For three straight seasons, Mike Brevard led North Side to a more successful campaign than the previous year. The program went from zero wins to two to four to five victories last season.
Then, Brevard departed for a position with the University of Saint Francis.
So, where do the Legends go from here?
The job of Coach Ben Johnson is to make sure the program trajectory continues upward. While the star quarterback is gone in Duce Taylor, there are pieces to work with as North Side aims for its first winning season since 2013.
While Ja’suan Lambert’s 1,500 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns are gone, younger brother Jontae Lambert is expected to step up and fill big bro’s shoes. Despite being a junior, Jontae is still largely unknown around the area Evan after averaging over eight yards per carry last year in limited action.
Jontae will be a big asset for new quarterback Brashawn Bassett. The junior has huge shoes to fill with the departure of Taylor, but Johnson is confident that Bassett has the maturity and skill set to handle the offense.
Bassett will not lack for weaponry. Four of the top five receivers from last season are back, led by senior Jordan Turner (63 receptions, 838 yards, seven TD in 2020). Complementing Turner are fellow seniors Rodney Woods (16 receptions, 330 yards, four TDs) and Ryan Collins (14-265-1) as well as sophomore Brauntae Johnson (36-596-7), Bassett’s brother.
“Tae Tae” Johnson burst onto the scene last year as a freshman with his big-play ability and athleticism. But another year of seasoning will benefit the stud who already has D1 offers in both football and basketball. Last year he was an athlete playing football. This year, expect to see more of Johnson as a football player with freakish ability.
Up front, North Side lost a big one to graduation with First Team All-SAC guard Aspen Pippert-Board. All told, the front line has just three players with significant varsity playing time, although sophomore Jordan King (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) is a monster at the tackle spot. Jacob Lambert was an exceptional two-way lineman that was also First Team All-SAC last year as a senior. The loss of Lambert and Pippert-Board will be tough to overcome.
Johnson feels he has some personnel ready to step up. Junior Mitchell Vargovich and sophomore Davon Haney will be thrust into the trenches on offense and will need to deliver early and often.
“We are going to be young, but we have size on the offensive and defensive lines,” Coach Johnson said.
Graduation also claimed a pair of All-SAC players on defense in Arieon McCarter at corner and Lah-Shon Miller at linebacker. Both were among the best at their positions in the league.
To counter those losses, Coach Johnson will look to some familiar names in the secondary as Johnson, Woods and Turner will all see time on the back end. Junior Michael Dye is also one to watch, as well as junior Bravon Bassett, brother of both Brashawn and Brauntae Johnson.
While he will be leading the offense, Bassett is North’s top returning tackler and will see action at linebacker. In a perfect world, Coach Johnson will have others step up at the mid-level of the defense to prevent his signalcaller from having to see significant snaps on that side of the ball.
The Legends lost 11 of its top 13 tacklers from last season, meaning some new faces are going to have to emerge on a unit that made some big plays at times, but surrendered too many yards and points as well.
With so much change in the offseason between a new coaching staff and a lot of production moving on from both sides of the ball, the question remains if North Side can pick up where it left off last year.
Few teams in the SAC have as many playmakers as North Side. While Brauntae Johnson gets a lot of media attention, he is surrounded by several others who are just as dangerous on offense.
It is tough not to like the situation that Coach Ben Johnson finds himself in inheriting a program on the upswing.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
There may not be a single player who will be missed more by his team this season than Duce Taylor. His ability to escape pressure, extend plays and strike downfield hid a lot of issues up front for the Legends. Bassett is an athlete, but is he a quarterback? If he proves that he is, North Side will be trouble in the SAC this year.
Week 1 vs. Snider
The Panthers have been seething over the 47-17 rout at the hands of North Side for the better part of a year. Snider wants nothing more than to avenge that defeat and show that 2020 no longer matters. For the Legends, they want to show that the win last season wasn’t a one-and-done thing.
With the first three games daunting once again for North with Snider, Bishop Dwenger and Carroll, a victory in Week 1 will boost morale even higher and prove to the city that the Legends are a force to be reckoned with.
Brashawn Bassett, junior, quarterback
Sensing a theme here?
Look, we don’t mean to put ALL the pressure on Bassett, but Taylor did it all for the North Side offense. Defenses had to respect him and could not load the box to take away the run, opening opportunities up for Ja’suan Lambert.
For Bassett, he needs to lock down the position, lead by example and protect the football. Do that and the offense will be just fine.