North Forsyth head coach Robert Craft does everything he can to keep a positive attitude.
After the kind of year his team just experienced, that’s probably for the best. The Raiders played five games decided by four points or less in 2018, and North came away with just a 1-4 mark in those games. Close losses to Forsyth Central and South Forsyth ultimately resulted in the Raiders missing the playoffs with a 3-7 overall record. Time and time again, luck just didn’t seem to fall in North’s favor, with missed field goals and other close plays that made the difference.
“If you play long enough, you're going to go through years like that where you think, 'Man, this is kind of bad luck,'” Craft said. “Not everything goes your way, but for us as coaches, as adults, what a great lesson for these guys in their maturity and development to say, ‘Hey man, this is life. That's what's going to happen.’”
But as valuable as learning those lessons might be, they still can’t quite serve as a substitute for the thrill of victory. North hopes that after a year being unlucky, the pendulum can swing the other way. The Raiders will have plenty of talent this fall to help make that happen, but they will also look quite different with some new names in key positions.
Unlike previous seasons under Craft, the defense appears to be the strongest unit that North will trot out this year, with 12 players who started at least one game last year returning to that side of the ball. Senior linebacker Jack Tucker will be a key piece of that, coming back for his senior season after leading North with 63 total tackles. Sam Thompkins and Max Bryant will be impact players on the defensive line, and in the secondary, Tyler Cunningham, Miles Hartsfield and Austin Colon will look to make some of the plays the Raiders sorely needed last year.
“With coach (Chris) Wagner coming back to be the new defensive coordinator, our mindset is hard mouth football,” Hartsfield said. “We need more turnovers than we (had) last year and that's what's going to make us win those four-point games.”
On offense, it’s a much different story. North has just one returner there, but it’s a very important one: Duke commit Nicky Dalmolin, one of the county’s best wide receivers who totaled 514 yards on 47 catches last year. With the kind of talent and experience he brings, North will be looking to utilize Dalmolin in any way they can, and not just as a receiver.
“When you've got No. 9 on that side of the ball, you feel great,” Craft said. “That's where it starts.”
At quarterback, the Raiders will turn to junior Brady Meitz, who will be protected by a young and inexperienced offensive line. With all-new receivers and tailbacks around him, North’s offense may have some growing up to do, but the Raiders are excited to see what they’re capable of in game situations.
“We've had a lot of seniors in some areas on offense, and for us as a coaching staff, it's exciting to see these guys who have really worked hard behind (starters),” Craft said. “Now, here's their chance. They've all earned the opportunity to go play.”
Throughout the offseason, the Raiders have focused on doing the work in the weight room and on the field to make sure that they can generate the extra plays they need. North has already turned the page on 2018, but hopes that the lessons it brought can help bring about the necessary push to get back to the playoffs.
“Last year was last year, and these guys certainly know what success is,” Craft said. “(They) know how to work towards success and they've done that for the last seven months in preparation for what August brings.”