Almost against their own beliefs, Jared Faunce and his North teammates became better football players this summer.
Without immediate results, there was some skepticism that coach Joe Belden’s promise of improved speed and strength would come to fruition. Then it did – for Faunce and so many others.
“It was over time that (the realization came that) it wasn’t about the skill of the player, it’s about outworking your opponent and being strong and faster mentally and physically than your opponent,” said Fraunce, a senior receiver. “With the conditioning that me and the other players have endured, that’s what we think is going to help us win.”
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It will at least make North’s players look more imposing, but Belden believes he tapped into areas that will help North improve on its fourth one-win season in the last five years – in the other season, North went winless.
Suddenly, Belden has depth at his disposal, particularly in the defensive backfield with anchors such as Joseph Figueroa and Malik Williams and position coach Elbert Mack, a former North player who had seven years in the NFL.
“As a player he brought a lot of energy and was a catalyst,” Belden said. “He was able to raise the level of play of everyone around him and he’s still doing that as a coach, too.”
North will be well-rounded offensively with two experienced offensive linemen, Marquel Thomas and Steven Percival, who have the size to match up with defensive tackles.
Sophomore quarterback Darius Russell isn’t as seasoned, but his progress will align with the steadiness of veterans around him, such as the offensive linemen, senior running back Jose McDonald and pass-catchers Faunce and Valgene Jones.
“We’re an option team, so we’re asking (Russell) to make a lot of reads,” Belden said. “He’s done a great job with it, but we’re not going to ask him that he’s not ready to do. Because we’re much stronger than we were a year ago, we’ve adjusted our schemes accordingly, and that will help him.”