Hidden slightly by a low-resting Northern Nash baseball cap which looks like it has faded after many practices under the sun, coach Mickey Crouch walks his running backs through the basic steps.
There aren’t many whistles at Northern Nash practice, which takes places in a hollowed out section of the forest surrounding the high school. Still, there are plenty of lessons being taught.
On Monday afternoon, Crouch wasn’t telling them what to expect from the Tarboro Vikings during their game at 7 tonight in Tarboro.
Instead, he was showing his entire offense how to take a proper counter step and which way to rotate their hips to receive a toss from the quarterback.
He wasn’t focusing on the game as much, as he was teaching the basics.
“We ain’t quitting. We ain’t giving up,” Crouch said.
After a surprising third-round playoffs run last year, the Knights are off to an underwhelming 1-3 start. The slow start was expected – Northern Nash lost 24 seniors last season.
Crouch knew the Knights’ identity was going to change this season, but the team has struggled to find a new one.
After running a wishbone offense last season, the Knights went to Chapel Hill for a 7-on-7 camp this summer with hopes of being more balanced on offense.
They weren’t able to compete. Crouch had to switch to a Wing-T offense – despite not having players suited for that style of attack.
“We are struggling to find an identity,” senior Tevin Marshall said. “We are trying to find a different identity. We just haven’t found it yet. It’s a lot harder to make up for what was done last year, because of the loss of a whole bunch of key players.”
Injuries also have slowed the process.
Senior offensive lineman Bashar Hroub, the only returner on the offensive line, tore his ACL two weeks ago, and linebacker Andre Hedgepeth tore his ACL and his MCL last week.
Both are out for the season. Leading receiver Tevin Hamilton and starting defensive tackle Jamaal Boddie both have missed the past two weeks with injuries.
“For us, it’s been real difficult,” said Marshall, who starts at linebacker and fullback. “We have been disappointing. I can honestly say, we worked very, very hard during the offseason just to get where the other team was, if not better. … It hurts to know that we had such a slow and bad start. We wanted to take off from last season and keep it rolling. That’s not the case.”
Practices are different because of the lack of experience. Crouch and the rest of the coaching staff can’t be as thorough as they’d like.
Plays and techniques are thrown in at the last minute, and the majority of time during most practices is spent coaching the offense.
The defense is fine.Before Northern Nash’s loss to Wilmington Laney, the Knights were allowing only 10 points per game.
But the lessons still are needed.
Northern Nash lost plenty of experience to graduation, and many of its returning players are watching from the sideline because of injuries.
“What you do is you try and talk kids into stepping up and being as good as they can be,” Crouch said. “That’s what we are trying to do.”
So far, no one has answered Crouch’s call.
Marshall watched as last year’s team, led by its large number of seniors, had more success than any other team since 2004.
Now, as the underclassmen look to him and his fellow seniors to lead, Marshall feels like he’s coming up short.
“It really is a burden, because it makes you feel like it’s your fault,” Marshall said. “You need to keep your tradition rolling. … It is a burden. When you don’t get there, you look at it and you sort of blame yourself for those things. It really takes a toll on you.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.