Norton football team looking for defense to lead
NORTON — Last year, the Norton High School football team finished with an 8-2 overall record and a 5-1 mark in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division. Head coach John Tanksley, who is in his third year as the Panthers’ coach, said the team lost 20 players to graduation following the season, including plenty of starters on both sides of the ball.
“We have two returning starters on offense and six returning starters on defense,” he said.
Defense will be the team’s “strong point” this season, Tanksley said.
“Our front seven is really good and we also have two returning corners,” he said. “We have [junior] Mitch Bischoff and [senior]Alex Ellis playing tackle, with [senior] Sean Rutherford and [junior] Dylan Whyde playing the ends. Each of those guys has experience from last year and some of them are returning starters.”
At linebacker, junior Cole Edgell and senior Ethan Humes are returning starters, with sophomore Nick Farmer taking over the other starting linebacker spot.
“At corner, we have returning starters [sophomore] Quad Ivy and [senior] Hunter Carneal,” the coach said. “We are replacing both of our safeties. [Senior] Chad Tokie is going to play over there a bit and then we have some first-year guys who are coming in, but I don’t know for sure who it’s going to be yet.”
On offense, the two returning starters are Whyde at tight end and Ellis at left guard.
“Dylan is 6-foot-3 and he weighs about 200 pounds. He has great hands and he blocks well,” the coach said. “And Alex is a real good guard. I think he’s probably the best lineman in the league. He’s a three-year starter for me. He has great feet and he’s strong.”
In addition, Tanksley said, Tokie enters the season with a good amount of varsity experience at wide receiver.
“He played a lot for us last year,” the coach said. “He’s our top receiver and a go-to guy for us.”
Taking over the starting quarterback role this year will be junior Noah Jones.
“He’s about 6-foot, 175 pounds and he throws real well,” Tanksley said. “He has a good arm and he’s really smart. He’s going to be a big asset for us this year. He was our backup quarterback last year and he got some game action. He probably got into every game last year at some point. I like his ability to read [the defense] and make the right decisions.”
Edgell will be Norton’s No. 1 tailback this season, the coach said, with Rutherford and Bischoff leading the way at fullback.
According to Tanksley, “a lot of sophomores” will play key roles for Norton’s offense this season.
“We’re young, but we looked better in our first two scrimmages than I had anticipated,” he said. “We ran well and we blocked well — even for how young we are. Hopefully, it will pan out for us when we get some real game experience.”
Norton’s goal this season, Tanksley said, is to “make a run like last year.”
“It came down to the last game of the season against Kent for the league championship and that’s what we’re hoping to do again this year,” he said. “My kids have told me that they will be disappointed if they are not in the running.”
Tanksley said his players have put in the necessary work to make sure they will be in the postseason mix this season.
“We have a lot of new starters, but I’ll tell you what, the kids have worked hard in the offseason,” he said. “If we stay healthy, there shouldn’t be a reason we can’t make that run. Staying healthy is key. We are very thin in terms of depth. We have some guys who are going to go two ways this year, which I don’t like doing, but it’s necessary this year.”
The Panthers’ season will kick off tonight, Aug. 29, at 7 p.m. at home against Mogadore High School, which handed Norton one of its two losses last year.
“It will be a war,” Tanksley said. “Mogadore always has a great team — that’s a football community over there and those guys are born with footballs in their mouth. Last year was a good game and it will be another good game this year. We want to make a statement in that first game and to do it against Mogadore would be a great start for us.”
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