North Hall High coach David Bishop knew a lackluster start wouldn’t define his Trojans football program five weeks into the 2017 season.
Bishop remembers all too well a pivotal conversation he had with his team following a discouraging outcome in a scrimmage against West Hall last spring.
“We know that if you’ll allow us to coach you, you’ll grow and we’ll be in good shape,” he recalled.
The players kept all focus on that process their head coach preached. It was that belief, Bishop said, that made things happen moving forward.
North Hall went on to win four of its final six regular-season games to clinch a third-consecutive playoff berth, all done with a slew of sophomores and juniors. Their four wins in region play even granted the Trojans a No. 3 seed in the Class 3A tournament before falling short to Monroe Area in the opening round of state on the road.
“It goes back to trust,” Bishop said. “I had a lot of parents come up to us (last year) and say ‘my son, even at 0-4, is still saying just trust the coach. Just trust the coach.’ ...They just trusted the process, and trusting us as coaches.”
Now those same sophomores and juniors to help keep North Hall afloat last season are beyond a phase of ‘growing pains,’ and expect to sustain the program’s reputation as a playoff contender.
“This year especially, being my senior year, I am just overwhelmed with excitement,” senior Daniel Jackson said on the potential of this year’s squad.
Aside from some team-building exercises off the field, Bishop said based on the results manifesting on the practice field and in their spring showing, this North Hall program and community are abuzz with enthusiasm for 2018.
“It is energy...these guys love each other, and when you do that, it makes it easier to come to practice,” Bishop added. “...They see some things that we’re able to do differently going into this year schematically on offense and defense, and it does lend itself to the excitement. We ran 40s the other day, and a lot of them were like, ‘woah, we’re actually pretty fast.’ ...So all those little things continue to add up.”
North Hall also will look to snap a playoff winless streak dating back to 2012. But first, the Trojans will have a tough uphill climb in a top-heavy Region 7-3A they finished third in the season prior. Bishop feels a challenging non-region slate should benefit his program in preparation for the 7-3A schedule.
“We don’t have a ton of depth, and that’s one thing we are lacking,” he added. “But if these guys stay healthy, they are hungry. They’ve got the edge.”
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One thing coach Bishop relishes is changing the preconceived notion that the Wing-T offense is just a basic scheme. Bishop’s ability to shift pieces around went on full display last season.
After waving goodbye to bell cow Kyle Bacus in 2016, the Trojans traded size for speed in the run game last year. This vast committee-run backfield compiled 2,286 yards and 25 touchdowns on a combined 432 carries between 13 ball carriers in 2017. Meanwhile, quarterback David Seavey was the culprit in giving this run-heavy offense an extra wrinkle in the vertical attack, throwing for 851 yards and three scores with a completion rate of 67 percent (56 of 84).
Additional tweaks to the Trojans’ offense over the offseason should give North Hall a more Auburn-esque look out of the shotgun in 2018, providing more balance as a result, according to Bishop.
“One of the things I love as a coach is an ability to expand and contract depending on experience and whatever level of athleticism you have,” Bishop said. “. ...We got a few guys out there that can do a number of things for us. It makes it tough to defend.”
Bishop returns eight on offense, beginning with senior Daniel Jackson, a team captain who ran for 363 yards and four scores as a junior. Jackson is followed by dynamic playmaker Drew Faulkner, backup quarterback turned tailback JT Fair, Isaac Carney and Jacob Dickey.
David Seavey, in his final season, is primed to facilitate the starting quarterback role once again, and he will have some weapons at his disposal. Those are comprised of Luke Volle at wide receiver and 6-foot-5, 245-pound Nate Nixon as a returning starter at tight end.
It was another season stacked against a pass-happy region, though North Hall’s defense was still very much a part of the turnaround in 2017. Whether it was a goal line stand in a critical region win against Union County or even holding an Austin Parker-led East Hall offense to 20 points in a 31-20 victory in the regular-season finale, the Trojans found ways to give their offense more opportunities.
This year, Bishop foresees a more opportunistic, and seasoned unit to take the field. The Trojans once again benefit from a bevy of two-way playmakers, as Bishop welcomes back eight starters that will help occupy the Trojans’ 4-2-5 package in 2018.
“We’re gonna expand a little bit, with the knowledge we were able to obtain last year,” Bishop said. “We’re able to do things differently up front, as well as in the secondary, mix up a lot more coverages. ...Through camps and stuff, they’ve done a pretty good job, especially in the secondary breaking on the ball.”
Team captains Jackson and Seavey will be a pair to headline at safety and lead this secondary that Bishop expects to “take care of business in the back half.” Followed by defensive back Luke Volle, one Bishop expects big things from in his junior season.
The linebacker corps should be spearheaded by Drew Faulkner along the edge.
Bishop also brings back a solid look in the trenches with senior Logan Jackson and junior Austin Sullens at tackle, followed by Nixon at defensive end.
North Hall features a new look at kicker following the departure of Joel Barrientos. Bishop confirmed Erin Sanchez will fulfill the place kicking duties, and split time with Seavey at punter. After his 93-yard kick return for a touchdown carried big weight in North Hall’s 55-34 win over Union County last season, Jackson will have even more opportunities as the Trojans’ leading return man on special teams in 2018.
While Bishop brings back a bulk of its playoff team from last season, health will have to be on North Hall’s side if there’s any chance for a deep playoff push. Only time will tell if a number of region opponents going through major changes in leadership and personnel would benefit the Trojans.