FBH - North vs. WMoore

Tyler Tettleton fights for yardage against Westmoore Friday, September 19, 2008. Transcript Photo by Kevin Ellis

One night, three years ago, after Norman North lost 32-2 to Moore at Moore Stadium, a couple of Timberwolves fans were walking back to the parking lot.

“Just wait until you see the kids on the freshman team,” one said to the other.

That might as well have been North’s slogan that season, coach Lance Manning’s first in Norman. The T-Wolves finished the year 1-9, the same as the year before. And the only team they were able to beat each year was hapless U.S. Grant.

The general feeling, at the time, was that this was just another North team. Not much talent, not much of a chance at the playoffs.

“There were people around saying that,” Manning remembered. “We heard it. We were saying, ‘No, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same deal. We’re going to be good with time.’ We had the vision.”

The T-Wolves’ second scrimmage of 2005 was at the Pepsi Shootout in Mustang, the all-day event with a frantic afternoon session and a simulated half in the evening.

Boy, did they look awful while they tried to work the new coach’s offensive system, a spread heavy on pre-snap movement that was quite a departure from former coach Rick Sodowsky’s more traditional style.

But the North guys caught on.

They played Norman High tough. They went to double-overtime with Putnam City, then ranked in the top 5, in a game they were in control of before lightning forced it to be finished Saturday morning. Then they lost a close, very ugly, 17-turnover game to defending state runner-up Mustang at Harve Collins Field.

“We were really close against a lot of good football teams,” Manning said. “We felt like we could have, should have, won some of those games.”

When freshman quarterback Tyler Tettleton made his first start against U.S. Grant in mid-season, it was easy to see Manning and Co. were looking to the future.

And it’s paid big dividends.

Manning’s foresight has proved to be 20-20.

The T-Wolves go into tonight’s game at Moore Stadium, again to take on the Lions, as heavy favorites ranked No. 2 in the state, and attempting to start 5-0 for the first time in school history.

The fab freshmen

of 2005

And the core group of that freshman team is still intact.

Tettleton, wide receiver Josh Norton and running back Beau Blankenship have turned the T-Wolves into one of the most dangerous offenses in the state. Linebacker Beau Traber and defensive ends Nathan Badger and Dustin Key anchor a strong and athletic defense.

“That’s a great group, and we don’t even have all of that ninth-grade team anymore,” Manning said. “There are several linemen gone. I can think of Mikey Johnson, Andre Cheatham (who transferred to Norman High before this season) and other players on that team who made big plays for us that aren’t here anymore.”

But plenty stayed, and they’ve grown up with each other and have turned that 1-9 team and perennial Class 6A laughing stock into one of the state’s top teams in just three seasons.

That Santa Fe Game

“It was that Santa Fe game,” Tettleton said before the start of this season.

“Yeah, the Santa Fe game,” Blankenship agreed.

By the time 2006 came along, Manning was looking for his now-sophomores to take the reins and drive the team to the next level.

Blankenship quickly made a name for himself as one of the top running backs in the state, but North still struggled out of the gate to an 0-3 start.

North students talked up the Crosstown Clash the week before the game, saying this was the T-Wolves’ time.

But they were embarrassed 34-6 by the Tigers.

Then came that Edmond Santa Fe game.

North beat the Wolves 20-7 at the Harve, and suddenly, things had changed.

“Winning that first district game against a really good Santa Fe team gave us a ton of confidence,” Manning said. “That gained us some validity on what we were telling the players and what they were working toward. They saw they were becoming a good team.”

A new ballgame

Last week, while North dominated the second half in a homecoming victory over No. 7 Putnam City North, the overflowing south grandstand at the Harve was consistently loud thanks to a monstrous student section that was a 15-row deep mass of white shirts, green body paint and black stockings.

Not too long ago, those stands were practically empty.

“Now that’s one of the more satisfying parts of the whole thing,” Manning said. “We see pride the student body takes in this football program. There’s a buzz in the halls from the students around school. They want to talk football and how they’re getting to the game.

“It just gets better and better.”

Jeff Johncox

366-3535

jjohncox@normantranscript.com

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