Northport will be competitive

Jeremiah Johnson leads MustangsNorthport turned a few heads when they finished third in the Northeast 1B North division after being picked to finish in the basement of what, historically, has been the toughest eight-man football conference in Washington state. Replicating that 6-5 record and the first playoff appearance by a Northport football team in the so-called “modern era” could be a difficult task in 2012. But veteran coach Don Fox, assisted once again by his son, Shane, has some solid holdover talent back.If NHS can stay healthy…“We probably won’t be sneaking up on anyone,” Fox said on Sunday as he previewed the Mustangs. “We’ve got some good kids.”Whether NHS has enough talent to make an impact on the Northeast B-8 this season remains to be seen. Northport opens at Selkirk on Friday night (7 p.m.) against a Rangers’ team that looks to be improved from last season. AT A GLANCEA senior-oriented Northport squad will be led by All-Northeast 1B quarterback Jeremiah Johnson. The 6-0, 170-pound senior threw 15 touchdown passes last season and accumulated nearly 2,000 yards worth of total offense. For Northport to be successful this fall, Johnson has to stay healthy and increase those numbers.In 6-0, 175-pound senior Josh Konkler and 6-2, 175-pound senior Dylan Masters, Johnson has two of the best receivers in the Northeast 1B League to throw to. Konkler is a returning All-League selection at receiver. He caught eight touchdown passes from Johnson last season.Masters is a versatile player who can also back Johnson up at quarterback if necessary, according to Fox.Ben Short, a 5-6, 150-pound junior, will also see plenty of passes thrown his direction this fall.“Our strength is our quarterback and our receivers,” Fox admitted. “We have three of the best receivers in the league.”‘Ground Fox’ may air it out more this fall.During Fox’s long career at Inchelium and later at Kettle Falls, he generally liked to run it more and throw it less. But with Johnson and a trio of solid receivers, the Mustangs may open up their offense and air it out more this fall.“We will have to open it up to take advantage of Jeremiah’s skills and our receivers,” Fox said. “We’re going to have to throw more.”Like most area teams, depth is an ongoing issue. Paper-thin is a mantra at more than a few high schools from Class 1B to Class 2A.“You never have enough depth,” Fox conceded. “And we really don’t have any. We have to stay healthy.”Up front, NHS has some talent, but not many bodies. Tyler Brunette, a 6-3, 250-pound senior, is one of the top linemen in the league and the Mustangs’ most experienced football player at any position.“Tyler is an All-League player who has more experience than anyone on the team,” Fox said. “He’s kind of like having an assistant coach out there.“He’s doing a good job and is one of our team leaders.”Also expected to see time up front on both sides of the ball is Jace Shaw, a 6-0, 180-pound senior guard and defensive end who transferred in from the Tri-Cities. At center will be 5-8, 210-pound freshman Dylan Owing. Jared Brodahl, one of the smallest linemen in the league at 5-6, 130-pounds, returns for his third year with the Mustangs. He’ll hold down a guard spot and play at a defensive end.Cody Litts, a 6-1, 175-pound senior running back and receiver, will likely be Northport’s primary ball-carrier with Johnson.As usual, Fox will have a host of foreign exchange students who will help swell the ranks. Last season, the Mustangs got major contributions from a pair of Belgian foreign exchange students. Northport currently has three foreign exchange students on the roster from the Czech Republic and Denmark.Football knowledge is next to nil, but Fox has appreciated the contributions of his exchange students in the past three seasons.“There is as serious learning curve,” conceded Fox. “It’s kind of like Football 101 out there for at least half of our kids…it’s easy to forget that about half the roster has played very little or no football before.”There is no feeder system at Northport and no real football pedigree or history (the program is in its third season after a decades-long hiatus).OUTLOOKWith the exception of Brunette, the Mustangs are light and thin up front—and plenty green.“But we are pleased with the turnout and the way the kids have been working,” Fox said. “The kids have good attitudes and are working hard.”AROUND THE LEAGUEDefending league champion Wellpinit gets the overwhelming nod to repeat. In A.J. Kieffer, the Redskins have the league’s best running back. Arlen McCrea is also one of the best big play backs in the Northeast 1B.“Wellpinit returns a lot of kids,” Fox says. “And Odessa will be tough. They’ve got a lot of veteran players. Cusick has the Bluff’s.”Columbia-Inchelium is coming off a disappointing 3-7 campaign. The Timberwolves should be better this fall, but numbers are way down (15 players between the two schools).A breakthrough surprise this fall could be usual Northeast 1B doormat Republic. “I don’t think Republic is going to be a pushover anymore,” Fox figured. “They have about 24 kids out and a new coach.”Chris Burch takes over at RepublicFormer Inchelium High All-Stater and Central Washington University standout linebacker Chris Burch has taken over a flagging program and injected interest and enthusiasm. “Chris will get that program turned around,” Fox said. “I know they did a lot of stuff this summer (to get better). They may surprise some people.”Fox thinks the overall league may be down in terms of talent this fall, “but it’s still a very competitive league…and we will be competitive, especially if we can stay healthy. For sure, we aren’t looking past anyone and we won’t be running over anybody either.”Fox admits that coming out of retirement to help resurrect the Northport football program has been both gratifying and fun.“It has been fun and it was great last year to see us win six games and get to the playoffs. It’s a unique situation here…half the kids haven’t played football before…and we don’t have a junior high program.”SCHEDULEFriday, August 31—at Selkirk (non—league), 7Friday, Sept. 7—Curlew at Northport, (non-league), 7Friday, Sept. 14—Northport at St. John-Endicott (non-league Crossover), 7Friday, Sept. 21—At Republic, 7Friday, Sept. 28—Selkirk at Northport, 7Friday, Oct. 5—At Wellpinit, 3Friday, Oct. 12—Columbia-Inchelium at Northport (Homecoming), 7Friday, Oct. 19—At Curlew, 3Friday, Oct. 26—Cusick at Northport, 7Friday, Nov. 2—District Crossover