Veterans allow Vikings to pick up offensive pace
Since Kevin Tooson took over as coach in 2003, the Northland High School football team has used variations of the spread offense some years and a power running game in others.
So it seemed like a no-brainer to the coach, who has the longest continuous tenure at a City League school, when he installed a faster-paced mix of the run and pass this preseason to better utilize the Vikings' speed.
Having a returning quarterback and several other skill position players with experience and speed has helped the latest transition.
Northland, which went 5-5 overall and placed fourth at 4-3 in the City League-North Division behind champion Beech-croft (7-0) a year ago, opens Thursday, Aug. 29, at Independence and has a bye the next week.
"I love our athleticism," said Tooson, who is 48-53 in 10 seasons. "Your personnel dictates your scheme, and our personnel dictates that we've got four to five guys on the field that when they touch the ball they can make some things happen."
Seniors Jhustus Cornley (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) and Malcolm Marshall (5-7, 155) and juniors Abu Turay (5-7, 160), Nateshawn Hargrove (5-10, 185) and Sherman Watson (5-10, 165) are among the top athletes.
At running back will be Hargrove, who rushed for 516 yards and six touchdowns, and Turay, who had 577 yards rushing and four scores a year ago.
Cornley and Marshall will see time in the backfield and at slotback.
Watson finished with 23 catches for 269 yards and one touchdown and should lead a group of receivers that also includes junior Mohamed Diakite (5-11, 170).
Senior Robert Jackson (6-0, 183) is at fullback, and sophomore Jalen Jackson (6-0, 175) will be the H-back and tight end.
Junior Glenn Smith III returns at quarterback after completing 51 of 121 passes for 753 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Smith, who also will handle punting duties, added 363 yards rushing on 72 carries with seven scores. Junior Nick Fisher (5-10, 200) also is at quarterback.
Leading the offensive line are juniors Michael Kyle (6-3, 265) and Mike Harris (5-9, 230) and sophomore Cortez Brooks (6-0, 200). Seniors Justin Hill (6-5, 280), Mohamed Mara (6-3, 250) and Carlos Brim (5-10, 220) are expected to contribute up front as well.
"This is without question the most athletic front in my 11 years," Tooson said. "We have a good amount of depth up front."
Kyle, Mara, senior Daron Dickson (5-10, 240) and juniors Mohamed Kaba (5-10, 230) and Jeremy Richmond (5-10, 240) all are on the defensive line.
Hargrove, Fisher and senior Adrion Taylor (5-11, 220) will play linebacker.
Leading the secondary should be Turay and Marshall at cornerback. Senior James Williams (5-9, 170) is at strong safety, with Cornley, Smith and senior Corbin Bannister (5-6, 150) also at safety. Cornley, who is the younger brother of 2011 Northland graduate Jakyl Cornley and the cousin of former Brook-haven boys basketball player Jamelle Cornley and Northland football player Javon Cornley, should be among the top returners along with Marshall.
"Things have been going really well," Marshall said. "We're feeling more confident than we have in the past. The new up-tempo offense will utilize our athletes better. We've just got to maximize everything we're trying to do."
Northland closes the non-league schedule Sept. 14 at Cincinnati Taft, which made the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 but went 7-3 a year ago and finished 11th in Division III, Region 12.
The Vikings -- who made their only previous playoff appearance in 2010 when they competed in Division I -- were in Division II, Region 7 last season. They have been moved to Division II, Region 5 this season with the OHSAA's expansion to seven divisions.
"Last year we started a lot of sophomores, and this year we'll maybe only have eight to 10 seniors, so we're heavily junior-driven," Tooson said. "A lot of the guys got playing time last year, but the great thing about sophomores is that they become juniors. Our seniors are a good group of guys who work hard.
"I think we may have the most experience coming back (in the City-North), but with that being said, we just want to keep reaching our potential."