High school football: Northridge Knights 2012 preview

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 6:00 a.m. MDT

Stepping in to start at quarterback is junior Nate Kusuda, who has some big shoes to fill following the graduation of Karson Casteel who, like Adams, had an absolutely stellar season for the Knights last year.

"He's had two brothers who started and played quarterback here," Thompson said of Kusuda. "He's a super-smart kid who understands the offense. He's very meticulous; he's accurate, and he'll bring some different things than other quarterbacks have.

"He's had a good offseason, and he's much more prepared and accurate now. ... I'm confident he can do the job for us and we can definitely win with him."

Senior wideout Zach Hayes leads the receiving corps, and Thompson is impressed with the young man's work ethic and development.

"That kid might be the hardest-working kid I've ever met," Thompson said. "He's absolutely blown up with his speed and his strength. He's got a great attitude and he's a great leader. So I expect big things for him this year; he'll start at both wide receiver and defensive back, where he started last year.

"In our summer 7-on-7 stuff, he has proven to be one of best receivers in the state. He's been a great playmaker for us, and he's an extremely fast, tough, physical kid."

Joining Hayes at wide receiver are juniors Houston Lacey, Brock Cleverly and Robert Crawford.

At tight end, juniors Jace Colby and Austin Ricks will split duty and are "really athletic," Thompson said.

But on the offensive line, the Knights "lost every single person that played much at all," according to their head coach.

Junior Beau Ballard will start at tackle or guard, with seniors Jace Palmer, Peter Clark, Colby Peterson, Joey Dean and Keoni Dellermann all seeing playing time there along with junior Darren Alexander.

"One of the biggest things we've got to figure out is who our starting five are going to be, get 'em gelling and find some backups," Thompson said. "That's our biggest question mark.

"I've got the best O-line coach in the state in coach (Mike) Martini. We're small and undersized there but they all run well and they're tough. I'm confident that eventually we can be pretty decent right there. It's just going to be a work in progress."

Over on defense, the view from the tradition-rich 'Ridge sees a secondary with blazing speed, but they're thin at linebacker and completely devoid of experience on the D-line.

"I feel the strongest about our secondary," Thompson said. "I've got four or five kids that can run a 4.5 40, so we've got some speed back there. The problem is that most of them play both ways."

The defensive backfield features seniors Chaston Martinez, Hunter Johnson, Adams and Lake at cornerback, with Hayes, Adam Wilson, Lacey and Bergman battling for the three safety spots.

At linebacker, Isaacson, Ricks and Mayberry lead the way, while Jayden Bair is recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee. "I feel like we have four good athletes there, but they all play both ways and one is hurt right now," Thompson said. "That's definitely a concern finding some depth at linebacker.

"On the D-line, we lost everybody, but for first time ever we have about 12 D-linemen that can contribute. We have some depth but are a little undersized."

Ballard and Dellermann both saw time last year at defensive end and Thompson is confident they can contribute along with Dean and Chaz Gray.

At defensive tackle, the Knights have "no experience whatsover there," Thompson says, making it the second-biggest worry after the O-line. He's depending on seniors Liam Torres, Kyle Carr and Adam Stillman to carry the load.

And while their lack of size and experience might be cause for alarm in some programs, Thompson maintains the utmost confidence in his kids and his coaching staff that they'll make the most of their situation and good things will come their way.