WARNER ROBINS -- The Northside football team has often played a part in deciding the eventual state champion during the past 15 years in its respective class.
Sometimes that path to a championship has been completed only after beating a Northside team. The Eagles won the state championship themselves twice.
Rarely, however, does Northside watch helplessly as the playoffs unfold.
The Eagles did just that last season after a surprising first-round loss to Whitewater. They fell behind 28-0 in that game before mounting a rally and eventually losing 28-21.
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Northside, which went undefeated in the regular season, hadn’t lost in the first round of the playoffs since 1996.
“That’s a pretty big motivation for all of our guys,” head coach Kevin Kinsler said.
Northside returns six starters on offense and five on defense this season, and Kinsler hopes those veterans will serve as the backbone for this year’s team.
Despite returning only five defensive starters, three of those -- defensive lineman Josh Chester, defensive back Taz Thomas and linebacker Trey Payne -- were three of their most productive defensive players in 2010.
“Our kids look at (Chester and Thomas) as a stabilizing force,” Kinsler said. “They feel more confident with those guys out there. They make sure those young guys do what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The Eagles have plenty of new faces on offense.
Senior Jack Montgomery and sophomore Glenn Smith will take over at quarterback. Both have moved around some based on needs. Smith played a running back coming up through middle school, while Montgomery moved around because Briar Van Brunt and Dan Mastellar were firmly entrenched in front of him at quarterback.
“(Montgomery) has a great competitive nature, and he’s able to run the ball,” Kinsler said. “We looked at (Smith) and evaluated him and felt like it was something he could do. He has worked hard, and he’s come a long way.”
Marte Polk returns at running back after rushing for 364 yards and six touchdowns, but he’ll be counted on along with Curtis Martin to lead the way now. Receivers Adonis Hampton and Miguel Williams played last season, but they weren’t relied on to put up big numbers.
The Eagles return four starters on the offensive line. The fifth, Jamal Smith, actually was a starter going into last season before getting hurt.
“We have some new guys working at tight end, but we feel good about our offensive line with the experience returning,” Kinsler said.
The Eagles are big and fast. They have 16 players who weigh more than 250 pounds and seven players who run a 4.5 or faster in the 40-yard dash.
“They look like a typical Northside team,” Peach County head coach Chad Campbell said. “They have a lot of size, and they have a lot of talent.”