When the 2016 Northwood football season kicks off in a few weeks, Falcons coach Jim Gatlin is praying he doesn’t have a repeat of last season’s opener when his team was quickly turned into a MASH unit in a road game at Alexandria Senior High.
Gatlin and his staff saw nearly a handful of players carted off with season-ending injuries.
“I was on the phone with parents during the game because they heard about the injuries on the radio and were trying to figure out if they needed to come after their child or not,” Gatlin said. “It was a strange game.”
The Falcons will once again open with ASH, although it’ll be inside the friendly confines of Jerry Burton Memorial Stadium this year. Most of those injured in the 2015 opener are back on the field. In fact, most of the Northwood team returns from last season, with the notable exception of Times Best of Preps honoree Marquez Stevenson, now playing with Houston.
“We’re mostly sophomores and juniors so we should have most of the team back again next year also,” Gatlin said.
The Falcons have lots of skill at the skill positions including wide receivers LaCedrick Smith, Trayon Jones and Dawson Hill.
“Between those three, we could end up with more yards than we had last year with Marquez,” Gatlin said. “LaCedrick has a lot of confidence, good hands and has worked hard to get his speed better. Trayon’s dad is a Northwood alum and he was explosive at Donnie Bickham. Dawson holds the Northwood record for longest TD run (96 yards) and he’s the leadoff on our (4×100) relay team that finished second at state.”
Getting the ball to them will be the charge of senior quarterback Peyton Bogan, a three-year starter who is close to setting some school passing records.
“Peyton has gotten bigger and stronger and is putting the work in to lead this team,” Gatlin said.
Jarret Stuckey, one of the players lost for the 2015 season versus ASH, will provide a large anchor in the offensive line at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. Tight end Blakely Welch gives Bogan a big target to hit across the middle. Center Mike Vinsant barks orders for the OL and helps open holes for D’Andre James and Pat Thomas. Also on the line are Sawyer Cranford, Colton Connor, Justin Ryan and Kimunte Sanders.
The Falcon defense will be led by Egbert Phillips, who totes the sledgehammer as the hardest worker on the team. He’s part of a veteran linebacking crew that includes senior Setavion Combs, along with sophomores Tyler Lummus and Kyren Brown.
“Lummus and Brown started last year as freshmen and they took their lumps in this tough district,” Gatlin said. “But they’re going to be very good.”
Junior Deshantric Watson is a returning All-District 1-4A safety and he’ll be joined in the secondary by Kymani Bryan and Khayvion Gleason. The defensive line is fortified by Tony Mathews, a guy Gatlin calls “freakishly strong, Christian Buffin and Chris Collins.
Northwood opens the season with ASH, Oak Grove and Richwood in non-district play before entering the 1-4A fray.
“I think we’ll be better, but we could be better in all phases and not win as many games because everyone else in our league is better too,” Gatlin said. “You can’t point to our schedule and say any team is an automatic win. We’re going to be in a dog fight every night.
“And every team in our district has good coaching. If your team isn’t ready to play, you can be out-coached in a heartbeat.”
Coach: Jim Gatlin
2015 record: 4-6 overall; 2-5 District 1-4A
Key game: Sept. 23 vs. Woodlawn. District opener against a strong Knights’ team will set the tone for the Falcons’ league chances.
Players to watch: LB Egbert Phillips, Sr.; WR LaCedrick Smith, Jr.; OL Jarret Stuckey, Sr.; FS Deshantric Watson, Jr.
Starters returning: Offense-6; Defense-9
Quotable: “I think we’ll be better, but we could be better in all phases and not win as many games because everyone else in our league is better too,” – Jim Gatlin
2016 Northwood schedule
Sept. 2 Alexandria
Sept. 9 at Oak Grove
Sept. 16 at Richwood
Sept. 23 Woodlawn
Sept. 30 Fair Park
Oct. 7 at Bossier
Oct. 14 at North DeSoto
Oct. 21 Minden
Oct. 28 Benton
Nov. 4 at Huntington