Northside, Glynn Academy are evenly matched, thinks Kevin Kinsler
The template has remained the same, and it remains a pretty good one.
Kevin Kinsler and the staff at Northside start each August knowing who will start or be in the rotation at a position or a unit.
They know what they know. It’s the preparation and planning for what they don’t know that seems to make a difference. So they watch and wait, figuring that there will be a decent number of players who will go from being a body in August to a somebody in October.
“In our program, we hope by week four or five or six that those guys have gotten enough reps that they can start contributing about that time, when you’re really gonna need them getting into the thick of the region schedule and hopefully into the playoffs,” said Kinsler, 79-10 in his seventh season as head coach. “You can’t really look at where they are at the beginning of the season; you got to look at where they’re going to be down the road.”
Two examples are Greguenceo Coger and Daniel Neal, fairly soft-spoken underclassmen who are giving the Eagles a boost, the kind of boost that is a big reason Northside is back in the quarterfinals, now in Class 6A, and on the road Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Glynn Academy in Brunswick.
Coger and Neal are among the many Eagles who were counted on early to become proficient enough at Class 6A football to be counted on late.
Offensive coordinator Chad Alligood also raved about center Ham Williams, who stands barely about 5-foot-7.
“He’s not the tallest, but he’s strong, he’s thick,” Alligood said. “He makes all our line calls, and he wants to be perfect with all that.
“We’re as solid at center this year than we’ve been in a long time.”
Williams blocks for Neal, a 5-8, 150-pound sophomore getting quality snaps on the Class 6A level, and not at a position that can be hidden or have spells of relative inactivity. He’s at running back, in a running offense.
And he was thrown into the fire early, thanks to injuries to running back De’Sean Dinkins and do-everything Marcus Jolly. The staff had moved Neal to wide receiver in the spring, but Neal wasn’t thrilled.
“Not at all,” said Neal, who is quiet off the field, but plays loud on it. “I didn’t like spring ball.”
Dinkins got banged up in August, and Neal was back where he wanted to be, and he quickly started giving the Eagles a little more than they expected from a sophomore.
“He’s quiet but tough as nails,” Alligood said. “Neal’s got that ‘it’ factor, that little wiggle in his step when runs. Stuff you can’t coach. You got it or you don’t.”
Neal has carried 68 times for 498 yards, an average of 7.3 yards per carry, better than quarterback Tobias Oliver (7.0) and Dinkins (6.0). And Neal has seven rushing touchdowns,
“We knew he was gonna be a good player for us,” Kinsler said. “We just we’re sure that he would contribute this quick. We had some guys dinged up through the year, and he stepped in and we haven’t missed a beat.”
Coger’s story isn’t too different.
At 6-0, 200 pounds, he doesn’t have imposing size, certainly not for Georgia’s second-largest classification. But again, all he has done is get better and make plays, often standing out on a deep defensive line that has been steady and consistent.
“I knew I was going to be playing, but not this much,” said Coger, who is 10th on the team with 23 tackles and second with 13 tackles for loss. “They told me I was going to have to step up this year and play more. I had to work.”
Coger was at linebacker last season but moved to the defensive line in the spring.
“He just took to it,” Kinsler said. “He was a guy that we were looking at in a backup role, and he has just excelled and come on. He has done a really good job for us this year at one of the end positions.
“That was a pleasant surprise, and it certainly allowed us to do some more things, because we had that guy we hadn’t been counting on.”
Coger said linebacker Maulik Winfield and lineman Angel Camacho have stepped up, like he has, and Kinsler also noted linebacker Kameron Tate and defensive back Tubby McCall among those who have done the same on defense.
Coger said this defense is better than the 2014 group that helped the Eagles win the Class 5A title, but Neal takes a veteran approach to any comparisons.
“You can’t think about that,” he said. “You gotta go out and play your season, and do what you gotta do.”