LAYTON -- Seeking their first league title since 2003, the Knights will roll the dice with a junior quarterback and no returning starters along the offensive line paired with a stout defense.
"No returning starters on the offensive line is a concern, plus breaking in a new quarterback," said Northridge coach Erik Thompson. "There are issues that come with that and there is no way around it. We have scaled back the playbook, and we feel like we can be competitive by the time region rolls around."
Nate Kusuda was the starting JV quarterback as a sophomore. His two older brothers, Jeff and Brian, each played quarterback as a senior on Knights' state 5-A championship teams in the early 2000s.
"Kusuda is really smart and accurate," Thompson said. "He keeps his poise and is more of a pocket passer."
Sophomore Ben Jackson is more of a running quarterback.
"I feel comfortable with Kusuda, and it's good to have a backup you feel confident with," Thompson said. "Experience is a concern, and I've never started a junior at quarterback to start the season.
"We've usually had a first-year senior at quarterback, now it's a first-year junior," he said. "Kusuda will be fine. He knows the plays, so it's a matter of the game slowing down for him and making the right decisions."
Northridge will utilize a two-back power running game with play action, mixed with a spread passing attack.
The running game features Davy Adams, Dayan Lake and Chaz Martinez at tailback, with Dallin Isaacson, Eliyah Mayberry, Akeem McDaniel -- a move-in from Germany -- and Daquan Whitted at fullback.
"Adams will have a lot to prove. I think he is the best overall player in Northern Utah," Thompson said.
Last year, Adams rushed for 1,217 yards and 12 touchdowns on 177 carries. He also had 57 receptions for 785 yards and eight TDs.
"We'll have to find some ways to relieve some pressure off Adams," Thompson said. "He has a chance to be the best all-around back to come out of Northridge. Adams is equally good both as a runner and a receiver.
"My biggest question is whether to hand him the ball or throw it to him," he said. "We'll try to get Adams the ball at least 20 times a game."
The receiving corps features Zach Hayes and Houston Lacey at 'Z' or flanker, Brock Cleverly, Adam Nielsen and Robert Crawford at 'X' or split end, with Austin Ricks and Jace Colby at tight end.
Down linemen include Darren Alexander and Kyle Eichmeier at center, Joey Dean, Jace Palmer, Chaz Gray and Tofer Warden at guard and tackles Beau Ballard, Keoni Dellermann, Colby Peterson and Shane Hinckley.
"The strength of the offense is running back, so we'll probably run the ball a little more," Thompson said. "We would like to be balanced, but it's more personnel driven and what the defense is trying to take away.
"We'll be a work in progress. We need to find our identity and what we're good at, and who are the right personnel to have in the game," he said. "As the season progresses, we're hoping to expand the playbook, throw the ball more and be a dynamic offense."
Defensively, the Knights will play a 4-2-5 alignment mixed with a 3-3-5.
"We ran a 3-3-5 last year, but we wanted to get another big body on the line (of scrimmage) because most of the teams in our region run the ball," Thompson said. "This year, we have the personnel to do it."
Anchoring the front wall will be Ballard, Dellermann, Dean, Adam Stillman and Gray at end, with Liam Torres, Mayberry, Kyle Carr, Spencer Childs, Tyler Keller and Palmer at tackle.
Isaacson and Ricks play middle linebacker, with McDaniel, Brett Turek, Tyson Roberts and Jaiden Bair providing depth.
Cornerbacks are Adams, Lake, Hunter Johnson and Chaz Martinez, with Lacey and Robbie Vernon at strong safety. Hayes, Marcello Martinez and Dallas Moklebust play free safety, with Braxton Bergman, Nielsen and Jalen Dyson at weak safety.
Robert Crawford and James Baird will handle the kicking and punting duties. Crawford will probably kick off and Baird will be the team's field-goal kicker.
"We dabbled in the 4-2-5 last year, and spent the offseason researching it and fine-tuning it," Thompson said. "Defense will be the strength of the team this year, and hopefully, will let us play for a region championship.
"We have a player in Ballard, who can play defensive end and middle linebacker and allows us to be versatile with some toughness," he said. "Defensive backs are our strength, which will allow us to be more flexible and play more man coverage than we have previously. We have been more of a zone team."
Thompson, who is 54-32 in eight seasons at the 'Ridge, says he thinks the Knights are good enough to be potential league champions each year.
"But this year, we're not looked at as a favorite in Region 1," he said. "We have so many potential two-way players that we're trying to find backups who can play half the game and spell some guys. I think we'll be in the mix.
"Staying healthy, while having the offensive line jell, improve and get game experience will be vital," Thompson said. "As the team improves, more will be placed upon Kusuda's shoulders. We'll open up the offense more as we get closer to region play.
"This bunch is scrappy and competitive, works hard and has high expectations for themselves," he said. "It's one of the smallest teams I've ever had, but maybe one of the fastest. If we can neutralize the disadvantage in the trenches, we have kids who can make plays in space."