Prep football: Changing altitudes, Northern Nash aims to run more
By PATRICK MASON
Thursday, August 22, 2019
When Davontae Wiggins took over the quarterback job at Northern Nash midway through the 2016 season, the then-sophomore showed off a strong arm and a willingness to hang in the pocket to deliver throws all over the field.
The Knights, wanting to take advantage of a talented passer, became one of the true pass-first teams in the area. The past two seasons saw the Knights gain more yards through the air than they did on the ground. And it wasn’t really close.
In 2017 the passing game produced 1,675 yards and 17 touchdowns, compared with 1,128 rushing yards and five touchdowns. In 2018, Wiggins’ senior season, the Knights had 1,894 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, while the running game finished with 1,363 yards and 10 scores.
Last season was the first for new head coach Andrew Farriss, who saw the upside in having Wiggins direct the spread-style offense to utilize the wealth of receivers on the roster.
Expect the Knights to look different in 2019. The Knights find themselves stocked with running backs and athletic runners, and will shift their focus to getting the running game going.
“It really has changed a lot. Running back is one of our deepest positions right now,” Farriss said of the roster. “We’re putting more of an emphasis on the run game than the pass game. ... That’s high school football. One year to the next what you have is what you have, and you go with what you have.
“The key is making the best use of the talent you have. It’s nice to look out there at the number of athletes and the number of running backs that we have and we hope it will translate to success on the field, specifically in the run game.”
Wiggins was the leading rusher a season ago as Northern Nash searched for consistency at a thin positional group. Donavan Simpson stepped up as a sophomore and was the leading running back with 371 yards and a trio of touchdowns. No other rusher gained 200 yards.
Farriss said Simpson has made huge strides since last season during a pair of scrimmages, and with the addition of transfers Joshon Foster (Nash Central) and Amir Pittman-Williams (Southeast Halifax), the Northern Nash backfield is rounding into a problem for opponents.
Pittman-Williams was the leading rusher for Southeast Halifax last season with 1,231 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Elsewhere, Kameron Johnson will help to rejuvenate the offense while adding a flair of his own. Johnson, whose official position is athlete, saw some time at quarterback and in the backfield last season, but an injury-shortened season limited the then-junior to six games.
Johnson will start at quarterback and has been given the freedom to make choices as the point man one the ball is snapped. The plan is to let him touch the ball on each play.
“I love it,” Johnson said. “The coaches, they let me play free, like if I don't see something open, just run. I like that. I’ve been watching defenses and I know when to throw and not to throw. And we have so many good running backs and have so many threats on the field, it’s going to be fun. There’s so many weapons we can use.”
Farriss hopes that the emphasis on having an improved running game will trickle down to the defense to keep that unit off the field.
“Early in the season we came out of the gate strong,” Farriss said of the 3-1 start. “We won the turnover battles in those games and some of the defensive deficiencies were masked. But toward the middle of the season when teams got better and started holding onto the ball against us our defense started showing those issues.
“Controlling the clock helps. With defense, the more you play the worse you get. You want to go three plays and get off the field. That's what we’re hoping to do more of this year.”
Coach: Andrew Farriss (2nd season)
Last season: 3-7 (did not make postseason)
2019 first game: 7 p.m. Friday, on the road at East Wake
Key losses: Devontae Wiggins, Tarod Brown, Zashon Jenkins, Carresian Whitaker, Pernell Griffin, Shakel Whitaker,
Fast fact: Northern Nash hasn’t had a winning season since a 2010 campaign that finished 10-4 with a trip to the third round of the 3-A playoffs after winning the Big East Conference. Since then, the Knights’ high-water mark for wins has been five on two occasions (2014 and 2016).