Coach: Steve Martin, sixth season, 34-17
League: City League
Last season: 6-4, lost in second round of 6A playoffs
Returning starters: 14
Schedule: Aug. 31, Carroll; Sept. 8, Heights; Sept. 15, at Great Bend; Sept. 22, at West (at Northwest); Sept. 29, at Kapaun; Oct. 6, Garden City; Oct. 12, at North (at Heights); Oct. 20, Southeast.
Projected record: 7-1
Top returning players
Three keys to the season
1. Northwest’s up-tempo offense has broken the state record for total offense two straight seasons. Making that a third straight is a lofty goal, but the Grizzlies should once again be explosive with Anderson at the helm. He will have Reynolds at wide receiver and Jalen Smith and a star-in-the-making in junior Breece Hall at running back. “We love to put pressure on the defense and make their kids make decisions on the fly,” Martin said. “We’re trying to take the defensive coordinator out of the game and put pressure on 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old kids.”
2. Last season the Grizzlies allowed 35 or more points in six games. Martin expects the defense to be much improved and it begins with the three-man front, which returns Bridwell, Marcus Hicks and Eric Solis. Northwest returns eight defensive starters. “We played a lot of young kids last year, and we knew they would get better throughout the year and they definitely did,” Martin said. “… We’re still going to be young this season, but we’re going to be experienced and we’re very excited to see what they can do.”
3. Another focal point for Martin this offseason has been improving his team’s turnover plus-minus ratio. Last season the Grizzlies were -14 on turnovers. Martin wants that number to be flipped. “A lot of our work has been structured around protecting the ball and getting the ball back on the defensive side of things,” Martin said. “We gave it up way too often and didn’t take it away too much, so we’re looking for that to change this season.”
Five questions with coach Steve Martin
1. What’s the advantage of returning a quarterback like Austin Anderson?
“Anytime you get a quarterback returning who understands what we’re trying to do offensively, you can go into a season, especially early on in the season, feeling a little relief knowing that he’s back there. There’s no doubting that our offense revolves around our quarterback making the right decision more so than any other position. Having Austin back there is a huge plus for us. He’s done a great job in the offseason adding weight and making sure he’s more durable in the run game. We’re going to ask him to run the ball a little bit more than he did last year. And then you throw in the fact we’ve got two receivers like Jax Reynolds and Jalen Smith back and we feel great whenever he drops back and throws the ball.”
2. How is the rest of the offense looking?
Right now we’ve got Breece Hall, Roy Johnson, and Jamar Martin at tailback and we feel like they’ve all done a great job. Jamar has really developing and Breece and Roy put up some amazing numbers on the JV team last year. Everybody will say, ‘Well, that’s JV,’ but we feel like those two guys have been waiting in the wings and they’re ready for their shot. We’re very excited about their potential. They bring a lot more speed to the game than we’ve had in the recent past. And then it all starts up front with Earon Garcia back at center for us and Jack Shumway returning at tackle. We’ve had a couple other guys step up and are ready to go on the line. We’re going to have to put the right pieces in the right spots and it took us all summer to figure it out, but we feel pretty comfortable. You can’t go into the season expecting state records, but you’re going to see the same style as we’ve played in the past.”
3. Why is the tempo spread offense the right offense at Northwest?
“We like to put the defenses on their heels and the best way to do that is to speed the game up. I had people ask me last year why I didn’t slow the game down to help our defense. But the way I feel is that on offense if I put the pressure on you, then you’re going to have to make adjustments to the way we play. Your kids are going to have to make a decision without being able to huddle or look to the sideline. So during the week, kids are going to have to learn how to line up against different formations that we’re going to throw out. We’re putting pressure on 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old kids. Our whole goal is we’re trying to take the defensive coordinator out of the game.”
4. How is the defense looking?
“The ball falls on me and the coaching staff when it comes to the defense last year. We should have done a better job of developing kids. There’s no way we should have been playing seven sophomores on defense, but that’s what happened. It didn’t leave us very muhc room for error and we made a lot of errors. We know that they would get better throughout the year and they definitely did get a lot better. We’re happy to see how much they’ve progressed and a year in the weight room makes a great difference. You can’t substitute that Friday night experience and exposure and they got that last year. We’re still young. We’re only going to start three seniors on defense, maybe four. But I’ll take those seven or eight juniors and three seniors and line them up against anybody. We’re very excited to see what we can do.”
5. What is the key this season for Northwest reaching its potential?
“It has to be turnovers on both sides of the ball. Last year we gave it up a little bit too much, then didn’t get the ball back at all on defense. The theme right now is the ball is the issue, whether we’re on offense or defense. We don’t want to give it up when we have it and we want to try to find a way to get it back on defense. We’ve structured a lot of drills around protecting the ball and getting the ball on defense. It’s been a fun summer and we’re looking forward to having a great season.”