The Northwestern High School football team entered the 2019 season on Thursday in unfamiliar territory. The Warriors have a target on their backs.
Northwestern finished 7-4 last season, winning its first league title since 1967. The Warriors also earned their first playoff appearance in school history, falling to Cincinnati Wyoming 48-7 in a Division V, Region 16 quarterfinal game.
They began their Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division title defense on Thursday, the first day of high school football practice in Ohio. Other fall high school sports — golf, cross country, volleyball, soccer and girls tennis — also began their preseasons on Thursday.
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“We’re excited to get going,” Carter said. “We had a year we were proud of, but we had a couple of games, particularly Shawnee and Indian Lake, where we just weren’t able to finish. The guys rallied behind those games and finished the season tough with big wins. We got a taste of some victories. We’re looking to build on that.”
The first four days of practice are acclimation days, held in helmets and shorts. The first full day of contact will begin Tuesday. The high school football regular season begins Friday, Aug. 30.
With 11 wins in the past two seasons, the Warriors’ 12-member senior class has a chance to finish their careers with one of the better records in school history, Carter said.
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“We’ve talked a lot with our seniors about legacy and what that looks like,” he said. “We could be one of the more winningest classes and be remembered for our accomplishments.”
The Warriors earned a share of the CBC Mad River, sharing the conference title with Urbana and Indian Lake. They hope to win the championship outright this season, Carter said.
“We were never content with sharing the league title,” he said. “We knew that we could’ve outright clinched it and we didn’t. We need to find a way to finish those games.”
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The Warriors graduated two All-CBC offensive weapons in quarterback Chris Hart (2,159 yards passing; 22 touchdowns) and running back Eli Berner (1,283 yards, 15 TDs).
Northwestern returns junior wide receiver Ben Van Noord, who caught 49 passes for 899 and 11 touchdowns. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.
“I think he’s one of the most explosive players in the Dayton area,” Carter said.
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Senior Gavin Thomas is expected to play quarterback. Senior defensive lineman Korbin Spencer (59 tackles, seven sacks) will anchor the defense.
With so many players participating in last week’s Clark County Fair, Carter held a conditioning workout at the fairgrounds. About 15 to 20 players were seen running sprints in the Fairgrounds’ parking lot.
“The only way we can be in great shape is to be active the week of the fair,” Carter said. “Traditionally, they had taken that off. We take pride in that. We got a lot of buy-in.”
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Northwestern has about 40 players in its program, allowing the Warriors to create some depth within the roster. It also has a large offensive line with its smallest member weighing 260 pounds, he said.
“We’ve got the size of a Division I football team,” Carter said. “It’s just a matter of us being able to get out and use our size and our strength.”
The Warriors will host D-VII powerhouse St. Henry in a scrimmage on Aug. 16 and travel to Miami East on Aug. 23. They open the regular season against Southeastern on Aug. 30.
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“In order for Northwestern to be a great program, we had to compete with good or great programs,” Carter said. “We’re not a team that’s going to go unnoticed. We’ve got an X on our back and we’re preparing for that.”
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