo, at will,” Clyburn said.
“We have huddled more this year not so much to slow the game down, but because of our inexperience and getting those guys to come together and to be able to talk to each other to make sure they know what to do.”

For the first three years of the Clyburn era, the Knights employed a four-man defensive front:  When Guy Eckenroth was brought on board as an assistant last year, NC mixed in the 3-4 scheme. Both will be used this season as NC will see plenty of high-octane offenses which need to be slowed down.
“We haven’t changed what we’ve done. We are a multiple front defense,” Clyburn said. “We don’t want to be block magnets.
“We have more experience on offense than we have on defense. We are going to face some quality offensive teams throughout our schedule this year. Hopefully, the quality and experience that we have on defense can end up carrying this football team.”
The most interesting position move on defense has been senior Willie Taylor being switched from the secondary to nose guard to take advantage of his skill set which includes quickness, aggressiveness and athleticism. Taylor played nose guard in last year’s playoff game with Andrew Jackson.
“He’s a guy who, with his size, you have to move around on the line,” Clyburn said of Taylor. “If you leave him in one spot, linemen are going to lock in on him and can double-team him.
“He’s strong and we’re going to stunt him through gaps. We’ll move him all over the place on the line.”
Moseley will be the bell cow of the defensive front at one end while Frazier returns on the other side. Moseley is coming off a stellar junior season and will probably face double-teams and backs and receivers chipping him in trying to slow him down while Frazier is looking to take his game to the next level from where it was a year ago.
Hudson will see playing time along the interior while senior Malaquan Belton comes over from the wrestling team and will play on the line along with sophomore Quin Muldrow and Jerimiah Jenkins. Those players will be rotated in and out in order to keep the two-way players fresh to play on offense.
The strong suit for the Knights will be at linebacker with the return of starters in senior Omar Johnson at spur with Outten and junior Jeromy Alexander. The battle for the whip position is being waged between McCathern and senior Jacob Sims and Bowers. When the Knights jump into the 4-3, the whip position will become a defensive end.
Sophomore Chris Yannayon has also made his case in practice for playing time at inside linebacker.
“We’re pretty solid at linebacker,” Clyburn said.
Senior Derrick Jackson will be at free safety with Parks getting the nod at strong safety. Mathis and McInvaille can both spell Jackson at free safety should Jackson need to move to strong safety when Parks is playing tailback. The corners will be manned by Wood and Merritt with Jones expected to see plenty of time in what will be a three-man rotation. Blackwell can also jump in to play corner.
“I think we’re going to be a little faster than we were last year on defense,” said Clyburn. “That will, hopefully, allow us to do a little more of what we like to do on defense, which is stunt and blitz.”
With so many young and first-time players on the 55-man roster, it has forced the Knights’ staff to slow things down in their teaching, which is not a bad thing. As Clyburn was quick to point out, before you can move onto the more complicated things in this game, a player first needs to perfect the first few steps needed to get there.
“Sometimes it’s good that you don’t have a lot of experience,” he said of his 2013 squad. “As a coach, sometimes, you have a lot going on in your head thinking that you have to focus on technique and fundamentals, which you have to do, along with everything else which you want to teach your players..
“It’s actually good for the coaches that we do have to slow things down sometimes. With young guys, you have to go over steps one, two and three before we get to steps five and six. We’ll get to steps five and six, eventually, but the first three steps are the ones we’ve really been focusing on with this team.”

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