Northridge had high expectations entering last season after posting its first winning record in 12 years. Instead, the Vikings finished 3-7 overall after posting six victories in 2017.
Although the hard times of last fall are becoming a distant memory, that disappointment helped forge a bond among players that they hope will bring a return to success.
"I think our experience has improved a lot," said Dylon Parman, a senior running back and linebacker. "Last year we were young and it was the first year playing for a lot of us, and now we have a lot of players who have played on Friday nights.
"We had players who thought they would start because they were seniors, but it takes more. We're working harder this year, and we want to show how good we are."
Coach Jay Campbell said the Vikings will be led by an 11-player senior class that contributed as sophomores and learned tough lessons last season.
"Our guys have really come together and we have more of a solid culture as far as our senior leadership," said Campbell, whose team finished third (2-2) in the LCL-Cardinal behind champion Johnstown (4-0). "Our seniors have been leading the team and carrying our expectations, as opposed to being driven by the coaches. It's always a good thing for the seniors to take control like that."
Jake Reese played in the backfield and earned special mention all-state, first-team all-district and all-league as a linebacker. The senior said attention to detail will be crucial.
"Coach Campbell stresses the little things," he said. "Whether it's lining up for stretching or finishing a block, finishing a run -- everything little is his pride and joy."
Parman said maximum effort on every portion of practice and workouts are a point of emphasis for the Vikings.
"Coach wants us to finish everything we do. We can't stop," Parman said. "Our three non-negotiables are relentless effort, positive energy and no excuses. Coach preaches them all the time.'
The backfield should be a strength for the Vikings with Reese (wingback) and senior Cole Fox (fullback) both starting for a third consecutive season. Parman rushed for 1,012 yards on 193 carries with eight touchdowns in his first season as a starter at halfback.
"People know Northridge football is a power-run team and that we're going to try to run it down their throats just about every time," Reese said. "We know we have to do our jobs even better this year."
In preparation for his third season, Campbell said his players entered camp knowing what was expected of them.
"We've been ahead of schedule with our install because our guys understand our offense, they understand our pace and they understand their responsibilities and where they're supposed to line up," said Campbell, whose team opens Aug. 30 at East Knox. "That's a huge help to have a backfield that's ahead of the game.
"It's an extremely coachable group. I don't know if I've ever been around a group of kids who are as coachable as these guys are. They listen. They ask questions. They practice with intensity. They do what they need to do and don't give you a hard time about it. They like to work and they like to work together toward a common goal. That's all you can ask as a coach."
Northridge returns seven starters in its wing-T attack, including the three running backs.
Parman (second-team all-district) topped the 1,000-yard mark, Fox (special/honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) rushed for 732 yards and three touchdowns on 131 carries and Reese added 213 yards and four touchdowns on 44 carries.
"Our backfield speaks for itself," said Campbell, whose team opens league play Oct. 4 at Johnstown. "Having that kind of experience in the backfield is a huge help for us in camp.
"Dylon returns as a 1,000-yard back. He's put on size and strength and is ready. He's a quiet kid, but he leads by example. He eats right and he practices hard."
Senior Travis Neumeyer will start at quarterback after biding his time, learning the position.
"Travis was the j.v. quarterback last year and he's a pretty talented kid," Campbell said. "He's probably the best thrower we've had in my three years.
"The kids look up to him and respect him, and he commands the huddle. He understands our expectations, and I'd like to get him involved in the run game as well."
Senior guards Dustin Chalfant and Wade Mullins are back on the line along with junior tackle Aidan Isler. Junior Adam Ulery moves from tackle to tight end.
Five starters return in the Vikings' 3-4 scheme, including Fox and Reese at linebacker. Reese had 65 tackles, including eight for loss, and Fox added 47 tackles.
Seniors Dylen Conley and Mullins return on the defensive line and sophomore Isaiah Hartman played outside linebacker last fall but moves to safety.
"This is the most athletic defense that we've had in the past three seasons," Campbell said. "We have some speed and our secondary has stood out throughout camp and two-a-days. They've been extremely physical, which isn't always easy to do. They've stepped up and accepted being physical at the line of scrimmage.
"Our linebacking corps has been great. Jake Reese is an all-state performer, Cole Fox was an all-league player and Dylon Parman played for us there last year. I think we can be pretty stout this year."
Staying healthy is just as important on defense as it is for the offense, however.
"We have some young guys who have an opportunity to develop into pretty good football players, but our depth is a concern," Campbell said. "We started with 40 kids last year and ended the season with around 30 with injuries and attrition. We have 35 this year, so we have to be able to stay healthy and keep our guys as fresh as possible."
Sophomore Connor Everts will be the kicker, with junior Will Holt handling the punting duties for the Vikings. Junior Brian Krehel and Parman will return kicks, with Ulery serving as the long snapper.
Quarterbacks: *Travis Neumeyer (sr., 5-11, 170), Carl Ferguson (fr., 5-8, 140)
Running backs: *Cole Fox (sr., 5-10, 227), *Dylon Parman (sr., 5-9, 175), *Jake Reese (sr., 6-1, 210), Marcus Ferguson (jr., 5-9, 165), Brian Krehel (jr., 5-10, 157)
Receivers: Andrew Black (sr., 5-7, 148), Lane Hess (fr., 5-11, 141), Isaiah Hartman (so., 5-10, 163)
Tight ends: *Adam Ulery (jr., 6-1, 185), Hartman
Linemen: *Dustin Chalfant (sr., 5-10, 160), *Dylen Conley (sr., 6-6, 238), *Aidan Isler (jr., 6-3, 235), *Wade Mullins (sr., 5-10, 235), *Aaron White (sr., 6-1, 190), Joey Davis (fr., 6-1, 200), Robert Halfhill (sr., 5-9, 200), Tyler Harter (so., 5-11, 190), Matt Pileski (sr., 5-10, 172)
Linemen: *Conley, *Mullins, *White, Isler
Linebackers: *M. Ferguson, *Fox, *Parman, *Reese, Halfhill, Harter, Ulery
Secondary: *Hartman, Krehel, *J.D. Miller (so., 6-0, 153), *Neumeyer, Chad Bailey (jr., 6-1, 163), Hess, Holt, Nic Minder (so., 5-10, 144)
Kicker: *Connor Everts (so., 5-9, 150)
Punter: *Will Holt (jr., 5-8, 152)
Returners: Krehel, Parman
Long snapper: *Ulery
(*Denotes projected starter)