LAYTON There might not be a team in the state that features as many dynamic skill-position players as the Northridge Knights.
So why isn't coach Erik Thompson rejoicing?
It's because his team's offensive line is a question mark, and will be without one of its top players until region play starts.
"I'd say that's (the skill players) the strength of the team," Thompson said. "Unfortunately, I think that's the least important part of football. Big guys are what win you the games."
The Knights have two solid returning players on the offensive line in Gavin Farr and Cody Harris. Farr is 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and plays with a mean streak. He is an intelligent player who makes all of the blocking calls for the line. Harris, Thompson believes, is the best lineman in northern Utah. The problem for the Knights is that Harris will probably miss Northridge's preseason games after suffering a major hip injury in the team's padded camp earlier this summer.
"He's the perfect high school lineman," Thompson said. "He's our strongest kid in every lift. He plays hard. He's as fast as our running backs."
The Knights have confidence in their linemen. They realize that outsiders aren't sure their line will hold up. And they're working those ideas to their advantage.
"Actually, it fires me up," Farr said. "It makes me want to work harder to prove them wrong."
If Northridge's line does perform well, watch out for the Knights. The team has a set of skill-position players who will take their fans' breath away.
Running back Peni Maka'afi has committed to BYU. He had 1,200 combined rushing and receiving yards as a junior. He's 5-11, 220 pounds and runs a 4.5 40. He was a first-team all-region pick last season, and he's a player that no safety or cornerback wants to attempt to tackle once he gets in the open field.
Receiver Chris Washington has been offered scholarships by both BYU and Utah. He is 6-2, 195 pounds, and athletic as they come in high school football. He'll be joined on the outside by Blake Smithing, who is fast and tough to bring down in the open field.
Junior Cole is the team's new starting quarterback. He is a strong player, and he'll be different from recent Northridge quarterbacks in that he is a running threat.
Because of Cole's abilities, as well as other personnel issues, the Knights will use more of a spread-oriented offense this season.
"We want to get our skill players more in space," Thompson said. "What we did 15 plays per game previously will be more of an emphasis."
Northridge's defense might be a work in progress early in the season. The Knights return just four defensive starters. The unit has some talented players in defensive ends Tanner Hendry and Alex Winter. Safety Dakota Combe is expected to play well, while offensive stars Maka'afi, Washington and Smithing will see their share of duties on defense.
"Defense will help us win games," Maka'afi said.
Just how many games Northridge wins depends greatly on how well its offensive and defensive lines hold up. Region 1 is as strong as ever, and the difference between winning the league and taking sixth will probably be just a few dozen points. The Knights have the skill players to compete with anyone in the state, and they need their linemen to step up."I think our region is the best it's ever been from top to bottom," Thompson said. "Every week it's going to be a physical, tough game. Every week you could win or lose. We got enough talent to have a chance to win every game we play. We'll be an exciting team."
Northridge Knights 2008 prep football preview
COACH: Erik Thompson, the son of well-known former coach Fred Thompson, will be in his fifth season as Northridge's head coach. He has a 17-8 region record, and a 27-15 overall mark.
KEY PLAYERS: The Knights' skill-position players will pose matchup problems for all of their opponents. (QB) Junior Cole is a first-time starter, and he'll have standouts such as (RB) Peni Maka'afi, (WR) Chris Washington and (WR) Blake Smithing to work with. (C) Gavin Farr anchors the offensive line, and (OL) Cody Harris will be a beast when he returns from a hip injury. Defensively, the team will be led by (DE) Tanner Hendry, (DE) Alex Winter and (SS) Dakota Combe.
QUESTION MARK: It's an obvious one. Will the team's linemen be able to block on offense and stop the run on defense?
LAST YEAR: 8-3, lost in the first round of the playoffs
PREDICTED REGION 1 FINISH: Second
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: Teams are so evenly matched in Region 1, it's hard to figure where the Knights will finish. If the offensive and defensive lines perform well, Northridge can win the region championship and advance to the turf in the playoffs. If the lines don't produce, the Knights could finish lower in the league's standings, get a difficult draw in the playoffs, and be one-and-done.
Aug. 22 at Jordan, 7 p.m.
*Aug. 30 vs. Crespi, Calif., 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 MOUNTAIN CREST, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Weber, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 FREMONT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Layton, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 CLEARFIELD, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Davis, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 VIEWMONT, 7 p.m.*at SUU