The average high school football team would be quite content with a 7-4 record and fifth consecutive postseason appearance. But not three-time state champion Northwest. Last fall’s Class 4A West Region semifinal loss to Richard Montgomery, a team the Jaguars had beaten quite handily during the regular season, marked Northwest’s earliest postseason exit in five years. And, though they know it’s a marathon and not a sprint to the end, the Jaguars ultimately have their sights set on reclaiming their status as state champion for the first time since 2014.
“This year’s seniors were frustrated with the outcome last year,” Jaguars coach Mike Neubeiser acknowledged. “The teams that beat us last year were all better than we were; no one stole a victory. Last year definitely has been a motivation.”
While Northwest only returns about 50 percent of its starters from last season, the Jaguars are quite experienced in the skill positions. Senior quarterback Chris Craddock, who threw for more than 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago, returns to lead the offense. Current second-string quarterback Jack Anders has starting capabilities, Neubeiser said, and the competition and camaraderie between Craddock and Anders should prove beneficial.
Though the Jaguars leaned heavily, in 2016, on the productive combination of powerful running back/slot receiver Khalil Owens and the strong offensive line—led by Cole Cheripko and David Riggio—that protected him, there were many additional contributors who are ready to take on more prominent roles, Neubeiser said. And this fall’s squad is one of the fastest Neubeiser said he’s coached, which provides a whole other set of obstacles for opponents.
“We’re looking to utilize the speed we have on both sides of the ball,” Neubeiser said. “Speed can really open up your offense, you can get guys isolated and it’s difficult to defend. It spreads the defense out and can boost your running game if your passing game is doing well.”
Senior Juwon Farri returns to the backfield after a breakout 2016, during which he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Neubeiser said the elusive running back is even quicker than he was a year ago. His explosiveness coupled with fantastic field vision and natural football instincts—he won’t go down easy—will help take some pressure of the Jaguars’ younger offensive line.
Craddock has a plethora of athletic, quick-footed downfield targets, including seniors Alphonso Foray (460 yards and three touchdowns in 2016) and much-improved Norval Black and TJ Williams. The speed Northwest’s receivers possess should allow them to pick up additional yards after the catch. Junior AJ Woods’ speed will likely be utilized in both the backfield and at receiver.
Junior DeAndre Jules, whom Neubeiser called a “phenomenal defensive end,” Greg Bullard, junior Luke Patterson and Niko Berns will all be integral to Northwest’s defense.