A year ago, Coach Ben Johnson’s squad entered the season with a lot of hype. The roster was stacked with a lot of individual talent and the expectations were high.
Week 1 seemed to back it up, with a last-second kick needed by Snider to vault past North in a narrow victory.
But things quickly unraveled with blowout losses to both Bishop Dwenger and Carroll. By season’s end, the Legends were able to amass just two wins – close decisions over Wayne and South Side.
Fast-forward a year and the setup is the same. Lots of individual talent and expectations within the program even higher than last season.
Can North deliver in Year 2 under Coach Johnson?
There is a lot to be positive about.
Despite all the talent last season, the Legends were held to 14 or less points in six of their nine games. Enter Bohde Dickerson, the transfer from Bishop Dwenger, who threw for 1,000 yards, rushed for over 200 more and accounted for 16 total touchdowns in 2021. The Legends had inconsistency at quarterback last year, but now Coach Johnson has a true signalcaller running the offense.
Dickerson will have plenty of weaponry in which to distribute the ball. All-around stud Brauntae Johnson is expected to improve upon his 29 receptions, 207 yards and four touchdowns with Dickerson behind center. Johnson is the lone returner among North’s top five receivers last season, with Jordan Turner, Rodney Woods and Ryan Collins all gone. The Legends will need some new talent to step up to take some of the head off Johnson. Look for senior Jaylen Ellis and sophomore Jamari Pearson to be in the mix.
In the backfield, senior Jontae Lambert and his 703 rushing yards and eight TDs is back. A naturally gifted runner, Lambert will benefit greatly from Dickerson’s ability to be a consistent passing threat, forcing defenses to play away from the line of scrimmage more, opening opportunities up in the run game. Juniors Dominick Malone and Jamie Roy will also see action at running back.
“We have to improve the chemistry with our guys at WR and QB because there are new kids and kids who don’t have that much varsity experience,” Coach Johnson said. “Our run game will definitely be a strength.”
With all the talent at the skill positions, North still must be strong in the trenches. Coach Johnson returns four of his five starters along the offensive line, including junior Jordan King, who holds an offer from Ball State. Senior Khristion Stalling and two-way standout Mitch Vargovich are also familiar names back up front.
Defensively, the strength may be in the secondary. Brauntae Johnson will be stout at safety and corners Bravon Bassett and Michael Dye are both experienced and battle hardened. Look for sophomore Tristen Newsome to be in the mix for significant playing time on the back end.
The linebacker corps got a big boost when Da’Von Doughty transferred over from Bishop Luers. A savvy veteran who can be a playmaker anywhere on the field, Doughty will be looked upon to play the run and the pass, a bit of a floater who will go wherever he is needed.
Doughty will be joined by a pair of juniors at linebacker – Jamie Roy and Ashton Newsome. Both saw time last year as sophomores and Coach Johnson is confident they are ready to handle a bigger workload. Sophomore Josh Masasu is a youngster to watch on the second level. Brashawn Bassett will also see action on defense in a variety of roles. Don’t be surprised if we see Bassett, who threw some good balls last year, behind center at times to mix up looks for defenses.
Coach Johnson is also confident that his defensive line can get a push and contain better than it did a year ago. Vargovich was a First Team All-SAC selection last year with eight sacks. With increased numbers on the roster, Coach Johnson is looking forward to not having to play so many linemen both ways. Sophomore James Early at D-end could be a problem for opposing offenses.
“Our secondary will be a strength along with our linebackers,” Coach Johnson said. “We must improve on our D-line. They are working hard to be a strength and the best position group on the entire team.”
The Legends will be dangerous in the return game again with a host of big-time threats. A solid special teams unit will be important if North is to challenge the top teams in the SAC.
There is a lot to like in Coach Johnson’s second year at North Side. The Legends played a lot of underclassmen last season, guys who are back and ready to build upon that experience.
The pieces are in place for this to be the best North Side squad in a decade. It is all about execution.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
Look, the Legends’ schedule is unfair. It’s been unfair since 2016 as North plays Snider, Dwenger, Carroll, Luers and Homestead in the first six weeks. Mix in Wayne in Week 4 and that’s arguably the top six (outside of North) teams in the SAC.
Too many times since 2016, North Side has lost its way while trying to survive the early-season onslaught. Thankfully, the schedule changes in 2023. But for now, that month and a half of schedule landmines through late September is an absolute bear to get through.
The Legends must stick together through thick and thin, especially early. If they can do that, they can be a factor in October.
Week 2 vs. Bishop Dwenger
So many people are hyping up Week 1 against Snider. Totally understandable.
While North Side is locked in for the Panthers, we have the luxury of looking a bit further down the line.
Win or lose against the Panthers, how the Legends come out against the Saints in the home opener will be telling. If North knocks off Snider, it can ill afford to be flat in Week 2. Conversely, if the Legends lose in Week 1, can it shake off the defeat and move forward and not allow things to snowball in a negative direction?
The Snider game is getting the hype, but Dwenger week is where we find out what this Legends squad is made of.
Brauntae Johnson, junior
“Tae Tae” is going to be the best player on the football field in every single one of North Side’s regular-season games. The four-star talent can be a game changer in all three facets of the game.
But Johnson needs to be more for this year’s squad. Because of his talent, teammates look to Johnson to set the tone. Now a junior, Johnson needs to assert himself as more of a leader. He has it in him, he just hasn’t needed to tap into it too much as a freshman and sophomore.
North Side is going to face some adversity this season. Every team does, but the front-loaded schedule guarantees it will come early for the Legends. Johnson needs to step up and be a calming influence, to keep the team positive and on task. The fact that he rarely leaves the field means he can be that guy for offense, defense and special teams.
Who leads this team? Who says the right things in the huddle or on the sideline when adversity strikes?
Johnson can and must be that guy.