BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Last year, the Northwestern Tigers football team entered the season with 25 seniors on its roster. One year later, that means there are a lot of holes to fill in a program that has won a respectable 15 games over the last two seasons. But head coach John Hendryx is excited about the season because he feels this year’s Purple Pride is very athletic.
“I liked what I saw in the scrimmage – I thought we ran the ball well and we are pretty athletic,” he said. “We are not as big as we have been in the past, but we are athletic up and down the line. Even our defensive linemen are able to run. And offensively, we are better pass blockers since we are longer and taller. It is a different mix: we have baseball players, swimmers, golfers, basketball players; just different kinds of kids than we have had in the past.”
Hendryx said the program had a great summer of workouts, which has helped with the enthusiasm around the team.
“With 25 kids graduating, we have had a lot of kids waiting to get their turn,” said Hendryx. “They are excited and they are ready. It is their time to play and I think they will come out and get better every week.”
The better pass blocking offensive line Hendryx eluded to – led by pre-season all-state selection Jake Vent – will come in handy now that sophomore signal-caller Trey Richmond has a year of experience under his belt. The 6-3, 210-pound quarterback turned heads as a freshman when he completed 58 passes for 702 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We will throw the ball a little more this year and we have about five kids he can throw to,” said Hendryx. “We have a good group of skilled players. Kids like (junior) Keron Hellum, (sophomore) Noah Aaron, (senior) Ethan Dubbels and (senior) Blake Oakley will share duties at wing – they all do something unique and we will use that.”
Austin Miller, Riley Hudson, Tommy Yeager, Ryan Cavazos and Grey Longshore will make up the receiving corps. Hendryx will play three fullbacks, led by junior Tim Blankenburger who returns as the leading rusher at 153 yards last season. He will be joined by seniors Cole Cook and Austin Pyle.
“We won’t have the Michael Plummer like we did last year; we won’t have someone that can carry 25 times a game,” said Hendryx. “We have had those types of guys in the past, but this year the offense will be spread out.”
Experience does return on the defense, as Derek Doubet (26 tackles last year), Caleb Tackett (36 tackles) and Jake Vent (34 tackles) return to a much more agile defensive line. Dubbels (47 tackles) and Hullum (23 tackles) return to the secondary.
“We are going to do some different things defensively, and I think the kids like it,” said Hendryx. “We are going to be more active with our additional speed. It should be fun.”
One big change for Northwestern is the allowance of players to play two sports at once. Thus, Blaine Brutus will come over from the soccer team to handle kicking duties for the first time.
Northwestern is always in the thick of the Mid-Indiana Conference battle, and 2014 should be no different. And with an experienced quarterback and more speed on the line, this could be a special year for the Purple Pride.