SPRINGHILL – For the first time in North Webster’s brief history, the Knights will suit up without any proven offensive weapons. However, that does not mean the Knights won’t find a way to put points on the scoreboard this fall.
North Webster lost the best player the program has ever known in Devin White.
White’s explosive power and speed are being utilized in Baton Rouge now by Les Miles and the LSU Tigers at middle linebacker. Meanwhile, other key offensive weapons like Jalen Smith and Wesley Franklin are gone, as well as four-year starter on the offensive line Dallas Lay. Attrition occurred on defense too, with Linebackers Keuntra Gibson and Blake Atchley gone following outstanding senior seasons, but the defense does return players like Rico Gonzalez, Jaylon Bonton and John Hardy.
So, how good can the Knights be in 2016?
“It’s one of those years where, to be honest with you, I have no earthly idea,” North Webster head coach John Ware said. “When you lose the offensive production like we did, it leaves some questions. I like our defense. In the front seven, we’re big and in the back end we’re athletic, just inexperienced.”
Ware said the Knights might have to lean on their defense early in the year while the offense gains it’s footing. The sooner the new cast gets on the same page the better, because North Webster opens the season with Haynesville in week one and travels to Minden in week 3.
Senior signal-caller Cameron Huff should be a calming influence for new starters.
“He’s gotten bigger, faster and stronger,” Ware said. “He’s going to have to be more involved in the offense this year.”
North Webster should still be a run-first team, and the person with the most to gain from losing White and Smith is junior TJ Hawthorne.
Hawthorne flashed brilliance in his sophomore season as a rusher, scoring four touchdowns and totaling 333 yards in the regular season. How well he handles making the jump from being the No. 3 option to the head honcho is anyone’s guess, but if he stays healthy, Hawthorne is capable of a 1,000-yard season in the Knights’ scheme.
Ware also hinted that senior lineback and defensive end Rico Gonzalez will see his fair share of snaps on offense in the tight end spot.
Gonzalez – who boasts a 31 ACT score to go with his high motor and instinctive athleticism – shouldn’t have a tough time learning the Knights’ playbook. How well he adjusts to pass catching and run blocking will be a determining factor in how far this team can go.
“He’s going to have to go both ways,” Ware said. “We thing he’s going to play some big snaps for us.”
The Knights also got a big addition to their coaching staff, as Ware welcomed coach Tommy Reeder to the Knights’ staff. Reeder was an assistant coach at Haynesville, winning multiple state championships alongside his dear friend and former Haynesville head coach Alton ‘Red’ Franklin. He then went on to become the head coach at Ruston High School and later led Claiborne Academy.
His experience coaching big games and with run-first offenses will be a valuable addition for Ware and the Knights.
“Coach Reeder will be coaching our secondary and helping out on offense, too,” Ware said. “That’s a big plus for us to have someone on the sideline with his experience. Plus, it’s pretty neat for him to be back coaching. It wasn’t long ago that he was pretty sick. For him to be back out here with us, it’s pretty awesome.”
Also joining the coaching staff is former Minden assistant coach Brian Fowler.
“Coach Fowler will be joining us and coaching our receivers,” Ware said. “He was hear a few years ago before he left for Minden. This staff is as good as I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m excited about that.”
It will be up to Ware and his staff to identify the playmakers who will lead North Webster in just 18 days when the Pineland Jamboree takes place at Baucum-Ferrar Stadium, the Knights home field.