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HEBRON ESTATES - After hoping to pass more at the beginning of several past seasons and eventually being a strong running team, veteran North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton has decided just to cut straight to the chase.
In 2011, the Eagles will be looking to run first as well as second and third. North Bullitt will pass the ball just enough to keep defensive backs off the line of scrimmage.
The reason for the revamped thinking is because the Eagles have a bevy of talented running backs. While no one back will be ‘featured’, this could be the best committee of running backs that North Bullitt has ever had.
“It’s kind of a strange thing in that during my tenure we’ve had some really good running backs,” Newton said before the team’s lone scrimmage last Friday against Spencer County. “This year we’re doing that one better. As a whole, it is the best group of running backs I’ve had.”
North Bullitt actually lost its top running back from a year ago with the graduation of Zach Reynolds and his 1,782 yards. All of the other running back return and Newton has big hopes with the added playing time for junior Travis Downing who will now play on both sides of the ball after starting at linebacker the past two seasons.
The Eagles will use a number of different formations, but the base look will be the wishbone, an offense that put three running backs behind the quarterback. Downing will be the up-back in the formation with seniors Todd Asbury and Ryan Collins as the halfbacks.
“We know what Asbury can do,” Newton said. “He carried it a lot last year and had four, 100-yard games before a high-ankle sprain. Then Collins stepped in (from playing tight end) and was big late in the season for us.
“Downing is a prototypical full back,” the coach added of the 220-pound junior. “He likes to run over people.”
There is also depth in the backfield. The Eagles can add a little more speed by moving sophomore Josh Exton or freshman Mitchell Allen into the mix. Allen enters the Eagle program with as much fanfare as anyone since Dalton Cissell.
While the running back position is a positive for the Eagles, there are a lot of question marks at the other positions - especially on the line and at quarterback.
At this point, the starting nod is going to senior Cameron Davis. He actually played as the back-up to Patrick Egnor when Jake Exton was the starting quarterback and could not go. Egnor started one game last season and Davis saw just a little varsity playing time. Now, Davis will be the quarterback with Egnor starting as a wide receiver and being the back-up signal caller.
Neither quarterback will be asked to carry the load this fall.
Newton was guessing the passing percentage for the team will be around 20 percent this season.
“We have to at least throw it that much to keep teams from putting nine or ten in the box,” the coach pointed out. “We won’t totally sell out to the run. We have some good receivers and we want to get it to them.”
With three running backs, there will be just one wide receiver. Egnor has that spot now and will be backed up by seniors Jesse King and Brandon Wilder.
The single tight end will be senior Zack Foster and he will get help from sophomore Jack Barnett and senior Travis Potts.
The questions continue into the offense line where only senior Sam Deel returns. The 6-2, 295 pound Deel is one of the top centers around, but the rest of the line has very little experience on Friday nights.
“The rest is a work in progress,” Newton said of the line after Deel. “We’ve been shuffling kids in and out to see what is the best mix.”
As this point, the Eagles are using senior Tyler Blissett and junior Kyle Bond in the guard spots while junior John Hook and sophomore Jarrett Carter are the tackles. There is very little depth as the only options that Newton mentioned were junior Dallas Schlenk and sophomore Lucas Humphrey.
In a few weeks, the Eagles could have sophomore Elijah Wallace back in the fold after the reported late to the team this summer.
“We knew last year’s line was good,” Newton said. “We didn’t realize how good they were until we tried to replace them. They played for several years together. We were very blessed.
The Eagles will shift some on defense this year into a 4-4 alignment.
Inside, the two tackles will be senior Chase Freeman and Jack Barnett, but because the team will be looking to rest some of the interior players who might go both ways, Bond, Deel and 380-pound Cameron Fischer will all see significant playing time on defense.
At the defensive end spots, Foster and Potts will be the starters. Support will come from senior Shane Hardin.
Newton is very high on his linebackers and one of the reasons to the 4-4 was to get more spots on the field for that running backs.
Inside, the Eagles are strong with Downing and Asbury returning after working those spots for the past two years. Foster can also drop back and play as a linebacker.
On the outside, the starters will be Collins and Exton with the back-ups being senior Nick Crisp, junior Austin Rodgers and King.
The secondary will have senior Cody Hodge and Egnor at cornerback with senior Allen Peralta at safety. The depth in the backfield will come from Davis, Allen, Wilder and sophomore Eric Miller.
The kicking chores for the Eagles this season are already well defined. Senior Derek Schweinhart, who handled the chores last season, returns to do the place-kicking. Schweinhart is a soccer player who kicks on Friday nights. Exton will be doing the punting.
The depth on defense is pretty strong for the Eagles. Newton is saying that the team will use around 18 to 20 players in each game.
“Defensively, we have more kids depth wise than we’ve had in the past,” Newton said. “The lines are just inexperienced. We want to keep them separate and get them more reps. We’ll try to split up the lines which should help keep them fresh.”
The good news at this point for the Eagles, as well as all three Bullitt County teams, is that there are no district games and no intra-county contests until the second half of the season. That means that there is not a big rush to get everything just right.
“At the beginning we have a lot of kids who have not played on Friday nights,” Newton said. “We have a core group who have played, but the others have not been on the field on Fridays.
“The way it is set up, the season is in the second half,” the coach added. “We feel by week six we can feel good about ourselves if we stay healthy.”
The Eagles are guaranteed a spot in the post-season this year as part of a four-team district, but each of the teams wants to do well to avoid an early-round match-up with John Hardin, the pre-season number one team in Class 5-A this fall.
“We think we’ll see a lot of improvement from now to the end of the season,” Newton said. “With the district the way it is and being so balanced, it wouldn’t surprise me if every one of those games came down to the end.”
North Bullitt will open the season on Saturday when they travel to Campbellsville University to take on LaRue County in the Forcht Bank Bowl. That will be the second game of the day as Green County will take on Evansville Central (IN.) in the first game on the college field at 6 p.m.