JaQuez Avent wasn’t alone, but sometimes it looked that way last season. Avent, along with graduated Quay Mann and Marquez Farmer, did their best to hold up a faltering squad, but by the end, it was a broken team.
The Knights finished 2-8 and lost every Big East Conference game by double digits.
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“It just killed my spirit,” Avent said, shaking his head. “I don’t know how else to explain it, really.”
Mentality was precisely the problem for the Knights the past two years. A team that struggled early but peaked late in 2011 gave way to a team in 2012 that looked decent early only to play worse with each passing week.
To add a measure of consistency and restore the Knights back to football prowess, the school hired Randy Raper, who led Wilson Hunt to back-to-back undefeated conference seasons the past two years.
The program isn’t close to where Raper wants it, but he has been trying furiously to instill accountability in the program.
“I think the big thing here is they understand, in order to change things, they have to change,” Raper said. “It’s not the coach, it’s they themselves as people and players. To change, you have to embrace what you’re trying to do and run with it.”
So far, the players said the method is working.
“It’s a different mentality,” Avent said. “We want to win. We don’t want to have another 2-8 season like we did last year. We want to have a great season.”
Raper, for his part, has tweaked a defense that allowed 30 or more points six times, and an offense that struggled for consistency last season is being reworked.
“I feel like we’re just more focused because there are consequences when you mess up,” senior wide receiver Michael Bertolino said. “If you drop the ball, you have to do up-downs. If you fumble, you gotta run. There (are) consequences for mistakes, you can’t just get away with mistakes any more like it was the past few years I’ve been on varsity.”
Arguably Northern Nash’s biggest problem from the past two years was its depth.
Around 35 players should suit up for the Knights’ first game, and more than numbers, Raper said the team has real options at most positions.
Last season, the Knights wore down easily because so many players had to play both offense and defense, and the No. 2 players on the depth chart saw a significant dropoff.
Raper said that won’t be the case this season.
He’s not sure what the team is capable of record-wise in his first year at Northern Nash, but he promises the attitude will be different.
“We’ve got to get tougher physically and mentally, and if we do those things, we’ll be all right,” Raper said. “I don’t know how that’s going to relate to wins and losses. I don’t know. That’s just something you wait and see, but I’ll promise we’re going to fight.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com