If any team was equipped to endure a longer-than-expected offseason, it was North Forsyth.
The Raiders were fresh off their most successful season in recent memory, winning seven games for the first time since 2013 and reaching the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
The way the Raiders did it, trailing Brookwood 34-9 at halftime before storming back to stun the Broncos 44-41, placed the team in North Forsyth lore forever.
“This will be my 11th year as a head coach, and I’ve certainly never had an offseason that has ended like it has and kind of seen the ups and the downs of the offseason,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “Starting out in the winter, just like normal, prepping for spring practice, then the interruption of the quarantine and shutting everything down, then the hopes of spring practice maybe still coming and really kind of living week by week.”
In addition to dealing with the fallout of COVID-19, chief among the Raiders’ to-do list is replacing wide receiver Nicky Dalmolin, who had one of the most productive careers in school history and is now playing at Duke.
Dalmolin had 797 yards and 12 scores on 58 receptions, slashing school records for career receptions (171) and career receiving yards (2,068).
His role on the offense will likely be shared among multiple players, according to Craft.
“We’ve got a lot of guys competing to fill that spot,” Craft said. “I don’t know that we’ve got a Nicky Dalmolin right now, which is OK. Sometimes being able to spread the ball around and get the guys – more people involved can be a good thing. He was certainly such a target for Brady (Meitz), played some defense and some special teams. We’re probably not going to replace him right away, but try to find some guys to really fill that. It’s not going to come I don’t think from one person. I think it’s going to have to be a couple guys stepping into those shoes.”
One constant will be quarterback Brady Meitz, who took a notable step forward last year as a junior.
Meitz completed 180 of 304 passes for 2,105 yards and 22 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He also scored seven times on the ground.
Craft has noted Meitz’s maturity off the field and counted his senior quarterback as one of the North players organizing group workouts when able.
“Just his progression as a player, too, just over the last few years. I’ve just seen him continue to mature on the field,” Craft said. “The best compliment for Brady as a football player, looking back at last year, he played his best games in our biggest games. When we needed him the most and when he had to play for our team to be successful, he stepped up. As a coach, when you’ve got that coming back, you feel really excited about the upcoming year.”
Sure enough, the best game of Meitz’s season came against Brookwood, when he completed 29 of 47 passes for 362 yards and five touchdowns, with one interception. Meitz also rushed for a season-high 54 yards in the win, chipping in a touchdown on the ground.
He was surgical in a pivotal region win against South Forsyth, completing 74 percent (17 for 23) of his passes for 316 yards and five scores.
Running back Jared Lucero will be a senior this year after rushing for a team-high 868 yards and six touchdowns, while Craft plans to use junior Patrick Corrigan as a short-yardage back.
“Patrick’s one of those guys that, when he gets down there close to the end zone, he’s hard to bring down by one guy,” Craft said.
North’s defense last year was the best since Craft took over in 2016, judging by total points allowed. The Raiders surrendered just 288 points last season (24 points per game), the lowest mark since 2013, when North held its opponents to 19 points per game.
North gave up an average of 31.5 points per game in Craft’s first three seasons.
“That was an area probably over the past four years that we had to get better and better at,” Craft said. “Last year we felt like we really began to get where we needed to, both personnel-wise and just as a culture on defense.”
Sept. 4 vs. Alcovy
Sept. 11 vs. Harrison
^Sept. 18 vs. Hapeville Charter
Sept. 25 at Etowah
*Oct. 2 vs. Denmark
Oct. 9 BYE
*Oct. 16 at West Forsyth
*Oct. 23 at Forsyth Central
*Oct. 30 vs. Lambert
Nov. 6 BYE
*Nov. 13 vs. South Forsyth
*Nov. 20 at Gainesville
^Freedom Bowl at Milton High School
*Denotes Region 6-7A contest
7-5 overall, 3-2 Region 5-7A
L — Cherokee 29, North 14
W — North 21, Gainesville 7
W — North 15, Northview 14
W — North 35, Kennesaw Mountain 3
L — Woodstock 14, North 13
W — North 29, Central 28 (2OT)
W — North 49, Lambert 21
W — South 43, North 34
L — West 22, North 21
L — Milton 33, North 9
W — North 44, Brookwood 41
L — McEachern 42, North 14
First varsity season: 1994
Playoff appearances: 9 (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2019)
Region titles: 1 (2001)
State titles: 0
At North: 19-24, fifth season
Overall: 68-45, 11th season
Much of North’s strength in the front seven can be traced to a pair of returners in defensive lineman Max Bryant and Corrigan.
Bryant had 48 tackles last season, including four tackles for loss, 1 1/2 sacks and five QB hurries.
“I think to win in 7A football, it starts up front. You’ve got to be really good on the defensive line,” Craft said. “We return Max Bryant, who’s going to be a college-level football player. He was an All-Region performer, a great leader on our team and a great leader on the defense specifically.”
Corrigan led the team with 13 tackles for loss, tallying 69 total tackles and five sacks. He also had five QB hurries, an interception a pass break-up a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Along with recently graduated Jack Tucker, Corrigan led the Raiders’ linebacking corps in 2019.
North offers plenty of experience in the defensive secondary, led by junior Jumel Lewis, who tied for the county lead in interceptions last season (5) and picked up an offer from the University of Tennessee, as well as seniors Austin Colon and Peyton Wagner.