Flames have high hopes of repeating 2016 success

The Northgate runner gets plenty of protection from his teammates as the Flames engage in a pre-season scrimmage with the Avonworth Antelopes. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

By MEL PERKINS

Coach T.J. Wiley has readied his troops for the 2017 season after an incredible run last year. The Flames finished last season 7 – 1 in the Big Seven Conference and 10 – 2 overall, making it to the final four, semi-finals, in Class 1A.

After losing only one section game to Rochester, and falling to the state runner-up Clairton Bears, many would think that Northgate is in for a down season, but Wiley feels differently, saying, “The expectations are high because of what we did last year. These kids have really bought in to the way we do things. And, the ones that were on that ride that are still on the team, from last year, they’re embracing it and really doing it better in some ways than the group from last year, especially in practice.”

Wiley’s outlook on things stems from what he has seen through the summer. He was very happy with the numbers he had through the summer strength and conditioning drills, and he was impressed with the performances they had in their 7-on-7 passing camps. Adding to that, Wiley said, “The practices through the heat acclimation, and through the first week may have been the best through my tenure at Northgate. The way the kids were showing up on time and we were getting through practice without any hitches. The scrimmages were a reflection of that.” The Flames had scrimmages against Leechburg and Avonworth, and Wiley was very pleased with the outcomes.

The Flames were a senior-laden team last year, and embark on the 2017 season after losing 13 seniors to graduation. This year the Flames will be led by six seniors and five juniors, players that gained a lot of experience last year and enjoyed the successes of last season.

The offensive and defensive line will be anchored by Chris Dugan (6’0”, 265, Sr.) and Cherron Fowler (5’11”, 215, Sr.). Wiley feels that the line is young. But, he is comforted with the thought that there are seven or eight guys who can step in and really help out.

The quarterback duties will be handled by Chris Davin (5’11”, 160, Soph.) and Eric Hogan (5’8”, 150’ Jr.). Davin was on the team, seeing limited playing time last season, and Hogan is a transfer student who is new to the district. Wiley likes the idea of having two different styles at the quarterback position. Davin is more comfortable as a pocket passer, while Hogan can be used in some of the wildcat looks.

The wide receiving corps will be led by seniors Mitch Denes (5’10”, 165) and Gary Hairston (5’11”, 170), and joining them will be Jacian Sustayta (5,11”, 145, Soph.). Pulling out the stops this year, Wiley will be utilizing the size and speed of senior Paul Morris (6’3”, 265). Morris will line up at tight end on occasion, but don’t be surprised when you see him lining up in the backfield. Morris has hands, and can run after the catch. Wiley believes that people will be impressed with Morris’ speed, saying “he is sneaky fast.” And, he has strength to boot.

Out of the backfield, the Flames will go to Surron Adams (5’6”, 180, Sr.) and Anthony Barbarino (5’10”, 150, Jr.) consistently. Surron Adams has a motor that doesn’t stop, and an elusive quality that causes defensive players to miss tackles. Barbarino brings some experience to the table as well as the up the middle physical running style that keeps opposing defenses tight upfront.

The Flames are in a conference that fits them perfectly, so it should be a competitive season.

Wiley said, “The good thing about our kids is that they are multi-purpose players.” The Flames are a very versatile group and that is the kind of team you have to have in a conference like the Big Seven. “If you don’t bring your lunch pail and your hard hat every day in our conference, you’re not going to survive.”

Teams to watch this season are Rochester, Sto-Rox and Cornell.