When it comes to momentum in the SAC, not many are pointing to the Northrop Bruins.
Yet Coach Jason Doerffler’s program enters 2021 with nine victories over the last two seasons – the best two-year stretch for Northrop since 2003-04.
The question for this year is simple. Where do the Bruins go from here? Do they continue their competitive run and perhaps crack the top half of the SAC?
“We have gotten better every year for quite some time, it just may not have been reflective in our win-loss record,” Doerffler said. “We just continue to get a little bit better and the last few years we have been able to win some of the close games where in years prior we lost.”
Arguably the biggest loss from a year ago is the graduation of Damarius Cowen. The running back torched SAC defenses to the tune of 1,604 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago, an impressive feat considering the Bruins struggled in the pass game, passing for just 856 yards for the year and completing just 43 percent of their pass attempts.
“We had a younger QB that went to Leo, so we really didn’t have a true guy at that position last year,” Doerffler said. “This year is different.”
Northrop will also need to replace four offensive linemen, the most important being two-way stud Jose Reducindo.
Despite the losses, there is a lot of excitement around the offense. While the Bruins cycled through quarterbacks last year, the position is set for 2021 with the arrival of Roosevelt Norfleet III. The senior transfer from South Side did not have the best stat line last season with four touchdown passes and 10 INTs, he played at a serious disadvantage as the Archers struggled to provide any amount of protection for its quarterback. With a better offensive line, Norfleet III should be able to make a great impact.
Senior Keone Bates (660 yards passing, four TDs in 2020) will also see action behind center.
Because of the QB struggles last year, Northrop’s playmakers on the outside were not able to truly showcase their abilities. That should not be the case this year. Senior Dane Kilby and juniors Jayden Schmenk and C.J. Davis are all burners with exceptional hands.
The Bruins have a stable of running backs in which to turn to with the loss of Cowen. Junior Dezmend Shaw will be in the mix as well as senior Mykell Nabors.
Doerffler mentioned that a name to watch on both sides of the football is junior Tavon Freeman. He was ineligible for most of last year, but may be one of the best all-around players on the team and will see action at running back and outside linebacker.
Northrop lacks significant size and experience up front, giving the team a true area of concern entering 2021. But Doerffler is confident some youth can step up. Senior Damon Baney is a three-year starter at left tackle and will be the anchor in the trenches.
Julante Hinton is the stud on defense. The freshman was the only ninth grader named All-SAC a year ago, finding a place on the second team. Still, he hasn’t opened many eyes quite yet, although more took note after he made the state finals as a freshman in the 220 lb. weight class in wrestling.
“Julante has size, speed, athleticism, everything you’d want,” Doerffler said.
Baney will see double duty on both sides as he mans a defensive tackle spot. Amarion Collins and O’Marion Rogers will see plenty of action at outside linebacker, while Shaw and Freeman project as inside ‘backers.
The secondary is the Bruins’ defensive strength entering the season. Davis hauled in five INTs in 2020 and Schmenk is underrated in pass coverage. Davis especially is a special talent on the back end.
“C.J. has great football instincts, and we don’t always get those guys,” Doerffler said. “We get guys with great athleticism but are new to the game or haven’t played much football. C.J. is the opposite.”
Senior Rashawn Boone is described by Doeffler as a “freakish” athlete and will see plenty of action at corner.
In special teams, Jakob Gump inherits all of the kicking duties after handling only PATs last season. Doerffler said he still has some accuracy issues to work out but is just a sophomore.
Despite a Week 1 victory over eventual league champion Homestead last year, Northrop did not get the pub that North Side got knocking off Snider that same week. But brutal losses to Wayne and Concordia mid-season seemed to dig a hole that the Bruins had trouble getting out of.
While losing Cowen is big, Northrop appears to be more balanced offensively in 2021 and has playmakers at all three levels of its defense that could cause issues for the big-time offenses in the league.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Northrop is still seeking its first winning season since 2003, and while the Bruins are as competitive as they have been in years, they have yet to be a true threat towards the top of the SAC for a long time.
It feels like this team is on the cusp of truly breaking out. A 6-3 season would be huge for the momentum of the program under Doerffler. Personnel-wise, this program is closer than ever to achieving that. Can this team do it?
WEEK 1 vs. Homestead
Northrop beat the Spartans by double digits to open the season last year. Can it do it again?
A win here would surprise many again, but also show that not only was last year not a fluke, but that the Bruins have the team to consistently match up with a two-time defending SAC champion.
Confidence feels high at Northrop. But does it have the swagger? A W over Homestead would go a long way towards gaining that.
Roosevelt Norfleet III, senior, quarterback
With the weapons that Northrop has at its disposal, having a QB who can get them the ball in positions to succeed is paramount. The Bruins were not able to do that enough last year.
Many will look over Norfleet III after his pedestrian numbers at South Side. But Northrop will keep Norfleet III upright and give him opportunities to make plays. If he can execute, then the Bruins’ offense can be the best it has been in years.