LAYTON — Anyone who caught a Northridge High football game last season could tell you at least one thing: all hell broke loose on offense for the Knights more often than not.
As much as the chaos could become productive, it was a little frustrating at first.
Productive because Northridge’s brand-new starting quarterback last season was the speedy, 5-foot-9 Colby Browning who could hardly see over the offensive line and thus would have to scramble out of the pocket.
Once out of the pocket, he could either find an open receiver (Browning threw for 2,138 yards and 19 scores) or run for chunks of yards (787 rushing yards with three touchdowns).
“Colby’s a really good quarterback. He’ll find a way to get me the ball, or whoever’s open the ball,” wide receiver Otto Tia said.
But it was frustrating at first because head coach Braden Mitchell drew up plays and wanted them to go exactly to plan.
“The Viewmont game, we drew up a lot of things and we had a lot of good plays, but it didn’t ever work out the way it’s drawn up, so I kind of had to take a step back and say, ‘Alright, we’re going to run these plays and it’s going to get messy...” Mitchell said. “I can call any play and I can say, ‘Hey it’s open, it’s open,’ and (Browning) doesn’t see it, but he’s going to make a play and he’s going to get us 20 yards that we probably shouldn’t have gotten.”
Chaos and unpredictability are things Northridge hopes to use to its advantage this season following a 5-5 campaign in which the Knights used those exact things very well.
Six starters on offense return: Browning, Tia and four offensive linemen in Magnus Fonoti-Faumuina, Austin Joy, Lex Lewis and Alec Lowe.
“That’s exactly what you need coming back. If you have guys up front, you feel like you can do a lot of different things. I feel like we can be a little bit more complex in what we do and be able to scheme up a little bit more having those guys back,” Mitchell said.
The line knows what to do when, ahem, things hit the fan. So does Browning.
So does Tia, a fast-rising Division I college football prospect with scholarship offers from Utah State and Idaho.
Tia was a late bloomer last year, grabbing 31 passes for 623 yards and two scores. He had 28 tackles on defense, including four sacks and three tackles-for-loss.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound wideout/defensive end can catch just about anything thrown near him.
“That’s what our coaches told us. If I don’t have anything, look for Otto, throw it up to him and he’ll go make a play,” Browning said.
Teams hardly knew anything about Tia last year but that’s different in 2019. Northridge’s offensive game plan will no doubt change because of expected attention on Tia.
“I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of double coverage on Otto, and play man across the board," Mitchell said. "The nice thing is it makes it tough to do that when you have Colby, so teams are going to have to decide which one they really want to take away."
Defense is where Northridge has perhaps the most work to do. The Knights will have Tia on the end and Dorian Ishmael returning at linebacker, but they’re mostly new everywhere else.
Summer camp in 2019 was a rough ride for Northridge. Tia pointed out it’s no different from summer 2018 though.
“We’ll be good. Summer camp’s when we’re learning. It’s the exact same thing as last year, we weren’t too good at summer camp, but then when it came season, we were pretty good,” Tia said.
In 2018, the team had just two returning starters, got handled at home against Viewmont in the season-opener and turned it around to make the playoffs.
There’s a few outlooks for 2019. First, Browning says he’s a lot more comfortable coming into the season. He was a little nervous before the 2018 season.
Second, the team isn’t completely in the dark about who its starters will be in the first week. The coaches have a decent idea of who can play where.
“Now it’s just kind of getting them up to where they need to be against competition that we’re going to face,” Mitchell said.
No matter who steps in to new starting roles, the Knights’ schedule, combined with the new Rating Percentage Index (RPI) formula for playoff qualification, will mean they can’t skip a beat.
Northridge visits three-time defending region champion Viewmont in the season opener, hosts Woods Cross the next week and opens Region 1 play with the three schools that finished 1-2-3 in the region last year: Weber, Fremont and Davis.
Northridge is installing a new turf field and will wear new uniforms. The Knights also have two new coaches in Dakota Keller (previously at Ben Lomond) and Northridge alumnus Josiah Kelley.
VIKING PARTY: This is the seventh straight season Northridge faces non-region foe Viewmont.
NO MIDDLE GROUND: Five of Northridge’s opponents this year had seven or more wins last year, while the other four foes had two or less wins.
TOUGH START: Northridge opens with defending Region 5 champion Viewmont, followed by a tricky Woods Cross team and then the three teams that finished 1-2-3 in Region 1 last season: Davis, Fremont and Weber.
2018 SEASON: 5-5, 3-3 Region 1, lost to top-seeded Kearns 40-37 on a last-second field goal in the first round of the 6A state playoffs.
2019 OPPOSITION RECORD: 45-48 (.484).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Colby Browning (QB), Otto Tia (WR), Dorian Ishmael (LB), Zach Benzley (TE), Amaree McDaniel (WR/S), Magnus Fonoti-Faumuina (OL), Lofa Fonoti-Maikaui (LB/DL), Austin Joy (OL), Lex Lewis (OL), Alec Lowe (OL)
STRENGTHS: Mitchell believes the run game will be strong because four offensive linemen return and due to attention diverted to Browning and Tia.
WEAKNESSES: Depth (they’ll have a few two-way starters) and mental toughness. “We’re very much a momentum type team, when we have somebody make a play early, we build upon that…when we don’t have a big play or somebody else gets a big play, we start working it backwards a little bit,” Mitchell said.
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (six offense, three defense).
BASE OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Spread offense, 4-3 defense.
BY THE NUMBERS
6.2: Quarterback Colby Browning’s yards per carry last season.
7: Turnovers created by Otto Tia last season (five interceptions, two forced fumbles).
2003: The last time Northridge won a region football championship.
Aug. 16: at Viewmont, 7 p.m.
Aug. 23: Woods Cross, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30: at Davis*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6: Fremont*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: Weber*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: at Clearfield*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: Roy*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Syracuse*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11: Layton*, 7 p.m.
*Region 1 game