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High school football: Northridge Knights 2009 preview

LAYTON — Northridge is going to be a young team this season, starting some sophomores and juniors and will be devoid of big-name talent the program has become known for.

Although it seems like a rebuilding season for the Knights, they aren't using the dreaded 'R' word at Northridge.

"You never like to say that word (rebuilding)," said Northridge coach Erik Thompson. "We'll let people call it what they want. Our expectations around here aren't going to change."

The expectations won't change, but Thompson uses another 'R' word to describe his team — realistic.

Only three returning starters are back for the Knights this season, and all are linemen. Participation numbers for the Knights are down, as Northridge usually has around 120 players in the program and only about 85 kids are playing this season. The team usually features at least a couple of Division I recruits in its senior class, and it remains to be seen if any of the Knights will move on to the next level.

"We know we're going to take our lumps sometimes, and things might be a learning process and slow going, but we still expect to win every game," Thompson said. "There's no reason we still can't challenge for the region championship and make a run at it."

The Knights will look to their returning starters on the offensive line for leadership this season — senior Steve Clark, junior Haden Flint and sophomore Scooter Arnold. Clark is the biggest of the three at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds.

"All three are good-sized kids," Thompson said. "They work hard. They compete hard. They have a chance to play at the next level."

If the three returning offensive linemen do their job, the Knights could be exciting on offense.

The Knights feature some skill-position players who are unproven but could be fun to watch. Senior Travis Harper will run the offense at quarterback, and he'll have solid weapons in running backs Jordan Lee and Brock Johnson, receiver Colton Hill and tight end Chad Colby to work with. Receivers such as Clint Bialcak, Shaymus Bertagnolli and Austin Gottschalk also expect to be figured in the passing game.

Harper is following a long line of standout Northridge quarterbacks. He doesn't have any varsity experience, but neither did Braden Mitchell or Junior Cole. Those two players were the Knights' last two quarterbacks. They went on to earn all-state honors and neither had varsity experience going into their senior seasons. Thompson said Harper is a gritty player and he's a big key to the Knights' success.

"He's one of those three-sport kids who's been in pressure situations and competes," Thompson said. "I like that about him. We just have to find out the rest."

Colby may end up being Harper's favorite target, and one of the best tight ends in the state.

"He could be one of the better pass receiving tight ends we've ever had here and he'll be one of the better ones in the state," Thompson said. "He's got great hands, good feel for the game, good size."

Defensively, Northridge is still trying to determine who will fill out the starting lineup. The Knights are switching their defense to a 30-stack this season to take advantage of the quality they have in their defensive backfield. Johnson, Bertagnolli and Gottschalk will be among the starters. Another key player on defense is sophomore Kyle Reed, who will likely start on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Northridge knows there will be whispers that the program is down this season because of the challenges it is facing. Those whispers are motivating both the coaching staff and players.

"I think if we work hard we can step out and be just as good as last year, maybe even better," Clark said. "We don't have all the stars we had last year, but I think if everybody will do their job and play as 11 we can reach what we set out for."

That type of attitude is a big reason why Thompson is excited about this season. He said this year's team works harder than any group that's been at Northridge in a long time. The players are coachable, and will give a good effort every Friday night.

"I feel more enthusiastic about this year than any other," Thompson said. "I think it's the challenge of most people in this region probably thinking Northridge is rebuilding, they're not going to be any good, they don't have any numbers, the younger kids didn't win many games. I think it's a challenge for us (the coaching staff) and the kids to show people wrong. The team we have weeks 1, 2 and 3 is definitely not going to be the team we have at the end of the season. If we can stay healthy I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team."

Northridge Knights 2009 prep football preview

Coach: Erik Thompson is in his sixth year as Northridge's head coach. He has a 33-22 record.

Key Players: The team returns just three starters and they are offensive linemen Steve Clark, Haden Flint and sophomore Scooter Arnold. Travis Harper is the team's quarterback and he's surrounded by possible standouts on offense such as running back Jordan Lee, receiver Colton Hill and tight end Chad Colby. Defensively, the team will be led by defensive linemen Brandon Moore and Kyle Reed, linebackers Philip Krukow and Sky Wolthoff and defensive backs Brock Johnson, Shaymus Bertagnolli and Austin Gottschalk.

Strengths: Clark, Flint and Arnold lead what should be a solid offensive line. The offense is filled with playmakers that are unproven on the varsity level but have potential. The defensive backfield should thrive in the 30 stack.

Concerns: The Knights have little varsity experience, and their seniors enjoyed little success as sophomores and junior varsity players. Northridge is also hurting for depth with just 85 players in its program this season. An injury to a key player or two could be devastating.

Last year: 6-5, lost to Bingham in the first round of the playoffs

Predicted Region 1 finish: Fifth

Postseason possibilities: The Knights were picked to take fifth in Region 1, and if that's where they finish they'll be in the playoffs. Northridge hopes to contend for the league title, but will likely be battling for one of the last playoff spots in the region. The Knights have the ability to get in the playoffs as a low seed and will likely be facing an early first-round exit if they qualify.

2009 Schedule

Aug. 21 — JORDAN, 7 p.m.

Aug. 28 — at Syracuse, 7 p.m.

Sept. 4 — LAYTON, 7 p.m.

Sept. 11 — at Bonneville, 7 p.m.

Sept. 18 — at Viewmont, 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 — DAVIS, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 — at Fremont, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 — ROY, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 — at Clearfield, 7 p.m.

Oct. 23 — WEBER, 7 p.m.