Note: Northridge finished with a 4-6 overall record in 2013 and was third in Region 1 with a 4-2 record. It lost to Riverton 31-14 in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
LAYTON — The Knights' tale, it seems, never changes too much.
They don't have a lot of kids who are big in physical size and stature, but their players are always quick, athletic and know how to play hard-nosed football.
This year will likely be no different. Northridge High doesn't have too many young men who would turn the heads of major college recruiters, but they've got a bunch of fierce, fast fellas who will play an aggressive style of offense and a physical, hard-hitting brand of defense.
Heck, that's the Knights' tale every year, isn't it?
Erik Thompson's 11th year at the helm features just three returning starters on offense and five on defense. That's not a lot of experience to fall back on, but Thompson and his staff know how to coach 'em up and get their kids to play hard every week.
"If we can avoid injury and give some young, inexperienced kids some confidence after three preseason games, I think we could be right there with the rest of 'em," he said of the Region 1 race. "We've got some work to do, but if we're willing to put in the work, I think that we'll be as good as anyone in this region as well.
"We're by far the smallest 5A school in the state (with an enrollment this year of around 1,500). Our numbers are down — we used to always have around 1,800 kids here every year — and are the lowest they've ever been, but we expect that number to go back up again in the next few years.
"You can cry about it or you can go and compete," Thompson said. "Davis and Syracuse are always gonna be like Alabama and we're gonna be like Boise State. Our kids feel like they can go out and beat those guys. We've got a lot of kids going both ways, so we need more luck than them because, if they get a guy hurt, they can just plug another guy in. We don't have that luxury."
But in spite of their lack of size or experience, the Knights should still be fine. With quarterback Ben Jackson, running back Dayan Lake and flanker Dallas Moklebust spearheading the offense, Northridge should again be able to put points up on the board. The Knights averaged nearly 30 points per game against Region 1 opponents last season.
Defensively, with five starters returning, the Knights should be able to improve on last year's performance, when they allowed 27 or more points seven times in 10 games.
Jackson stepped in last season when starting quarterback Nate Kusuda suffered a broken collarbone midway through the season. Jackson started the final five games of the 2013 campaign, and the Knights won three of four league games with him at the controls before falling to Riverton in the 5A playoffs' opening round.
Thompson likes Jackson's gritty personality and leadership, and the Knights' offense will be tailored to suit the senior signal-caller's strengths.
"He really kind of saved our season last year," Thompson said of Jackson. "He's a real gritty kid. I mean, If I had to pick one characteristic above all to have in a football player, it would be grit and he's definitely a gritty kid. So we love him and we'll follow him. And he's got a great backup who's very similar to him and maybe we'll even implement his backup a little bit in junior Jrue Perkins, who will start at safety for us.
"Jrue broke his collarbone a week after Kusuda did or he would've been in the mix a little bit at QB. At that point, we only had one quarterback in the whole program and no one else who'd ever taken a snap before.