NORMAN — Norman High has made postseason inroads since coach Greg Nation’s tenure doing something that many teams aspire to but few accomplish — dominating the run game. The benefits of a strong ground game are plenty. It allows the Tigers to control the clock and wears down defenses as the game goes on, all while allowing NHS’ own defense to rest.
Most impressively, the Tigers have consistently managed to reload in the backfield, even after losing skilled backs. Last season, the Tigers were expected to possibly experience a dropoff after feature back Donovan Roberts graduated and went to Arkansas. But instead the Tigers reloaded with Imond Robinson and A’erion Hines, riding a powerful option attack to the second round of the playoffs.
Now, with Robinson and Hines both gone, some are again expecting the Tigers to take a step back. But Nation is confident the Tigers have a fresh round of new faces to fill the void and keep the running game chugging along, even while replacing graduated quarterback Zach Long.
Instrumental to that prediction is Bryce Burkhart, a junior who has moved around
several positions on offense including fullback. While Nation hasn’t decided exactly how he will utilize Burkhart, he is confident that he will help the Tigers this season.
“We’re expecting great things from him,” Nation said. “He’s been flipping around a lot, but for a kid who’s has had so much thrown at him, he’s handled it really well.”
Also filling in the void in the backfield will be a combination of Darius Manning, Sayvon Foley and David Flenory, a stable of backs joining senior Dupree Young to give the Tigers plenty of depth in their trademark option offense.
Klein anchors raw North defense: Last year, Norman North’s ferocious defense was key to the team’s run to the state title game.
The unit was responsible for several late wins and held teams to 20 points or fewer in nine of their 12 games.
That was a senior-laden group, and this year the T-Wolves will field a younger and more inexperienced group, similar to the squad in coach Wade Standley’s first year at the helm two seasons ago. It was that young group that returned a year ago as a dominating force, and the Timberwolves hope this year’s unit will develop into that as well.
Getting them there is Carter Klein, a senior defensive back who has taken over as the leader of the group, as well as George Neff, a junior who saw some playing time last season.
“Having those guys back helps us a lot,” Standley said. “They’ve done a good job of leading and are excited to step up.”
Freshman numbers strong at North: While the Timberwolves had 95 athletes out for varsity practice on Monday, the highest yet since Standley came to North, they have even more growth in their youngest class.
Fifty-five freshman attended the first practice of the season, meaning the program as a whole has 150 athletes, easily the highest in Standley’s three seasons.
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