Norman North started the 2006 season 0-3, losing to Norman High, Muskogee and Westmoore. All were ranked and another daunting task was ahead when the Timberwolves faced a road trip to Edmond Santa Fe.

It was a district game and with another loss, the T-Wolves were in danger of facing yet another losing season. North coach Lance Manning was in his second season and it was a pivotal point in his career as North’s coach.

“Honestly, I was really worried after we lost those first three games,” Manning said. “I was just trying to stay positive with (the players).”

But North surprised the Wolves, winning 20-7. At the time, it might have been the biggest win in program history.

Using that win as a launching pad, North won four more games, finished third in the District 6A-1 and made the playoffs. Once there, the Timberwolves upset Norman High, gaining revenge for a slew of season-opening losses. They were knocked out of the playoffs the next week by Muskogee, yet at 6-6, they had still completed the best season in school history.

The momentum carried over. North is 8-2 and district champion for the first time. The T-Wolves host Edmond Memorial tonight in the first round of the playoffs at Harve Collins Field

They didn’t know it at the time, but that win over Santa Fe was not only a turning point in the season, but a turning point for the program.

“After we beat Santa Fe, you could tell we were a confident football team,” Manning said. “That’s where we got the confidence that we could play with top teams.”

The win led to other victories, which led to a landmark season, which led to another historic season.

This season is without doubt, the best in school history. Without the success of last season, this year’s time might not have fared as well.

“It can be a fragile situation when you’re dealing with high school kids,” Manning said. “You can lose kids if you’re not having success. So it was a very important season in that it kept our kids positive and it kept kids believing in the program.”

Of course, the Timberwolves are talented. But credit goes to the coaching staff for developing that talent.

Manning arrived in 2005, but his first campaign finished 1-9. The good news was that the freshmen team went 9-0. So there was promise. However, it wasn’t the first time.

“That was what I was told by some people, that the freshmen were always good, but they fall apart when they get older,” Manning said. “You see young talent and the potential they have, but you also have to develop those guys.

So Manning and his staff faced the task of not letting a 1-9 season snowball into negative momentum.

“(The players) have to believe in the program and that we’re headed in the right direction,” Manning said. “When you go 1-9, you better find a way to stay positive and make those kids believe that what we’re doing is right.”

A lot of those freshmen who went unbeaten in ’05 played on last year’s 6-6 team. They’re juniors now and are a big reason why the Timberwolves are one of the top teams in Class 6A.

Ten juniors start or play significant time. And most of those same players started or played last season. That doesn’t include Tyler Tettleton, who started at quarterback his sophomore season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during the preseason.

“When we were freshman, we were scoring about 50 points on everybody. We were really good,” running back Beau Blankenship said. “We’re a real close-nit group. A couple of people dropped off, but for the most part we’re still together. It’s like a family.”

In the past, some of North’s best athletes concentrated on other sports. The football team was always down, but North has had plenty of success in basketball, soccer, baseball and wrestling.

The 21-member junior class is the most successful freshman group in North’s history.

“After last season, some of the sophomores contributed a lot,” Blankenship said. “We kind of realized that we helped the team a lot. This year, there’s more of us starting and we’ve been able to contribute to (this team’s) success.”

And all that started one night in October last year.

“When we beat Santa Fe, that was for sure the turning point,” Blankenship said. “Once we beat them, everything started coming together and we started playing well.”

Scott Moore

366-3535

sports@normantranscript.com

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