In the span of a week, the North Forsyth football team went from dejected to jubilant.
The Raiders’ second matchup of the season saw them pull off what has been the county’s most dramatic win so far, with quarterback Carter Mullikin stunning Gainesville on a 20-yard touchdown pass with less than 30 seconds to play.
The victory, while exhilarating, was also bittersweet. During the opening week of the season, senior running back Bryson Trigg went down with a broken collarbone, putting his final high school season in jeopardy after just three carries. Before the 2018 campaign began, he was expected to be one of the main contributors on the Raiders’ offense.
His impact as a leader has shown itself even in his absence, with Trigg’s No. 28 showing up on taped up wrists and ankles. Honus Wagner, who took Trigg’s place against Gainesville with a 222-yard rushing performance, was one key player who had him on his mind.
“It was a big deal in our locker room after the game,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “It was actually Honus who, before we broke it down or anything like that, wanted to talk about Bryson and how much of an impact (he had). It really carried our guys in that game in wanting to make a statement for him.”
Trigg will still grace the Raiders’ sidelines as an off-the-field leader, but Wagner’s role, already a significant one before Trigg’s injury, will only grow during the rest of the Raiders’ season. He’s now taking most of the starting reps at running back in addition to his duties as a strong safety, as the Raiders attempt to prove to the rest of Region 5-7A that they’re not done yet.
This isn’t Wagner’s first time being a running back. He has a small amount of experience as a change-of-pace rusher from his middle school days, and in the spring and summer months, North was already lining him up in the backfield to give him reps. The experiment is still ongoing, though.
“Honus is still learning,” Craft said. “We're throwing the whole playbook at him and trying to find out what he does best. He's a downhill type of guy. He's a very physical player – that's kind of his nature on defense and it carries over to offense. We want to play into that as he gains more experience.”
Thankfully for Wagner, one of the Raiders’ biggest strengths is still their offensive line, led by Ole Miss commit Jeremy James. North hopes that can give him some room to develop as an offensive player.
“I'm just working on my vision, really,” Wagner said. “ (I’m) just trying to get faster, stronger and read the holes better, and know what the offensive line is doing on every play so I know where stuff's going to hit.”
Craft said that the Raiders will also have to get more players ready behind Wagner, especially due to the fact that he also plays a big role on defense. It will be a running back corps by committee, with junior Giovanni Gomez, freshman Jumel Lewis and sophomore Cade Constable set to see reps as well.
Craft feels that Wagner’s seniority, coupled with his offseason work, has prepared him for the burden of around 20 to 25 carries (He had 22 against Gainesville) per game. Wagner played 100 total snaps last week with 55 of them coming on offense.
“It is what it is, really,” Wagner said. “As a 7A program, you've got to do what you've got to do to win. I'm willing to do whatever I've got to do to help this team win ballgames. It's my senior year – I want to do everything possible to make it the best year that I can.”
Gomez is also a starting safety, so a main concern with playing so many players both ways is fatigue. Craft says he won’t ask him to do too much, as he finds out just how to use the new-look running back group.
“Each one of them has different strengths, (with) some of them being inexperienced and some of them being more experienced,” Craft said. “We're just going to try to rely on those strengths, find out what they do best, whether it’s catching the ball out of the backfield, maybe stuff inside the tackles, or stuff outside the tackles.”
With wideouts Charlie Aiken and Nicky Dalmolin, the Raiders still have weapons in the passing game to play with. But with a growing quarterback and an injured star running back, those around Raider Valley feel that some are beginning to count North out. It’s a mentality that the Raiders are eager to debunk.
“I'm sure people think that, and rightfully so – it's a big loss to our team,” Craft said. “But I think in the scope of the season of football, that's just a part of the game. It hurts our team but fortunately we have a great senior class. With it being so early, we have a lot of non-region games still. I think the shock's worn off, the reality's set in and we're kind of just marching forward.”