Columbus North’s three regular-season football losses last year, all against ranked teams, came by a total of 19 points.
With that in mind, coach Tim Bless came up with the mantra “Mission 19” for the offseason. Any repetition or sprints the Bull Dogs did, they did it an extra 19 times.
“We did what extra we could do to find those missing 19 points and translate it into 2016,” Bless said. “I kind of reflected back on last year. I think that kind of fueled our fire in our offseason training.”
Helping give North a sense of optimism is the return of six starters on both sides of the ball. That includes a pair of third-year starters in the backfield in senior quarterback Triston Perry and senior running back Mitchell Burton.
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Perry completed 89 of 156 passes for 1,188 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Burton, a Miami (Ohio) recruit, ran for 1,757 yards and 22 touchdowns in earning The Republic Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Both are coming off state-qualifying efforts in track and field. Burton finished fifth in the long jump, and Burton was 23rd in the 110-meter hurdles.
“Having offensive statistical leaders back always gives you optimism heading into the season,” Bless said. “Triston has a better command of the offense than he’s ever had. Then Mitchell Burton is a Mr. Football candidate, and he’ll have a target on his back. I think we have an opportunity to be as prolific an offense as we’ve ever had.”
The wide receivers will be new with senior James Garrett and juniors Jaylen Flemmons and Trey Vincent. Flemmons, a converted quarterback, and Vincent, who is out for football for the first time since middle school, were starters on the Bull Dogs basketball team last winter.
Two players who did see action at receiver last season — senior Harley Huser and junior J.D. Harris — are starters on defense and could play some at receiver. Senior Tanner Payne, another converted quarterback, takes over at tight end.
Four of the five offensive linemen return, led by senior left tackle David Redding, a Western Michigan recruit. Junior left guard Logan Abbott, senior center Daniel Hill and senior Alex Downin, who moves from right tackle to right guard, are back. Senior Cameron Corbin steps in at right tackle.
Three of the four defensive lineman return in senior tackles Coleman Tennyson and Hunter Wolford and senior end Spencer West. Senior Joseph Suverkup, who played most of last year’s sectional game following an injury to Wolford, will be at the other end. Abbott also could play some at defensive tackle.
Senior Tucker Payne moves from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. Juniors Andrew Chapman and Will Robbins will play on the outside. Juniors Noah Earl and Brigham Kleinhenz, who will play fullback when North uses one on offense, also will play at linebacker.
Harris returns at cornerback and Huser is back at safety. Junior Cortez Bandy, the backup running back, can play corner and safety, as can junior Damon Hunter Jr., who saw some action last season. Burton, who started the first eight games at safety two years ago before moving to tailback, will play in the Bull Dogs’ nickel package.
The defense allowed only one touchdown in Friday’s scrimmage against Greenwood.
“I’m excited about how they played,” Bless said. “We were frustrated about being unable to stop our offense in the summer, so we were a little unsure, but that just shows how dynamic our offense can be.”
Senior Mark Salle-Tabor, who was 10 of 13 on field goals and 40 of 42 on extra points last season, returns at kicker. He likely also will take over the punting duties this year.
North began 6-1 last season and won its first five Conference Indiana games before falling to state-ranked Bloomington South and Southport to close the regular season. The Bull Dogs were tied with Class 6A No. 1 Center Grove at halftime of the sectional opener before the Trojans pulled away for a 34-7 victory.
Center Grove, which went on to win the 6A state title, enters this season as the favorite to defend its crown.
“They are the frontrunners until somebody proves differently,” Bless said. “The way we played with them toe-to-toe for 2½ quarters gives us confidence that we can play with them for 48 minutes.”
The 2016 Columbus North football schedule:
Aug. 26;Columbus East;7 p.m.
Sept. 2;at Bloomington North;7 p.m.
Sept. 9;Franklin Central;7 p.m.
Sept. 16;at Terre Haute South;7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23;Terre Haute North;7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30;at Perry Meridian;7 p.m.
Oct. 7;at Bloomington South;7 p.m.
Oct. 14;Southport;7 p.m.