Going 9-1 with lopsided victories in all nine wins and still missing
the playoffs can be a tough thing to swallow, but it’s exactly what the
Northwood Rangers had to deal with in 2008. Despite the circumstances,
head coach Ken James and his squad are focused on 2009.
* Players To Watch – OT Kyle Artino (6-3, 230, Sr.), OG/DE Andrew Pietras (6-3, 295, Sr.), DT Drew Minarcin (5-9, 235, Sr.), DT Max Tunison (5-7, 215, Sr.), SS/RB Jake Pressley (6-2, 185, Jr.), LB/RB Mike Prothero (5-10, 175, Jr.), HB/LB Zach Bermejo (5-9, 170, Jr.), LB/FB Corey Jones (6-1, 225, Jr.)
* Outlook – Going 9-1 with lopsided victories in all nine wins and still missing the playoffs can be a tough thing to swallow, but it’s exactly what the Northwood Rangers had to deal with in 2008. Despite the circumstances, head coach Ken James felt the season was successful and very enjoyable.
“We had great team chemistry,” James said. “It was one of the most fun years I’ve had in coaching just in terms of being around the kids. We enjoyed it.”
The team realized before the season that there was little room for error when it came to making a playoff run. An opening game 27-22 loss to Kansas Lakota put the Rangers behind the 8-ball, but the team was still able to keep fighting and put together a strong season.
“Obviously we lost our opener, turned it over five times and you can’t do that and win against a good team,” James said. “It obviously ended up biting us in the rear end at the end. We knew that we might have to go 10-0 to get in. Region 18’s a little difficult. Ironically, if we had been in Division IV, I think we would have come in sixth or seventh.
“Our league was kind of young this year, so they weren’t real strong. Our league didn’t do real well in non-league, plus most of the schools were Division VI. It’s just one of those deals where that didn’t work out, but we really enjoyed the year itself, knowing that we were kind of on the edge every week. After Week One, we knew that if we had lost another one that we probably wouldn’t have a chance and if we kept winning, we might have a shot. So we dealt with that pressure pretty well all year and competed for a league title and everything. Our kids handled that really smoothly.”
The Rangers lose a quality group of seniors from last year’s team, but James feels that the team will be able to bounce back in 2009.
“We graduated 14 seniors,” James said. “In the course of their tenure here, they were really good students… kids that are really going to do well for themselves later on in life. It was a class of a little bit of everything. We had a quarterback, we had wideouts, we had running backs, we had linemen, linebackers, DBs — it was spread out pretty evenly among a lot of different positions. We had some really good underclassmen in behind them, kids that we’ve got coming back.
“It’s sad to see the seniors go, but by the same token we have a bunch of what we think are really good players coming back and a really good freshman class coming in. Our program’s stable and solid; we think we’re going to have a real solid year this year. It’s going to be a different style team a little bit, different personnel, but we’ve been rolling pretty well lately so we’re going to try to keep rolling without slowing to down.”
James hopes that the graduating class of 2008 left behind a lasting impression on the players coming back for Northwood this season.
“They were unselfish, number one,” James said. “We had a core of kids who didn’t really care who scored the touchdown. Our wide receivers blocked as hard as our tackles did. Not because our tackles didn’t block hard — we emphasize effort in our program and our kids played really hard and played hard for each other. Our running backs block for each other really well. It was one of those situations where we just had great chemistry between the seniors, between the freshmen, sophomores and juniors. A lot of it had to do the seniors; they didn’t really care who anybody was or where they were from, what their grade was or anything like that. They just cared that if you’re playing, you better be productive.
“The rest of our kids I think took that on and took that mentality, so we never had to yell at our kids about blocking very much or going full speed. We didn’t have to do much work on that because the kids had it ingrained in them by the seniors. That’s part of what made them fun to coach. We were obviously driving them hard, but we didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to get them to play hard and play together, and that was kind of cool.”
This year’s squad returns five starters on offense and six on defense, but the Rangers might not be quite as explosive this season offensively.
“One of the things that made our senior class good was they were a bunch of really fast guys,” James said. “We’re not going to probably have the team speed that we had last year, so we’re going to have to be better in terms of driving the ball. We were really productive; I think we averaged 44 points a game last year, but a lot of that came on big plays… We don’t have as many guys with as much speed that can generate those types of explosive plays. So we’re going to have to be probably a little more efficient on offense in terms of not having penalties, not having assignment errors, things like that. At the same time, we’re going to be breaking in some new players, so we’ll have to develop pretty fast as the season goes to be competitive, to be good on offense.”
The quarterback position must be filled as well, although James feels confident about the prospects there.
“We have guys who have been in our system for a long time,” James said. “We’ll have a new starting quarterback, but he’s been winning at our lower levels all through his career. That doesn’t worry us. He’ll be a different style kid; we might end up throwing a little bit more than we did last year. Last year, our quarterback was a little bit more of a runner.”
Meanwhile, James expects the defense carry the load early while the offense comes together and to have some closer games than the team experienced last year.
“I think the strength of our team coming back is probably our defensive front,” James said. “We have four of our top five linebackers back and we have five of our top seven defensive linemen back, and we rotate a lot of guys in there. We feel like that’s going to be the strength of our team. We do have to replace three defensive backs; we have one starter back there. So obviously if you want to be good somewhere, I think being good on the defensive front’s a good place to start. We may have the potential to be even a little better on defense this year than we were last year because we have so many kids back.”
The team did put together a strong offseason, setting a tone for the coming year.
“We had a great offseason last year because of our seniors working,” James said. “This year, we’re a little bit ahead of that. We’re a little bit stronger — not quite as fast as we were, but we’re a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger physically.”
A 9-1 mark will be a lot tougher for Northwood to come by in 2009. The Rangers strengthened their schedule significantly, plus James expects the conference to be much stronger as well.
“We changed our schedule a little bit,” James said. “We still open with Lakota, who is a bigger school… We still play (Millbury) Lake non-league, then we picked up Hopewell-Loudon, who was the state runner-up last year in (Division) VI, so I think that classifies as beefing up your schedule.
“We picked up Genoa, who was the state semifinalist at (Division) IV. We each had an opening Week 5, and they’re five minutes down the road. We had been scrimmaging them anyway, and we know they’re going to be really good, but we like challenges like that. We know they have a great team coming back. They were like us where they graduated some great players, but we know they’re going to be awfully good. Same thing with Hopewell; they’re going to be a tough challenge for us.”
This year’s team is looking forward to the challenge of playing a tougher slate, and as a matter of fact, it sounds like they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s part of the reason that our kids do all the lifting year-round and all the running that we put them through is they want to get in that environment and play those kinds of games,” James said. “The fact that we’ve scheduled Genoa and Hopewell, that doesn’t faze our kids. They know it’s going to be difficult; they know they’re going to have to prepare really well to be competitive. We’re looking forward to those games and obviously everything else. We’ve got a bunch of other good teams on our schedule too.”
8/28 @ LAKOTA (KANSAS)
9/4 LAKE (MILLBURY)
9/11 @ HOPEWELL-LOUDON (BASCOM)
9/25 GENOA AREA
10/2 HILLTOP (WEST UNITY)
10/9 @ DANBURY (LAKESIDE)
10/16 OTTAWA HILLS (TOLEDO)
10/23 @ TOLEDO CHRISTIAN
10/30 @ CARDINAL STRITCH (OREGON)