CLAYTON — After a three year absence Northmont qualified for the state playoffs last year by posting a perfect 3-0 conference record while going 8-3 overall.
Last year the Thunderbolts lost their season opener 45-36 at Winton Woods, lost to Wayne 38-35 in double overtime and then suffered a season ending loss in the playoffs at Pickerington Central 41-21 on a muddy natural grass field.
Returning to lead the offense is senior quarterback Miles Johnson who threw for 2,068 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
“He is a special quarterback,” said Coach Tony Broering. “I’ve coached a lot of great quarterbacks in the past and I’ve had some kids that a lot of people would say were the best they could be in high school, a kid who led the state in passing and another kids who threw for even more than that and one who won the state championship. Miles is all that. He can throw the ball and he is a leader. He understands the offense and he is like having a coach out on the field. We are very fortunate to have him, that’s for sure.”
Northmont hopes to build upon last year’s success, but will have to fill some big shoes with the graduation of running back Devin Kenerly, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards with 17 touchdowns and earned West Division Athlete of the Year honors. Finding someone to fill his shoes will be no easy task.
“That has been a work in progress,” Broering noted. “I will be honest with you; we are doing a running back by committee rotation right now. We have three or four kids that are pretty good. There really is no way to replace Devin. We lost a lot from last year. There is no doubt about that. We lost some special kids and some three year starters and it has been tough, but we are working it out.”
The main returning players on offense besides Johnson include senior wide receiver Drake Hickman (22 receptions, 418 yards, 5 TD), senior linemen David Weherley (6-feet, 1-inch, 310 pounds), and junior lineman Seth Frantz (6-feet, 3-inches, 293 pounds). Seniors Nolan Roach (6-feet, 3-inches, 275 pounds) and Dylan Gau (6-feet, 1-inch, 305 pounds), and Ivan Whisler (5-feet, 10-inches, 283 pounds will step in as starters this year and Broering says all three are doing a good job.
“When you lose a player to graduation like Jalen Hinton (6-feet, 3-inches, 323 pounds) who was a three year starter and has been with me through everything, it’s kind of like losing Kenerly,” Broering stated. “There is no easy way to replace players like that.”
Other players that should have an impact on offense include junior wide receiver Jazz Keys (5-feet, 10-inches, 150 pounds), junior wide receiver Justin Golson (5-feet, 9-inches, 160 pounds), senior tight end Jason Kohr (6-feet, 3-inches, 210 pounds).
The team features a robust roster of 87 players this year.
“The sophomore class is really loaded with 37 players with a lot of talent, and it is a good group of boys,” Broering said.
Broering feels the defense is solid.
“The defense is really the strength of the team, especially right now,” he said. “There are a multitude of guys back with some very special players like Gabe Newburg. He does a great job for us and it seems like he has been with me forever.”
Newburg (6-feet, 4-inches, 230 pounds) committed to play for Michigan in college. He will play defensive end. Linebacker Jestin Jacobs (6-feet, 4-inches, 205 pounds), who is headed to Iowa will help anchor the defense. Another player to watch is senior defensive tackle Jamar Walder (6-feet, 285 pounds).
“Some people think Walder is our best defensive player. He is disruptive,” Broering said. “Bryan Heyward (6-feet, 230 pounds) is also back and he was an All-League defensive end, so the defense up front is stacked.”
Returning at corner back is senior Danny Lewis and junior Christian Cvetnic.
“We have a chance on defense to be fast, athletic and very good,” Broering noted. “We are trying to replace our two inside linebackers and a free safety and we have a lot of guys battling it out for those spots. One is senior linebacker Aidan Reaman (5-feet, 10-inches, 200 pounds), so we’ve got a lot of guys we are trying to work in there. Linebacker in our defense is difficult because you have to be like a quarterback as far as the calls, but you have to be physical too, so that is a tough position. We’ve had some great linebackers the last couple of years and even when I was defensive coordinator before I became head coach. People like Jimmy Saul, Kyle Webster and last year Logan Jewsikow and Jason Zile, so it is a tough assignment for those guys to step in there to play linebacker because they have so much to do.”
The kicking duties will be handled by junior Brandon Goodwin.
“Brandon is an outstanding kicker,” Broering said, noting that Goodwin kicked close to a 50 yard field goal in the scrimmage at Franklin last week on Saturday.
“He went ten for ten in his kicks today (Franklin) and they were rushing and putting pressure on his kicks. This was the first time we saw a live rush, so he is a weapon,” Broering said.
Broering said is blessed to be surrounded by such an outstanding coaching staff, one that features several former Northmont players that are in the Hall of Fame.
“I have so many Northmont Football Hall of Famers on my staff like John Brands, Mark Mays, Luke Hurst came on board this year and is doing an outstanding job, Chris Stanley and Aaron Fister, Clay Mangen, Jake Myers… the list goes on and on. These are big time names in Northmont football lore that love Northmont, love coaching the boys and really work hard for me. Coach (Tom) Adams came on board last year and did a great job as offensive coordinator and offensive line coaches John Bass and Nick Frantz have a tough job. Bass played for Tom and I at Springfield South so he knows the system very well, so we have a great staff and great kids. You can’t say it enough. They are great boys who work so hard and try their best. There is no lack of effort or lack of positive attitude on the team. It has been great to coach them this summer in the two-a-days. They have really come a long way, so we are lucky to have them.”
Northmont kicks off the 2018 season on Friday, Aug. 24 at Lima Senior at 7 p.m.
Reach Ron Nunnari at 684-9124, via email Rnunnari@aimmediamidwest.com or on Twitter @Englewood_Ind