High School Sports

Northwestern: rebuilt, reloaded and ready for a run

Kyle Richardson said pressure comes along with the job if you are a head football coach.

Richardson will get his chance to lead a team this year, replacing one of the state's best-ever coaches, Northwestern's Jimmy Wallace. Richardson inherited one of the state's most storied teams. The Trojans played in the last three Class AAAA Division II state championships and won last year in completing a 15-0 season.

Losses is not a word coaches use, nor one Richardson wants to hear coming from the mouths of his players. But losses are numerous this season at Northwestern, and it's his job to fix them.

Besides Wallace, Northwestern lost one of the top quarterbacks ever in the state of South Carolina. Justin Worley is competing for the starting job as a freshman at Tennessee, graduating early last December with most of the state passing records.

Worley passed for 5,313 yards and 64 TDs last season. In Worley's three years as the starter, he completed 429-of-590 passes for 13,385 yards and 157 touchdowns.

"We have three players competing for the job and at the moment there is no starter,'' said Richardson, who brought his pass-first "Air Raid'' offense to Northwestern four years ago. "We will run the same system but will adjust it to best fit the player who starts.

"My first year we had Will King and put in more runs because of his speed and ability to scramble. We adjusted to keep Worley in the pocket. Who starts will come down to me and the three quarterbacks. We are in the same position. They know I have big shoes to fill. They know they also have to fill some big shoes.''

The three are senior Matt Turney, last year's backup, junior Ham Wright and Mason Randolph, a 6-foot-5 Westminster Catawba transfer. Worley is also 6-5, but no matter who starts he will be taking over for Worley, not replacing him.

And whichever quarterback wins, other adjustments will be made.

"It's really different with a new quarterback,'' senior center Zach Tate said. "The cadence is different. Justin had a loud voice and our offense could hear him playing in front of a big crowd. And last year I adjusted to Justin's height on snaps because we were in the shotgun."

Also lost was record-setting wide receiver Robert Joseph, who will reportedly walk on at Clemson.

Joseph had another season with big numbers, but because he was so closely defended, B.J. Boyd had a breakout year as a junior. He caught 100 passes for 1,228 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"Coach Richardson was a good choice and he's coaching us the same way he always has,'' Boyd said. "And he's coaching the quarterbacks the same as he did Justin.

"The starter will have to watch and break down videos, read the playbook over and over and work hard when he brings on the field what he's learned. We have some good quarterbacks and we've worked well together in 7-on-7s.''

The losses on defense were also shattering. Defensive lineman Rod Byers announced he was going to Oregon, runner up for the National Championship. The morning of national signing day, he switched to Clemson.

Also gone is defensive lineman Gerald Dixon Jr., a USC signee.

There are holes to fill, but defensive coordinator Mike Biddix has some returnees to build around such as senior linebacker Jordan Lowery and senior strong safety Devonte Gibson.

"Playing defense at Northwestern is a great opportunity,'' Gibson said.

"We played hard last year. It seemed like every team we played brought out its best game for us. But it worked in our favor ... made us play harder.''

Lowery is entering his third year on the varsity and said Richardson treats the team like a family, "same as coach Wallace did.''

"Changing coaches hasn't been hard,'' he said. "Coach Richardson is a great coach and we know when the season starts our open spots will be filled and we'll be ready to play. We want to go back to the state again.''

Richardson said Wallace is still part of the program, that he stops by "at least twice a week,'' and talks football. Richardson said he picks Wallace's brain, draws off his experience.

And if Richardson, 33, needs another ear, there is another up the road in Clover. The Blue Eagles new coach is John Devine, Richardson's quarterback coach at South Point High in Belmont, N.C.

"It's kinda funny,'' Richardson said. "Early this week coach Devine and I sat together at the (SCACA) Coaches Clinic in Greenville. I looked at him and asked, '15 years ago did you ever think we'd be meet as head coaches and compete for a region title?'

"I want to make my mark. This is an opportunity I've worked hard for. I've moved offices but haven't made many changes. And I have a good staff. We have guys who have on a lot of games the last four years. We have coaches who have won a lot of games here the last 20 years.''