It was three steps forward and five steps back for the Northside High football team in 2012. That was the description given by senior quarterback Jonathan Karastury, who is in his senior year under center.
With a new head coach and a new offensive philosophy, the Patriots are helping to turn the inconsistent play from a season ago into a year with positive strides.
To do that, coach Morgan Ingram said, echoing the words of many other coaches around the area, Northside must improve physically.
“We’ve been real physical in practice so far,” he said. “We’re a little beat up right now, trying to recover. But, we just know we need to improve our physicality.”
Linebacker Blake Pace, who had 51 tackles a year ago, said it was all about being ready to make the plays under real in-game situations.
“If we hit in practice like we do in games, you’re more prepared to make that tackle when the time comes,” he said.
As each day in practice passes, however, Ingram feels like his team is headed in the right direction. He’s happy with the progression on both sides of the ball, though there were a few changes the players had to learn on offense.
Offensively, Ingram said the team returns about four or five guys who really played significant time a year ago. Karastury is the main player, having spent 2012 under center for the Patriots. His strides over this offseason has been key to the Patriots’ adjustment.
“It’s gone well so far,” Ingram said. “We’ve got somewhat of a new system, or a new philosophy. We’re going less sideline-to-sideline and more north and south. We did the same thing in the spring, so it’s not brand new at this point, but he’s really picked up the changes so far.”
Karastury said the difference between last year and this year is night and day.
“Oh, my gosh,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t prepared at all going into last year. Everything seemed like 500 miles per hour, but now everything’s just—I don’t want to say easy, but I just have a much better idea what I’m doing.”
And what everyone else is supposed to be doing, which is a big component of being a successful quarterback.
He’ll have help out of the backfield from senior Larry Gilyard, who carried 49 times for 172 yards last year, and junior Kaden Freeman. Derrick Brownridge got looks at wide receiver last year, and will be a target in the passing game this year.
On the offensive line, the Patriots will have Joe Goosby returning at guard along with Austin Thornton (OT), Marcus Johnson (OG), Bradley Spear (C) and Elisha Osakwe (OT). Ingram said he expects tight end Tequan Walrond to step up as well.
The Patriots return seven on defense, though the secondary is pretty new across the board. Pace will be the leader of the defensive unit, playing middle linebacker, along with senior Victor Ballesteros (45 tackles in 2012) and defensive end Lucas Nilo (43 tackles). Demarious Hood and Gabe Gordon round out the defensive line, and sophomore Kalan Watts and senior Noah Forehand will finish the linebacking corps.
Sophomore Jacobi Francis and cornerbacks Sergio Sabino and Steven Crayton figure to get plenty of time in the secondary.
Ingram said he is happy with the speed at which the new players have picked up the defense.
“They seem to be picking it up so far,” he said.
He added that he’d learn more about what the defense can do and how the coaches need to approach game planning as practice goes along.
“I think you have to fit your scheme to your personnel, rather than the other way around,” he said. “You’ll fight an uphill battle if you don’t.”
After a two-win campaign a year ago, some may say Northside is fighting an uphill battle anyway. And yet, coaches like the changes that have come to the players.
Ingram has had to order more equipment due to an influx in player participation, and he said the most important thing is that they are building quality players rather than just focusing on quantity.
It’s hard to say whether Northside will experience a vast improvement in its win total in 2013, but the team seems to be happy with the progression it is making.
Pace said it would take a quick start and consistent play for 10 games to be where the team wants to be at the end of the year.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.