Experience allows offseason work to go next level
BICKNELL — North Knox's football field is under construction, with new concrete and ticket booths installed on the top level to go with wider aisles for the stands. It still has a ways to go before being completed.
The football team is a lot further along. When the Warriors opened their preseason Monday, they returned several multi-year starters. The roster isn't huge, around 35, but 11 are seniors and the vibe is that this is their year.
"This team is so much more experienced than last year," said North Knox coach Josh Chambers, whose Warriors went 5-6 a year ago. "They've all been there. They've all taken meaningful snaps, Friday night snaps. They know the speed of the game and nothing on Friday is going to be a surprise to them. The kids are older, they're going to be ready to play and do it at a pretty good level."
The Warriors have to replace running back-defensive back and now graduate Gavyn Doane. He amassed 1,846 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago to go with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries on his was to being named Class 2A All-State honorable mention.
He was a Sun-Commercial all-area pick too, but he was just one of six seniors on the team. The other three all-area selections, offensive lineman Trevor Kahre and linebackers Troy Noland and Matt Urbain, are among the seniors who are back.
Junior Reece Hammelman becomes the fulltime quarterback, with senior Cole Richter and sophomore Rhett Sheren the main ball carriers in trying to replicate Doane's big numbers.
No matter the grouping on the field, whether it's skill positions, linemen, linebackers or defensive backs, North Knox doesn't show a weakness, with the learning curve already negotiated. With the experience, Chambers said preseason workouts have been different this year.
"We've been able to build on things, go at an advanced football level. We're allowing kids more freedom in the offense, to make decisions on the field, whether it's audibles or changing blocking assignments," Chambers said.
The team got together in April, as the IHSAA allowed six spring practices this year, with limited contact. The Warriors met once a week and Chambers reported that 90 percent of the roster was at those workouts. Offseason weight room work was also well-attended and the coach said he's been proud of his players' commitment.
They had a pair of round-robin scrimmages in July, going to Salem on the 13th with Charlestown and South Dearborn, then heading to West Washington the following week with Scottsburg and Silver Creek.
"Those were good scrimmages. They were teams we don't see and it was a good mix. We faced everything from a double-wing to spread offenses," Chambers said. "We didn't do anything fancy, but I was happy with our kids, and it gave us a good viewpoint to where we are as a team. I was happy with our offensive line and our older running backs."
The biggest position battle might be at offensive guard, where senior Jalen Conrad and junior Brayden Page are pushing each other. Chambers noted that junior Levi Brocksmith is out for the team for the first time and has proven adept at wingback and safety.
The only notable injury to date is to junior Brayden Thorne. The running back-defensive back injured his back last basketball season. Chambers said he expected Thorne to play, but plans to ease him into games when he becomes available.
North Knox is practicing from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday this week and Monday through Thursday next week. The scrimmage against Owen Valley is supposed to be at Warrior Field on Aug. 16, but if the facility isn't ready, it will be moved to Owen Valley.
The season opener is the following Friday at Sullivan.