It didn’t take Northwest senior quarterback Erin Gaither even a moment when asked what the Grizzlies need to improve this season: healthy players.
He didn’t mention the offensive line or anything defensively. Nope, Gaither simply wants his team to avoid injuries.
Northwest limped to a 6-4 record in 2012, losing in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs for the fourth straight season.
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Gaither was one of 13 starters injured in 2012. He had shoulder surgery before the season, then fractured a heel four games in.
“It was really frustrating,” he said. “We had to have the next person come in. Sometimes they were ready, sometimes they weren’t.”
It was a difficult process for coach Steve Martin’s first season. He wanted to tweak things in the program, but insteadeach week he was forced to overhaul his lineup each week.
It also affected how Martin approached summer workouts and preseason practices.
“This summer we’ve done a good job of preparing for the worst, throwing guys into the fire,” Martin said. “Those injuries helped guys out with experience.”
Northwest’s strength will again be at running back with senior Deron Thompson, who battled an ankle injury and still ran for 1,476 yards. Martin expects Christian Sanders, who is healthy, and Karol Williams to make the backfield one defenses fear.
Gaither’s healed shoulder means he’ll be able to throw more, adding a much-needed balance to an offense that was one-dimensional too often.
There is a question on the offensive line, though, due to a lack of experience since all five starters graduated.
“Our expectations will only go as far as our line will carry us,” Martin said. “... We will start sophomores and juniors. They have a lot of talent, they work hard, but (success) will be dictated on how well they improve.”
Two of the players the Grizzlies will rely on defensively are linebackers Joe Stevens and Jordan Bell.
“We want to put our best athletes on the defensive side of the ball,” Martin said. “We said if we win football games at Northwest, the important games, the Heights, Carroll, Topeka, Kapaun games, our best players need to play defense. We’re trying to get as much speed as possible on defense.”
Coach: Steven Martin, second season,
League: City League
Last season: 6-4, lost in first round of 6A playoffs to Topeka
Last five seasons: 33-18
Projected 2013 playoff team? Yes
Top skill players
|Sept. 13||at Dodge City|
|Sept. 20||East (at South)|
|Oct. 4||at Carroll|
|Oct. 25||North (at Heights)|
Erin Gaither on his team
What Northwest does well: “We run the ball well, we always have. We should be able to pass a lot better this year.”
What has to improve: Stay healthy. “Last year we had 13 starters that were injured, and it really hurt us.”