Northwest senior Matt Washee, at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, doesn’t have the prototypical body of a center. But coach Steve Martin wouldn’t want him any other way.
“We take 98 percent of our snaps in the shotgun,” Martin said. “For him to snap the ball and step, we need an athlete. We don’t need a big, fat guy at center. He can handle most oversized nose(guards) because he gets off the ball before they do.
“He can get off the ball, get to the point of attack and get his feet on the ground first. He knows how to block angles.”
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Washee is a key component of Northwest’s offensive line, which returns every starter – seniors Nate Listerman, Geoffrey Lodge and Colton Tucker, and junior Gage Fletcher.
These five are critical for Northwest’s success. With a whole new line in 2013, the Grizzlies struggled as they gained experience.
Northwest started the season 2-4, losing to Kapaun, Dodge City, Carroll and Heights by a combined 106-20.
“We knew as a coaching staff that our offensive line would struggle early,” Martin said. “They had never taken snaps on Friday. We went through growing pains. We always tell kids that we want to see improvement every week, and they improved.”
The Grizzlies won their final three regular season games by a combined 180-28 over Campus, North and South.
The line is especially vital this season because Northwest is nearly all new at skill positions, with senior receiver Karol Williams the only returner. Williams had 451 receiving yards as a junior.
Junior Kevin Folsom takes over at quarterback, and Martin expects to utilize his ability to throw. Senior KeShaun McGaugh, a transfer from Southeast, is a brute in the middle, which will be key to getting those tough inside yards that Northwest often failed to find in close games. Sophomore Jahlyl Rounds will counter McGaugh’s toughness with his speed
Northwest should shine most, though, defensively. The defense starts with defensive end Andres Ronquillo, who leads a quick defensive line.
“We’re really fast, especially the ends,” Ronquillo said. “We just really know how to use our hands. Our coach taught us how to read, read the shift in the weight and we can tell if it’s pass or run, where it’s going right before the ball is snapped.”
Brendan Johnson and Romello Cotman lead a secondary that Martin calls “by far our strength.”
“The first thing I wanted to do (when hired) was have the best defense we possibly can,” Martin said. “We made some sacrifices the first few years, putting players who could have helped us on offense, and putting them only on defense. We feel we’ll reap the benefits of diving into our platoon system.”
Northwest moves into Class 6A-District 8, which features Dodge City, Garden City and Hutchinson, which won 50 games in the past five years. Northwest’s previous district, Class 6A-7, included Wichita South, Wichita North and Campus, which have a combined 25 wins in the last five seasons.
A LOOK AT NORTHWEST
Coach: Steve Martin, third season, 11-9
League: City League
Last season: 5-5, lost in first round of 6A playoffs
Last five seasons: 30-20
Projected 2014 playoff team? Yes
TOP SKILL PLAYERS
|Sept. 19||North (at Heights)|
|Oct. 9||at Wichita South|
|Oct. 17||Dodge City|
|Oct. 24||at Garden City|
|Oct. 31||at Hutchinson|
Andres Ronquillo on his team
What Northwest does well: “The defense and just how close we are now. Mostly all the seniors playing, we’re so close and we all want one thing, which is, of course, a championship. We’re all working for that.”
What has to improve: “Not letting our guard down on offense and defense, always trying hard and protecting the ball and not letting them score.”