On paper, it looks like a reloading year for Northwestern.
The Trojans enter 2017 with fewer recognized stars than the past few years but will surely start the year in the state rankings’ top-five, regardless. Northwestern has to replace a Shrine Bowl QB (Gage Moloney) and running back (Jerry Howard), part of seven Trojan graduates that ended up signing with college football programs.
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Junior receiver Jamario Holley has the opportunity to become the program’s lead man on offense and he’ll be eager to bounce back from last season’s uneven campaign in which he only caught 34 passes. He’ll get help from muscled senior Dequez Harris, who should start at running back after operating in Howard’s shadow the last two years.
Three QBs are vying for the starting job, including sophomores Dustin Noller and Brentyn Switzer; they’ll get snaps from senior center Josiah Ivey, as good as they get up front, locally. Defensive coordinator James Martin is looking for some defensive play-makers to emerge after Caliph Brice and Ali Shockley graduated. There are candidates in the secondary, as well as linebacker Christian Steele and defensive tackle Chance Miller.
Coach: David Pierce, 2nd year (9-2)
Assistant coaches: Robert Hellams, offensive coordinator; James Martin, defensive coordinator; Mitch Walters, special teams, running backs; Page Wofford, assistant head coach and wide receivers; Benji Young, defensive backs; Robert Dickson, wide receivers; Bobby Page, defensive backs and recruiting coordinator; Sam Mallard, offensive line; Mario Donato, defensive line; Andy White, video coordinator.
Last season: 9-2, lost in the first round of the 5A playoffs
Last 5 years: 59-10, 2 state championships
Playoff wins last 5 years: 12
Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
Key number: 6 - The Trojan defense only picked off six passes last season, down from 16, 11 and 19 in the preceding three years. That figure should rise this season, though, thanks to a potentially solid secondary led by Ladell Massey, Fentrell Cypress and Freddie Cunningham Jr.
Key returning players: Sr. DL Chance Miller, Jr. DB Fentrell Cypress, Sr. CB Freddie Cunningham Jr., Sr. LB Trey McCullough, Sr. LB Christian Steele, Sr. DB Ladell Massey, Sr. OL Josiah Ivey, Sr. OL K.D. Canaty, Sr. WR/RB Dequez Harris, Jr. WR Jamario Holley, Sr. WR Jordan Starkes, Sr. DL Areon Walls.
Weakness: The expectations that will undoubtedly saddle the Trojans’ 2017 team could end up a weakness or a strength, depending on how the players and coaches manage them. This season will undoubtedly present Northwestern’s football program with tests of its collective mental fortitude.
Strength: The Trojans are again blessed with pass-catchers, as long as they get QB Tanner McKinney up to speed. Besides Harris and Holley, senior Jordan Starkes is another dangerous offensive piece for Northwestern.
Coachspeak: “They asked ‘who’s gonna fill Jeff Burris’ shoes?’ once and they asked, ‘who’s gonna fill Cordarrelle Patterson’s shoes?’ and we stepped up and did it. So, our history and what’s expected has not changed.”
August: 18 at South Pointe; 25 Dorman
September: 1 at South Mecklenburg (N.C.); 8 Byrnes; 15 at Spartanburg; 22 Gaffney; 29 Fort Mill
October: 6 Bye; 13 at Clover; 20 Nation Ford; 27 at Rock Hill
- Northwestern’s opponents won 56 percent of their games in 2016 (67-53) and include eight playoff teams and one state champion (South Pointe).