New energy surrounding Northern
Like most preseason high school football practices, fundamentals and technique have been paramount at Northern Vance.
But coaches and players say this year feels a little different. There’s a new energy surrounding a program that has struggled to find the win column in recent years.
Center Justin Care is one of an expected senior class of nine and a veteran of the program.
“It’s been more energetic this year,” said Care. “We’ve been working a lot on cardio. It’s been tough coming back after the summer, but we’re putting in work this year.”
Third-year Northern head coach Eric Watkins said he sees a difference in the players from when he first arrived following his tenure as the Henderson Middle School head coach.
“We just want the numbers up a little more,” Watkins said on Wednesday. “Other than that, everybody is excited about this season. It’s time to put out now.”
Northern currently has about 55 players in practice and hopes to field a junior varsity team for the first time since Watkins has been head coach. He hopes for 24 players on the JV roster.
“We need a feeder team,” Watkins said, “and we need a team that we can teach and grow with the ninth- and 10th-graders.”
Darry Ragland, H.B. Harris and Corei Plummer have joined the program as assistant coaches, bringing some extra intensity to the practice field.
“They’re coming in high energy and I need that with these young kids,” said Watkins. “That’s been good all summer.”
Summer scrimmages are increasingly playing a larger role in most teams’ offseasons. Watkins said the Vikings performed well in 7-on-7 scrimmages over the summer, competing against the likes of Granville Central, Ravenscroft, J.F. Webb, and Warren County.
Northern is slated to participate in a scrimmage at Rocky Mount on Tuesday before taking part in Southern Vance’s Pigskin Jamboree Saturday, Aug. 16.
Thursday was the first day of full contact in practice in accordance with N.C. High School Athletic Association guidelines.
“We’re looking at fundamentals, technique,” Watkins said. “We’re really focusing on teaching right now before we get into the contact stuff. We’re doing it a high tempo and the kids are actually catching on. We really have some smart kids out there.”
The Vikings open the regular season Friday, Aug. 22 at home against Ravenscroft.
The Dispatch is visiting preseason practice of each of the four area high school football teams. Southern Vance is the only stop remaining. Find a story on the Raiders in Saturday's print edition.
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