North Forrest lost several key players from last year’s quarterfinal finish in the playoffs. What makes that remarkable is that they finished with just 21 healthy players on their roster of 26.  However, this season North Forrest will feature a roster of 40-players but must replace the key contributors from last season if they hope to find success again.

“It means a lot [to have a bigger roster],” North Forrest head coach Anthony Dillon said.  “You can do a lot more things with your practice schedule and also get guys some breathers when they want to versus last year. Our guys had to play all three ways and they didn’t have many substitutions on the sideline but the guys didn’t make excuses and we were able to make the best with what we had and go to the third round of the playoffs.  We’re just hoping to build off that experience now and be able to get more teach and learning in and hopefully we’ll be able to put it all together and make another run for it.”

The recap:

North Forrest opened the season with a 0-2 record after suffering nail-biting losses from Lumberton and Magee.  The Eagles went on a five-game winning streak which helped them gain momentum into the playoffs. Leading this success during the season was Daylyn Croom, who threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for 1,100 yards while scoring 49 touchdowns.  North Forrest’s season ended after region rival Collins defeated them in the quarterfinals.

Offense:

Replacing Croom is not exactly an easy feat nor the main priority, but rather duplicating the 34 points per game from last season is the main goal for the offense.  Now under center for the Eagles is senior Leon Jones, who did see some action last season at quarterback.  Jones went 4-for-8 and threw for 32 yards and two touchdowns for the season, but was intercepted twice.  Jones also ran for 224 yards and a touchdown.

“We have a lot of confidence in Leon,” Dillon said.  “We really feel like he can get those guys the ball.  It’ll be similar but we’ll try to be more of a run first team with him until he gets more comfortable with throwing the ball.  We’ll be trying to put him in good situations and get him short throws real early until he gains some confidence and hopefully by after a few games, he’ll be comfortable and coaching will be very selective of his play calling.”

A returning key figure in last year’s offense is sophomore Rhyen Brisco who had 1,061 receiving yards, ran for 400 yards and combined for 21 touchdowns.

“The cat is just a playmaker,” Dillon said.  “We’re excited to have him on our team, he’s very electrifying.  In all phases of the game; special teams, defense and offense. We are hoping that he can live up to the expectations he had last year and be able to make plays for us and helps us get some wins.”

North Forrest will again feature various running backs in the backfield, with sophomore Ellis Brown projected to be the go-to back.  Brown had only four carries last season, but he is described as hard to tackle as a bigger back and can be called upon for short yardage situations.

Defense:

North Forrest’s defense only feature’s five returning starters from last season.  As a group, the team allowed 25 points per game last season having several rollercoaster games.  North Forrest played six games where they held teams under 20 points or less, but had seven where it gave up 30 or more, three of which were in the playoffs.

“We are young on that side, we have one senior playing defense right now,” Dillon said.  “We have a lot of guys who have a lot of ability but they just don’t have the experience.  We are just hoping by the time those guys get to district those guys will be cleaning up a lot of those simple mistakes they have been making and move on.”

One of the key aspects for the Eagles last year was being able to create turnovers as they came away with 33 in total between interceptions and fumble recoveries.

Two-way player Brisco will a much more valued asset for the defense this season as he had 56 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a sack, four interceptions and four fumble recoveries last season.

But with a younger defense, the Eagles will have to find replacements for all of their linebackers, two players in the secondary and two defensive ends.

Name to know:

Senior cornerback TraJen Anderson is the lone senior to start for the North Forrest defense.  He recorded 10 tackles, three pass deflections and a fumble recovery before his season ended due to a medical condition. Being the only senior on a defense that features a young defense truly will make him a valuable asset.  With the culmination of him being forced to miss last season and the fact that it is his senior year, Anderson is set to have a memorable comeback season.

“He’s making all the checks and adjustments,” Dillon said.  “He’s the real vocal guy right now and as I like to call him the quarterback of the defense. He missed all of last season but [three] games due to a condition he was battling [and] trying to get diagnosed.  He’s been medically cleared, he’s very energetic and enthused to be back on the field.”

Games to watch:

Coach Dillon has yet to win a season opener during his tenure at North Forrest.  Last year, he was just four points from beating a very good Lumberton team in a game that came down to the final minutes. Lumberton should feature another competitive squad so taking a win from them would help build confidence for the inexperienced and young North Forrest players early on.

In Region 8-2A, Collins looks to be a favorite to not only repeat as Region champions but a favorite to make a run for the state championship.  Collins eliminated North Forrest in the playoffs last year at home. This season North Forrest will play Collins at home and have a chance for redemption.