ROCK HILL — When the tall pines that line Northwesterns practice field start swaying to the music booming out of the loudspeaker, you know its time for Trojan football.
Head coach Kyle Richardson likes the tunes loud, deafeningly so, and Fridays season-opening practice was no exception.
Since Ive been the head coach weve always practiced with music, and its got to be loud and distracting said Richardson after the two and a half hour practice, and obviously its gotta be to my delight. We play music that I like, which is very similar to the kids. But they know the music is just a distraction.
Unable to hear what the coaches are saying, the Trojan players have to focus on their hand signals instead.
They have to focus on us coaching them. Our coaches coach really fast and on the run, said Richardson. Everythings gotta be done just like it is on Friday night. We cant control the band, we cant control when you go into a hostile environment. So we just made that here, except we had a little fun with it. Bottom line, its about them staying focused.
After 30-minute position group meetings also hounded by background music the Trojans hit the field around 3:45 beneath a blaring sun, eager to do one better than 2012. Last fall seemed like one of those charmed campaigns for the Trojans, who have played in state championships four of the last five years. But they tripped up at the last obstacle, the Class AAAA-II state championship game versus Greenwood. Needing a touchdown in overtime to force a second extra session, Rontavious McClure broke inside on fourth down and Mason Rudolphs pass skipped off the Williams Brice Stadium turf behind him.
As a football program, Northwestern left that bitter memory in Columbia. Its 2013 and the Trojans are looking forward, but that doesnt mean their content with state title game appearances.
Every offseason its about trying to win a state championship, said Richardson. Nobody is happy on this campus, nobody is happy in the Northwestern family if we dont do that, and thats fine. Thats the pressure that were under and we like it.
Fittingly, Michael Jackson, Notorious B.I.G. And Elvis took turns assaulting Trojan eardrums Friday. Richardson again has an offensive arsenal as diverse as his iPod shuffle, especially with the likes of All-State QB Rudolph and receivers Mustafia Love and Dupree Hart back to diminish opposing defensive coordinators sleep hours.
Rudolph, who committed to Oklahoma State in June, completed 68 percent of his passes last year; only seven of his 504 throws were intercepted, while 41 of them went for touchdowns. Love and Hart combined for 185 catches, 1,971 yards and 26 receiving touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-4 Love gives the Trojans a long, physical receiver that can go up and bring down jump balls, while the diminutive Hart, who at 5-foot-6 scored 27 total touchdowns last year, might be the most difficult player to tackle in the area.
Both of them bring different things to the table and weve got them lined up on the same side right now, which is a really good dynamic, Richardson said. Well see what happens; weve got to develop some more guys.
Northwestern amassed over 2,000 more yards than its opponents last season and they expect to do it again. Northwestern, like any year-to-year gridiron dynasty, merely replaces parts and 2013 should see senior Tori Adams consolidate a starting spot in the backfield. He picked up over 500 yards of offense and scored six rushing TDs, while sophomore Julian Shockley should also see extensive playing time as an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield.
With Rudolph in his third year running the Trojans Air Raid offensive scheme, Northwestern should be operating at a greased-up top gear. Richardson has installed a handful of different looks and schemes, but the system wasnt broken and didnt need fixing.
Nothings new, he said. We may put in a tweak we had in 2007 or 2010 that we thought worked well with our personnel in 2013.
As the sun set on the first practice of the season, Justin Timberlakes Set The Mood blared over the speakers. During Fridays first step in the five-month march toward a state title, the Trojan football team did just what Mr. Timberlake suggested.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032.