High School Sports

Experience gap a major concern for Eagles

Northside's Kevin Kinsler and Tobias Oliver ready to rebound from 2015

Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler and quarterback Tobias Oliver intend to surpass last season's 9-2 mark.
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Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler and quarterback Tobias Oliver intend to surpass last season's 9-2 mark.

Northside is a program of many things, including astounding consistency.

The Eagles’ remarkable streak of 17 straight seasons of at least 10 wins ended last year.

They haven’t been below .500 since 1991, the first such record since 1970, and they haven’t had a three-loss season since 2002, while recording 11 one-loss seasons since their 1963 debut.

The longest stretch between region titles since the first one in 1975 was from 1978 to 1998, and every player who has suited up for three years since then has a region title.

This season brings another norm: The Eagles have talent and some experience, but they will have to wait about four games for the light to come on for the key newcomers.

“We have a lot of older guys that have played a lot of football, but we have a lot of younger guys that have a big learning curve,” head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “It’s kind of two opposite ends of the spectrum. We’re working really hard getting those guys as much reps as we can.”

One difference is that the gap this year between those with experience and those expect to have impact but have little experience is greater than in recent years.

“One thing that’s kind of unique is, we have a pretty good junior class, but the guys that have played a lot, they’ve obviously played a lot of football,” Kinsler said. “There’s a lot of guys that have to come up to speed on technique and stuff like that. Usually we have some filler in between, but it’s a pretty big gap.”

Quarterback Tobias Oliver, who is 23-3 as the starter since taking over three days before the 2014 season opener, has a sense of familiarity his debut season, which ended on the Georgia Dome turf with the Eagles hoisting the GHSA Class 5A trophy.

“I’ve got a great group of seniors,” he said. “The senior class this year is a lot like the 2014 class. Last year, the juniors were the leaders on the team.”

The Eagles aren’t nearly as proven in many key areas this year as they were back then. They had scores of returnees that season and were experienced at pretty much every area. That’s not quite the case this fall, with experience gaps in most areas.

The Eagles have experience gaps in most areas, especially on defense and some key special teams spots. Caleb Kelly, a Georgia Southern commitment, anchors a fairly new offensive line, and undersized but intense veteran linebacker Kam Burnett and Vanderbilt commitment Tae Daley in the secondary lead a defense that might have an edge on the offense for a while.

An interesting tweak is on offense.

Oliver isn’t an exceptionally polished quarterback, but he’s a very successful one. His college future appears to be at wide receiver, and that’s where he was expected to play as a sophomore until Jurmon Weaver went out with a an appendicitis.

Oliver has been getting a fair number of snaps at wideout in the offseason and preseason, and that will be a larger part of the Eagles’ game plan.

“I’ve been doing a good bit,” he said. “In the spring, we had a couple different formations where I went out. It’s fun.”

Jaden Daniels is technically the No. 2 quarterback, but it’s versatile Marcus Jolly who is likely to line up at quarterback more when Oliver goes wide. Jolly doesn’t have Oliver’s size or experience, but Jolly played quarterback as a freshman and was of major impact last year as a versatile player at running back and receiver, accounting for 553 catching and rushing yards and six touchdowns on 62 touches.

The Eagles’ task is holding on for the first several weeks until the new regulars get their feet completely wet. Opening up with Warner Robins and faring well can be quite the table-setter for the season, with a visit by playoff rival Ware County a target date five weeks later before the new four-game region schedule starts.

“The thing about it is, to do it right, it’s going to take weeks for them to keep getting good reps and getting good at things,” said Kinsler, 69-8 entering his seventh season as head coach at his alma mater. “It’s probably going to be at least, down the road, week four, five, maybe six, where they really get to where they can do well.”

Northside

Head coach: Kevin Kinsler (69-8 in six seasons overall and at Northside).

2015 record: 9-2.

2016 region: GHSA 1-6A.

Players to watch: Desean Dinkins (5-11, 224, Sr., RB); Tobias Oliver (6-2, 175 Sr., QB); Jaylan Sandifer (6-3, 185, Sr., WR); Trayvon Willis (5-9, 170, Sr., WR); Tae Daley (Sr., DB).

Schedule:

Aug. 19 vs. Warner Robins

Aug. 26 Henry County

Sept. 2 at Westside

Sept. 9 Lanier

Sept. 16 Ware County

Sept. 30 Macon County

Oct. 7 at Valdosta

Oct. 14 Lee County

Oct. 21 Coffee

Oct. 28 at Houston County

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