Defense, it is said, wins games. And while Northview won four games last year, the most since the 1996 season, defense didn't do a whole lot to win any of those games.
The Knights did post a shutout against South Vermillion, but that was mostly due to the fact that the Wildcats fumbled eight times and lost five of them.
The Knights had a lot of difficulty against the run last year when their defensive line struggled mightily against bigger, more experienced and physical opposing linemen. That translated into teams running the ball, on average, nearly 40 times per contest for over 200 yards per game.
Northview's defense spent a disproportionate amount of time on the football field when you consider the rushing yards they allowed in connection with a Knight offense that didn't hold the ball well and tended to score quickly. In effect, the defensive woes were a product of one ugly snowball that got headed downhill early in the season and was tough to slow down late in the season when the team was missing several playmakers due to injury.
With all the bad news out of the way, the good news is simply this. The Knights return experience. Eight starters are back including All-Conference linebackers Doug Porter and Jordan Garrison who combined for 66 solo tackles and were a part of 112 tackles.
All-Conference defensive end Craig Greenwood returns after registering four fumble recoveries and 10 tackles for loss (TFL). Porter and Garrison each added six TFL's and Garrison had a pair of interceptions. Kyle Nees will add even more depth at the position along with Dean Netzler, Craig Trout and Cory Grigsby.
Former DePauw standout Brock Leslie was brought in this season to work with both running backs and linebackers and should help make an impact on some of the younger athletes at the positions.
On the line, the Knights are bigger and stronger which should help alleviate the stress on the secondary to help stop the run on a regular basis.
Last season defensive backs Joran Ferris and Austin Staley were the third and fourth leading tacklers on the team which isn't good news for a defensive coordinator.
Head coach George Gettle believes however that the squad is much improved after their hard work in the offseason. "I think all of the lineman have made big strides in the weight room. I'm really happy with all of them. Things like weights, camps and attending workouts are necessary at this level of football," noted Gettle. "And I think these kids have really bought into it this year."
What fans can buy into is the fact that Northview's defensive front has bulked up to over 250 pounds per player which should help narrow the running lanes for opposing backs. Improved strength will help the Northview linemen shed blocks and keep opposing linemen from getting through to block their linebackers. "Having lots of starters back is certainly going to help," said Gettle. "At the scrimmage we saw that we had some kids who can run which is our goal. We want 11 defensive starters who can run to the football quickly and we're getting there."
Line coach Mike Ellis has turned this group into a hungry pack so it should be interesting to see how they react under live game conditions.
The Knights will also return a good portion of their secondary this year with senior Austin Staley at defensive back along with Eric Rissler and newcomer Matt McCluskey expected to get some playing time. Joran Ferris is back as well and he, along with Staley will be counted on to shut down oppositions' top receivers.
Last year the Knights got six interceptions from graduate Amos Wegner who had a knack for the big play. This season they'll need someone to step into that gap left by 'Famous' Amos and give the defense the occasional spark.
This group opened a lot of eyes against an outmanned Manual club during Friday's scrimmage. But their attitude and convictions will be tested right off the bat against a quick and athletic Bloomington North offense on Friday. Don't be surprised if the squad helps keep the Knights close right until the final gun.