Columbus North enters the 2017 football season with a series of question marks.
The Bull Dogs had their best team in a decade when they went 9-2 last fall, but they lost a ton of talent. Gone from a record-setting offense are the quarterback, running back, tight end and four-fifths of the offensive line. On defense, North must replace its entire front four.
“We don’t have as experienced of a football team as we had in 2016, but we feel we’re very talented,” North coach Tim Bless said.
Taking over as signal-caller is junior Trenton Kelley. The backup to Triston Perry the past two years, Kelley completed his only pass for 12 yards while playing six games in mop-up duty last season.
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Bless calls the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Kelley a prototypical quarterback.
“We think he has a chance to be really special,” Bless said. “He has most of the attributes you look for in a quarterback. He has a good right arm, he has intellectual abilities and it translates to the field.”
Another player who has been waiting his turn for two years is senior Cortez Bandy. Bandy, who was a starting cornerback last season, has been the backup running back the past two years to three-time team MVP Mitchell Burton, who is now playing at Miami (Ohio).
Last year, Bandy carried 48 times for 268 yards and five touchdowns.
“Had he come in a different era, he might have been a three-year starter at tailback,” Bless said. “Unfortunately, he was behind possibly the best running back to ever come through Columbus North.”
The Bull Dogs will have experience at receiver. Senior Jaylen Flemmons led the team with 38 catches for 465 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, and Illinois State recruit Tristan Bailey caught 25 passes for 309 yards and six scores. Junior D’Andre Scruggs and senior J.D. Harris, a cornerback who caught eight passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, also will play on offense.
Sophomore Mitchell Collier, who saw considerable action tight end and H-back at a freshman last season, will return to those roles.
Senior Logan Abbott is the lone returning starter on the offensive line and will be at left tackle. Junior Noah Algee moves from tight end into the other tackle spot. Seniors Gabe Hutton and Davin Greenlee will step in at guard, and Konner Stahl moves from the defensive line to center.
Junior Will Redding and Collier will start at defensive end. Seniors Abbott and Nick Tungett and sophomores Montez Mitchell Dalton Kirk will rotate at defensive tackle.
Senior Brigham Kleinhenz moves from the outside to middle linebacker. Senior Noah Earl returns at outside linebacker, and senior Andrew Chapman and junior Tay Wells will play at the other outside linebacker spot.
Harris, a Northern Illinois recruit who led the team with five interceptions last season, returns at corner. Juniors Langston Lunsford and Jalen Paswater are battling for the other corner spot.
Senior Damon Hunter Jr. is back at safety. Junior Will Robbins will play the other safety, with possible help from Flemmons.
Senior Drew Wilson, who converted 3 of 4 extra points and his only field goal attempt, takes over the kicking and punting duties.
Bless was happy with what he saw in the Aug. 5 Blue-White scrimmage and in Friday’s controlled scrimmage at Greenwood. North will open the regular season Friday at Franklin.
“You’re kind of at that point in practice where you’re tired of beating on each other, and you want to play against somebody,” Bless said.
The 2017 Columbus North football schedule:
Friday;at Franklin;7 p.m.
Aug. 25;at Columbus East;7 p.m.
Sept. 1;Blooomington North;7 p.m.
Sept. 8;at Franklin Central;7 p.m.
Sept. 15;Terre Haute South;7:30 p.m.
Sept. 22;at Terre Haute North;7:30 p.m.
Sept. 29;Perry Meridian;7 p.m.
Oct. 6;Bloomington South at Lucas Oil Stadium;8:15 p.m.
Oct. 13;at Southport;7 p.m.