FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — North Forsyth will look for new talent to emerge this season after graduating 26 seniors from its 2018 squad, many of whom were staples for the Raiders for three seasons. But head coach Robert Craft said the program is excited to bring new talent to the forefront.
“A lot of these guys don’t have the Friday night experience because of the group before them, but the coaching staff is so excited about getting them their opportunity,” Craft said. “They have earned it.”
One player stepping into the spotlight is junior quarterback Brady Meitz.
“We are fired up about Brady,” Craft said. “When you talk about the attributes and characteristics of a quarterback, he’s got all of them. He’s a great leader, he can make every throw on the field, he is athletic and can do some things with his legs to extend plays.”
Meitz will have a go-to target in Duke-commit Nicky Dalmolin, who Craft called one of the top players in the country and the leader of North’s 2019 squad.
“He is one of the top players I’ve coached both on and off the field,” Craft said. “He has played at running back, receiver, linebacker and safety, wherever we have needed him. He is poised to have a great year on both sides of the football, and we are going to get him the ball in a lot of ways.”
Several players will contribute to North’s run game, which should be led by Jared Lucero. The junior played as a tight end/linebacker last year but has dropped weight in the offseason and prepared well for his new role, Craft said.
North’s offensive line will be manned by four new faces with center Will Barton the only returner from last year’s starting front.
Not all of North’s squad will be green, however. The Raiders were plagued with injuries early last season which allowed many returning players to gather experience. Much of that know-how returns defensively. Twelve players started at least one game last season, and Craft said the defense is likely North’s strong suit this year.
“We will emphasize aggressiveness and give teams multiple looks,” Craft said. “Having some experience allows you to do some more things.”
Leading the defense in the trenches will be returning outside defensive linemen Samuel Tomkins and Max Bryant. Haris Mahmutovic will line up at nose guard after starting several games last year as a freshman.
Starting linebacker Jack Tucker will return after starting every game last season. He will be joined by Patrick Corrigan who made an impact on the Raiders’ defense as a freshman last season.
“You almost have to remind yourself [Corrigan] is a freshman, he is talented, works hard and is so much further ahead of where you think a sophomore will be,” Craft said.
Miles Hartsfield, Austin Colon and Tyler Cunningham will lead the secondary, and Craft said they are among about six or seven defensive backs who are experienced and have the versatility to play at corner or safety.
North will enter its 2019 campaign with a chip on their shoulder after a frustrating 3-7 campaign last year. Four of the team’s losses came in tight contests.
“Last year was difficult between injuries, especially so early on in the season, and then you play five games decided by four points or less and lose four of them,” Craft said. “It left us with a sour taste in our mouths.”
An offseason emphasis was placed on sound tackling and winning the turnover game.
“When you have games decided by one possession, those factors are usually the difference, who can steal a possession or make tackles in open space,” he said.
North’s challenging non-region schedule will be a good measuring stick for the team entering Region 5-AAAAAAA play, where North will be looking to return to the playoffs against its Forsyth County foes and defending state champs, Milton.
The Raiders have been on the playoff bubble each year since the region was formed. North earned a playoff bid as the No. 4 seed in 2017 but were a game outside a berth in 2016 and last season.
“The last few years we have been right there,” Craft said. “We have to battle every week, there’s no easy win in all 10 of our games, but I feel this team is capable of making the playoffs, and we want to host, which is so critical. It’s crucial we go one week at a time, but this team has the makeup to succeed, and they are workers in every sense of the word. We are just excited to get out there.”