As winners of three of the past four region titles, North Hall has been the standard bearer for recent success in Region 7-AAA. But the challenge to the Trojans this season will be to make it back to the state playoffs after losing 15 starters that carried the school to the Class AAA state semifinals in 2007.
The Trojans are bound to show a new style of football this season after graduating their entire offensive backfield and losing players that were set to help fill that void.
This season, North Hall will try to show off its speed on the perimeter and move the ball through the air to help take the pressure off of an inexperienced running game.
As a result, Trojans eighth-year coach Bob Christmas knows the 50-point victories of last season are a thing of the past, but a talented defensive unit can help keep North Hall in playoff contention in Region 7A-AAA.
"I like the fact that we have a bunch of kids competing hard," Christmas said. "But there’s no question we still have a lot of question marks."
North Hall is sticking with its wing-T attack, but it will lack the punch of last year’s running game that finished with 4,570 yards and 67 touchdowns.
Luckily, the Trojans still have an experienced offensive line to run behind led by junior left tackle Daniel Blitch, an Elite 11 selection. He is making the move from center where he played as a sophomore. Senior left guard Matt Haynes is also a returning starter.
Kyle Oliver will take over the job at center. Jackson Kearns, a senior, is going to start at right guard and Ross Biggers at right tackle.
At tight end, Sam Weaver and Thomas Sprague will both see the field.
Nathan Hewell (left guard), Roger Ponce (right guard) and Cody Lowe (left tackle) are also expected to see substantial playing time, according to Christmas.
Beau Dehass, Aaron Mann and Dylan Mann are all the front runners at split end.
Graham Duncan, who runs a sub 4.4 second 40-yard dash, Ben Booth and Mark Fuller are going to be playing wing back for North Hall.
In the backfield, it’s going to be Matt Christmas, Jordan Chaffin and Darian Roman at halfback. Avery Nix, Peyton Wilhoite and Mack VanGorder are the leaders to play at fullback.
North Hall’s new starting quarterback Blayne Gilmer (5-11, 175), a senior, played a lot last season in the second half of easy wins. Christmas says the Trojans new starting quarterback is able to throw the deep ball, allowing the team to utilize its speed at wide receiver.
"The thing we really have to work on is our running game," Christmas said. "But that gives kids a chance to show us what they can do."
North Hall’s coach isn’t as concerned about his defensive unit. The Trojans are led on defense by inside linebacker Sprague, a junior, who Christmas says could be the best linebacker in Region 7-AAA. Wilhoite and VanGorder are also going to play at inside linebacker.
At outside linebacker, Nix, Booth, Roman and Mann are all the frontrunners to complete this unit.
The secondary for the Trojans is capable of keeping up with the fastest wide receivers in Region 7-AAA. Dehass and Duncan are both returning starters this season at cornerback. Nathan Jones, a junior, will play free safety.
Weaver, Kearns, Hewell and Haynes are North Hall’s defensive ends. Blitch, Biggers and Lowe are the leading candidates at defensive tackle.
"We have the potential to be good on defense," Christmas said. "I really like our chemistry."
Jake Dunn returns for his senior season to punt and handle the place-kicking duties, along with sophomore Shane Doster. Dehass and Duncan will both return to handle kick returns and punt returns.
North Hall has only missed the playoffs once in the past six years. It would be a surprise if the Trojans weren’t in the playoff hunt once again when November rolls around.