Scroll to bottom of story to see Northridge Felt's Facts
Note: Northridge High finished with an 8-4 overall record and was second in Region 1 with a 4-1 record in 2011. It lost to Lone Peak, 21-14, in the 5A quarterfinals.
LAYTON — Erik Thompson is a talkative, glass-is-always-at-least-half-full kinda guy.
So when he starts talking about his Northridge High football team, the Knights' ninth-year head coach has such enormous energy, enthusiasm and passion for the game and for his kids — despite this year's lack of size, depth and experience — that you can't help but get pretty excited about the upcoming season yourself.
"You're always nervous about those things — like a lack of returning starters, a lack of size — all the things that every coach worries about," Thompson said. "But I'm really excited as well. That's the great thing, I think, about high school football is that every year there's such great turnover that the team takes on a whole different personality and new leaders emerge. So it's fun to see that happen. The anticipation and the excitement to see what we can become is always there with me.
"Most people would think 'What are you (thinking) this year?' We only have a few returning starters and we lost a lot of really good players that had started for two or three years. So maybe to an outsider it could be a rebuilding year for Northridge or a year that maybe we're going to struggle a little bit.
"It might take a couple of games, but by the time region rolls around, I think we can become very competitive," he said. "We plan on competing for the region championship just like everybody else. Our kids are determined to make that happen and I think after a couple of games we'll compete with anybody, and that's all you can ask for is to have a shot on any given day."
Though it's true that the Knights lost a lot of firepower from last year's team that reached the 5A quarterfinals, one of the few returnees they do have is a great one in senior running back Davy Adams. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound performer played like a man possessed last season when he carried the ball 177 times for 1,217 yards and 12 touchdowns and hauled in 57 passes for another 785 yards and eight more TDs on his way to earning all-state honors.
"He might be the best overall football player in the state," Thompson said. "If he didn't get so tired on offense, he'd be one of the best defensive players in the state as well, but we spell him a little bit over there.
"He's ultra, ultra competitive — one of the most competitive kids I've ever met —super smart, has a great feel for the game, just a good leader and a good athlete. He's got it all and it's his mission to go win a region championship with his group after everyone's graduated.
"I think he senses that people don't think we'll be that good this year," the Knights' coach added, "so sometimes having a little chip on your shoulder or having a little extra motivation is not a bad thing. I'm very thankful to have him."
Other running backs who will help spell Adams in the backfield are senior Dallin Isaacson, who suffered a broken elbow last season, sophomore Dayan Lake and senior fullback Eliyah Mayberry, a transfer from Layton Christian Academy who Thompson said, if his variance is approved, could bolster the Knights' fortunes.
"The strength of our team is running back," Thompson said. "... I feel really blessed there and we have had a great tradition of great running backs here for a long time.
"Isaacson is the strongest kid on our team, and he's as mean and tough as they get. He'll hit ya right in the mouth. Lake, for his age group, might be the best athlete in Northern Utah if not Utah. He's got phenomenal speed, strength, and he'll start at defensive back again and we expect to get him the ball on offense."
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."
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.
"One of the funnest things as a coach is to see kids develop and have fun and find joy in football and get better and do things that maybe they didn't think they could do or others didn't think they could do," Thompson said. "I expect to be picked at the bottom of the region, and understandably so with not many guys coming back and a lot of question marks. But our coaches and the players are determined to make a run at the region and I think we can do that.
"The thing that lets me go to sleep at night is I knowing I've been fortunate to surround myself with a great staff — great assistants who do a phenomenal job developing players and motivating kids. There's a reason Northridge has been pretty good every year for some time, and it's not me — it's great assistants.
"I only can do so much and really the assistants are the heart of any football program. ... I really feel fortunate that the coaching staff at Northridge right now is as good as I've ever had. I have great assistant coaches who work their butts off, who are dedicated and come prepared every day. I really feel that the player development at Northridge is equal to anybody in the state and we're able to take kids that are smaller and don't have much experience and help them become good high school football players.
