MIDDLEBURY — A week into practice, Northridge football coach Tom Wogomon sounded like someone very anxious to get the season underway.
You can't blame the Raiders' leader for having that attitude.
Young and inexperienced players from last year are a year older and eager to improve on last year's 5-6 overall record and 3-4 Northern Lakes Conference mark.
"Because of the situation we were put in last year, there was the necessity of playing underclassmen," Wogomon said. "We played a lot of sophomores. But the good thing about it, eventually, they become juniors and seniors and it becomes an advantage for us."
Wogomon saw the desire by his players to get better during the offseason.
"The season really starts two weeks after you turn the pads in," Wogomon said. "As we've gone through these last eight months one thing we could check off is our kids work ethic. They have invested and put countless hours in the weight room. They're not very big still, but what they can control is how hard they work. Everything we've challenged them at, like working hard in the offseason, how they're going to approach the summer conditioning workouts and how well they're going to come together in camps, we've been able to check that off in a really good, positive manner."
After a 3-1 start last year, the Raiders lost five games by an average of 27 points.
"We had a lot of adversity," Wogomon said. "I think one of things now we've got to be able to look at is where is our confidence in tough moments going to come from. I think that's our key and what we've got to look for with this group. When we had some rough games at the back end of the season last year it hit our confidence pretty hard. They've got to believe that they're going to be a good football team. They've just got to have success to find that."
Offensively, senior Oliver Eveler provides experience at quarterback. He completed 49-of-93 passes for 599 yards with five touchdowns. Eveler also rushed for 349 yards on 95 carries with six touchdowns.
"It's Oliver's job," Wogomon said. "He's had a great offseason. Oliver does many good things and one of those things is control the team. His challenge has been to take ownership of that huddle and take ownership of when good things happen and when bad things happen. Oliver does a really nice job of running the offense. He knows how to read defenses."
A solid running game should help take pressure off of Eveler.
"I'm really excited about the running backs that we have," Wogomon said. "Depth at running back is bringing competition to the practice field. There's guys here that want to get their snaps on Friday nights and they're fighting for it all the time. That's the one thing that we've focused on is the whole idea of competing all the time."
Fighting for those carries will be senior Caid Lacey, junior Dominic Crowder, junior Zack Howey and senior move-in from North Dakota Jadan Bourne. Lacey rushed for 615 yards on 83 carries with three touchdowns, while Crowder totaled 216 yards on the ground on 49 carries with two touchdowns.
Eveler's top receiving targets will be senior Austin Floria, who caught 28 passes for 389 yards with three touchdowns, and junior Breckin Judd, who caught 11 passes for 179 yards with two touchdowns.
"We've got a lot of dudes back (at receiver) with experience," Wogomon said.
Anchoring the offensive line will be senior Rhent Addis and junior Ibrahim Khaoucha.
"We feel OK about our line when it comes to our starters," Wogomon said. "Across the board at a lot of high schools there's concern about having depth on the line. That's a key for us and we have to develop that."
Howey is among the familiar faces leading the defense. He recorded 66 tackles at linebacker last year.
"Howey has got a motor on him," Wogomon said.
Others to watch on defense are junior lineman Carter Bach (28 tackles), senior lineman Josh Bate (14 tackles), Crowder at linebacker (53 tackles), junior linebacker Andrew Lockwood (35 tackles), junior linebacker Tanner Baber (35 tackles) and Lacey at linebacker (28 tackles). Roaming in the secondary will be Floria (51 tackles), Eveler (42 tackles, two fumble recoveries), Judd (16 tackles) and senior Josh Beard (14 tackles).
"I really like what we have there on defense," Wogomon said. "We're not huge and we're not a team that's going to wow anybody. We've got a bunch of guys on the line that are out of the same mold, which is 215 pounds or less. We've got some decent size at linebacker. We've got some experience coming back. We've just got to play well as a unit."
Despite the veteran roster, Wogomon feels that wins won't come easy in the rugged Northern Lakes Conference.
"The great thing about the NLC is that you better be ready to play every single week," Wogomon said. "You need to be fortunate and stay injury-free or limit your injuries. The conference is so well coached and so well ran. There's just quality opponents from top to bottom."
2018: 5-6 (3-4 NLC)
Aug. 23: at SB Adams
Aug. 30: SB St. Joseph
Sep. 6: Wawasee
Sep. 13: at Plymouth
Sep. 20: at Warsaw
Sep. 27: NorthWood
Oct. 4: Goshen
Oct. 11: at Concord
Oct. 18: at Elkhart Memorial