A weekly question-and-answer session during the summer with an area high school coach.
Today: Northwest football coach Weston Schartz
Northwest has made it to the playoffs for eight straight seasons, but last year, even with Eagle Top 11 running back Demarcus Robinson, was the toughest in 25 years of coaching for Schartz.
This team is more of an unknown for you compared to 2009. What's your take on this team?
"We've got a bunch of kids that are working real, real hard. We had a good summer. We've had good camps. I feel good about them. They've had a great offseason, probably the hardest-working kids in the offseason.
"We know what the word 'team' means. And they want to win. They want to win. They want to be successful, and they're doing what needs to be done. When we open up the weight room, they're there. We have weights class, they work hard. We don't have to tell them to work, they know it takes hard work to win football games.
"We do year-end testing every year (running, lifting), and we compare to years past. This is the most athletic team. They scored the highest of any team that we have had. We've got athletes. Nobody better feel sorry for us. We'll be OK."
But you lost Demarcus Robinson, now at Kansas State.
"I tell you, the biggest thing we miss from him is his leadership. We knew that he would be there working hard and leading by example. There's a lot of great running backs, we've got other guys... but we'll miss him most just because of the type of kid he is."
Who will you count on in the backfield?
"A.J. Thurman and we also have a transfer, Adrian Wallace, from Tulsa. He's good, tremendous feet. He's a real deal, and nobody knows about him. We're three deep at tailback, three deep at fullback, and we don't miss a beat when we put in any of them.
"... Jacob Davis will be at fullback and A.J. Thurman will play there some. They're not as fast as D-Mac, but they've got great feet, they're relentless, they'll run downhill and they're good backs."
Defense is your focus, though, isn't it?
"You can't give up (39) points and (55) points in two weeks in a row to Carroll and Heights and be good. We're putting a big emphasis on defense. We're putting our best players there. We return four offensive linemen with varsity experience, three starters and one who is a half-starter. We must get better on defense, and we feel like we have.
"Those losses were humiliating, and they were horrible losses, but we weren't at full strength at either one. It's not an excuse. That's a fact. We overcame more adversity. We had a player die, a coach's sister die, two kids in the hospital the week we played Heights, Brock Heithaus went down in the Carroll game.
"We never had the same lineup all year.... We overachieved when you look at all we overcame. (Robinson) goes down the week before we played Derby (in the Class 6A playoffs). This is a different team, talent-wise.
"People will look at us and say a fourth pick (in the City League standings). I'll be very disappointed if we finish fourth."
What do you like about your defense?
"Jacob Davis is an unbelievable linebacker. He started every game as a sophomore. He's 6-2, 225 pounds. He runs a 4.75 (40-yard dash). He's a Division I linebacker that nobody talks about. We're just going to play him and let his play speak for itself. By the time he's a senior, everybody should be knocking his door down.
"You watch him on film, he tore up Derby. He played well the last five games. He's not flashy. He's a great player. I can't wait to see him play.
"Carl Terrell will be a great player, and we will have great players in the secondary. We feel our secondary is strong.
"You know, we had an undefeated freshman team last year and we won't talk about them until they make plays. We will start several sophomores that are very good. We weren't even touched (at the freshmen level) last year. You can't give them any ink until they play. But I have guys that are phenomenal athletes. They may not get it done this year, but they will next year."
What do you like about Jordan Wiedeman at quarterback?
"He's out for the first three, four games with a torn ACL that he suffered in March. We'll survive until he gets back.
"He can throw, he can run the option. He's the second- or third-fastest kid on the team. He's a quarterback, and he can drop back and throw, he can run option. He's the best quarterback I've had.
"I would like to throw on first down and feel like we can complete half of them. And we can do it with Jordan at quarterback."
How much did it hurt losing to Derby in the playoffs?
"I have to tell you, I was disappointed we lost. It was the longest season I have ever coached because of the adversity. It was the hardest season I ever coached. When it was over, it was disappointing, but I knew that if I can survive this, I can survive anything."
You play Carroll and Heights on Sept. 24 and 30, that's a tough stretch.
"That's murderer's row. We have to beat one of them. I'd like to beat both of them.... They're the two-best teams. We'll be better than Heights next year on paper. But on paper, they're better this year. You don't win it on paper."