WARNER ROBINS -- A year ago, there were concerns.
Northside had offensive linemen back but was brand new at quarterback. And there was some shuffling around on defense, which had some new starters.
The brand new quarterback turned in a remarkable season, especially considering he became the starter a few days before the season opener. Everything else fell into place, and Northside won the GHSA Class AAAAA title.
Again, there are concerns.
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The young quarterback is now a veteran who will work behind a basically new offensive line and in front of a tailback who had 1,787 fewer yards and 30 fewer touchdowns than Willie Jordan last year. There is again some shuffling around on defense to fill some major holes in the front seven.
A year ago, head coach Kevin Kinsler said he hoped the newcomers -- most of whom did see the field at some point in 2013 -- would be up to speed by around the third or fourth week. Other than an unforgettable hiccup at Jones County, the Eagles got up to speed and stayed there. And a rerun appears doable in 2015.
Kinsler almost has a twinkle in his eye when he talks about how many are back and how many are gone.
“I remember after the 2005 season, we had to replace 10 starters on defense, and we had to replace seven on offense, and I think four of those were offensive linemen,” said Kinsler, an assistant on that staff. “For the 2006 season, we had to replace all those guys.”
The replacements did well, helping Northside win its first state title.
The program’s third championship has returned the target to the Eagles’ backs.
“I work at Wal-Mart,” senior defensive back Chris Haughton said. “Sometimes I wear the ring out there. ‘Let me see your ring.’ Everybody knows where you’re coming from, that you’re working hard. They know your history.“
Tobias Oliver was a revelation at quarterback last year, starting the preseason third on the depth chart behind Jurmon Weaver and Tanner Smith. As practice wore on, Oliver moved ahead of Smith and then took over on the Wednesday before the opener when Weaver suffered an appendicitis.
While not asked to throw much, Oliver’s grasp of the offense and his lack of mistakes for a sophomore running the offense at a high-profile program were impressive.
The Eagles rushed for 4,903 yards and 60 touchdowns, Oliver accounting for 906 yards and 10 scores. He passed for 1,327 yards, completing 53 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“We know what Tobias can do,” Kinsler said. “But we’re not going to base everything on making him make all the plays.”
Caleb Kelly is the lone returning offensive lineman, and Desean Dinkins had many good moments at tailback last year. But the Eagles appear to have a stronger group at the skill spots, with Jaylan Sandifer, Marcus Jolly and Quay Williams, to name a few.
Haughton leads a superb secondary, with Kam Burnett topping a reworked linebacker unit and Darius Richardson anchoring a deep front on defense.
Kinsler sees a similarity to a year ago, with expectations that the new regulars will step up sooner rather than later. And the general plan hasn’t changed.
“Sometimes, especially for us last year, it was a matter of simplifying it, getting right back down to the basics of running the football and playing good defense,” Kinsler said. “That’s what carried us through those last six or seven weeks of the season.
“The things we were good at -- we weren’t good at everything -- we got to where the kids were really good at it.”
ABOUT THE NORTHSIDE EAGLES
Head coach: Kevin Kinsler (60-6 in five seasons overall and at Northside).
Assistant coaches: Chad Alligood (offensive coordinator); Chris Reeves (defensive coordinator); Kelvin McDavis (offensive line); Reggie Thorpe (wide receivers); Mark Estes (running backs); Randy Carr (offensive line); Lee Pope (defensive line); Daniel Sayles (defensive ends); Tyler Kinsler (linebackers-freshmen); Dyron Adams (running backs-freshmen); Sam Said (wide receivers-freshmen); Jake Timmerman (offensive linemen-freshmen); Matt Simon (defensive backs-freshmen).
Offensive scheme: Multiple option/power run.
Defensive scheme: 4-3.
2014 record: 14-1.
Region: GHSA 2-AAAAA.
Returning starters: Four on offense; five on defense.
Players to watch: Tobias Oliver (Jr., QB); Desean Dinkins (Jr., RB); Jaylan Sandifer (Jr., WR); Caleb Kelly (Jr., OL); Kam Burnett (Jr., LB); Yacht Jones (Sr., LB); Darius Richardson (Sr., DL); Tae Daley (Jr., DB); Chris Haughton (Sr., DB).
Aug. 21 at North Cobb
Sept. 4 Evans
Sept. 11 at Lakeside-Evans
Sept. 17 Jones County
Sept. 25 at Greenbrier
Oct. 2 Richmond Academy
Oct. 16 vs. Warner Robins
Oct. 23 at Grovetown
Oct. 31 Cross Creek
Nov. 6 vs. Houston County