"I'm confident with the coaching staff that I have, and with the good attitudes and hard-working kids that I have, by the time we hit region, I think we're going to surprise some people," Thompson said. "We're definitely not going to fear anybody, and we respect everybody, but we're excited for the challenge. ... I feel confident by the time we do hit region we'll compete with anybody. That's what makes it fun. If you play well, you have a chance to win and that gets you excited as a competitor — to see if you can go compete and win.
"I know my kids are going to play hard. I know my kids are going to compete. I know my kids care about each other. We're going to prepare. Whether we're good enough or not, we'll find out — and that's part of the excitement as well."
Northridge Knights at a glance
Coach: Erik Thompson begins his ninth season as the Knights' head coach. He has compiled a 55-32 record in eight seasons at the school. He is a graduate of Roy High.
(4 returning starters; Multiple-formation offense)
Davy Adams is one of the best running backs in the state, both carrying the ball and making receptions out of the backfield, and Dallin Isaacson, and possibly Eliyah Mayberry will join him as potential playmakers there. Nate Kusuda takes the reins of the offense at quarterback, and Zach Hayes, Houston Lacey, Brock Cleverly, Robert Crawford, Jace Colby and Austin Ricks give him plenty of targets to throw the ball to. However, the development of a small and inexperienced offensive line may determine how many points the Knights can put up on the scoreboard.
(4 returning starters)
The secondary is the Knights' strong suit, with Adams, Hayes, Chaston Martinez, Hunter Johnson, Dayan Lake, Adam Wilson, Lacey and Bergman providing plenty of quickness at the cornerback and safety spots. But the linebacker corps, led by Isaacson and Ricks, is razor thin, and the D-line, though boasting ample depth, lacks size and experience — much like its O-line counterpart.
Coaches preseason Region 1 straw poll: Third
Deseret News Region 1 prediction: Third
Bottom line: The Knights' success hinges on their ability to develop their offensive and defensive fronts into cohesive units during preseason play. They have plenty of playmakers on offense, and their secondary should be strong. But it's true that it's what's up front that counts, and that will hold the key once league play gets under way. Circle Sept. 29 (at home against Syracuse) and Oct. 12 (at Davis) as key dates on the Northridge calendar.
Aug. 17 at Logan, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Kearns, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 WESTLAKE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Weber, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 SYRACUSE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Layton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Davis, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 MOUNTAIN CREST, 7 p.m.
Felt’s Facts for Northridge High School
All-time record: 135-81 (20 years)
Region championships: 5 (1993 co, 1998 co, 2001, 2002 co, 2003)
Playoff appearances: 15
All-time playoff record: 19-12
State championships: 3 (2000, 2001, 2002)
State championship record: 3-0
Most played rivalry: 20 meetings with two schools, Clearfield and Layton, both dating back to 1992. Northridge is 10-10 against Clearfield and leads Layton 15-5. Meets Layton on Oct. 5, last met Clearfield in 2010.
Felt’s Factoid(s): Northridge has won the most championship games — 3 — without a loss. ... The Knights have scored the most points in a four-game playoff series, 212 (2001).
Northridge coaching history
2004-current — Erik Thompson (55-32)
1996-2003 — Fred Fernandes (67-26)
1992-1995 — Mike Rosky (12-26)
Deseret News Mr. Football recipients
2001 — Daniel Coats, WR
Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2002 — Brian Kusuda, QB
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2011 — Karson Casteel, QB
2011 — David Adams, RB
2011 — Dallas Clark, OL
2011 — Austin Tate, LB
2010 — Brock Johnson, DB
2006 — Nate Ellis, RB
2006 — Mike Baker, DL
2004 — T.J. Canales, QB
2004 — Bryant Eteuati, KR
2003 — Lynwood Johnsin, RB
2003 — Tage Clifford, WR
2003 — Mitch Ketcham, OL
2003 — Rustin Miller, LB
2003 — Jamar Lee, SP
2003 — Skylar Campbell, K
2002 — Lynwood Johnson, RB
2002 — Cody Caputo, WR
2002 — Dan Van Sweden, TE
2002 — Rustin Miller, LBComment on this story
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.
Northridge's Davy Adams
Northridge running back Davy Adams talks about the upcoming 2012 season.