Chargers look to the air for offense
Things are changing in a big way at Northwood.
The Chargers are moving away from their ground-eating triple-option offense in a direction that might shock area fans — West Coast offense guru Bill Renner has moved from the head coaching job at East Chapel Hill to become the Chargers’ offensive coordinator.
At East Chapel Hill, the offense typically featured five receivers and a quarterback alone behind center. Running back and tight end might as well have been missing from the roster. The passing game was what it was all about.
The change at Northwood won’t be that drastic — “We’re going five-wide, but we’re still going to run the ball,” veteran head coach Bill Hall said — but it will be eye-opening.
“We’re very pleased to get (Renner) on staff,” Hall said.
Renner is the father of North Carolina senior quarterback Bryn Renner.
While still at ECH, Bill Renner said he didn’t eschew the run for philosophical reasons. Rather, he didn’t think the Wildcats had enough talent at the position to get the job done.
Along with the changes on the offensive side of the ball, the Chargers are moving from class 2-A to the larger enrollment 3-A ranks and joining the new Big Eight Conference that will feature five 2012 state playoff teams in Chapel Hill (3-A), Cardinal Gibbons (3-A), Hillsborough Orange (3-A), Southern (4-A) and the Chargers (2-A).
Also in the new league are Cedar Ridge (up from 2-A), Oxford Webb and Vance, holdovers from the old Carolina 6 3-A.
“Our conference, top to bottom, is going to be one of the toughest in 3-A across the state,” Hall said.
On the plus side, under state playoff rules allotting slots on a “half-plus-one” basis, the eight-team Big Eight will get a minimum of five playoff entries and possibly six or more based on wild-card entries, Hall said.
Northwood is coming off back-to-back un-Charger-like first-round playoff elimination seasons. The previous five seasons, the Northwood made it to the third of the five playoff rounds.
“Last year was a little disappointing, based on what we’d done before,” Hall said. “But we were young, very young, and we’re going to be young again this season.”
Junior quarterback Ti Pinnix was elevated into the starting job midway through the season when a nicked up Adam Leviner was moved into the secondary where he was needed more.
Pinnix spent a couple games running the triple-option from under center but began to throw more later when Hall moved him into the shotgun to give him a better look from the pocket. He completed 48 of 110 passes for 793 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, and rushed for 267 yards with seven touchdowns.
Star running back/receiver Aumad Walker graduated along with all-state linebacker Jourden Blackmon, but the Chargers have a top running back returning in junior Kadarus Rone (6-1, 186).
Rone averaged 5.35 yards on 117 carries and scored six times. He also caught nine passes for 202 yards — 22.44 yards per catch. He’ll see a lot of action as a receiver in the new five-wide offense and will remain the top rushing threat.
Rone will be joined by as many as seven or eight receivers — no tight ends — including B.J. Harrington, Jared Worley, Jalen Smith, Montel Goods and Imoh Udoh. Newcomers Smith and Udoh are up from the 9-1 junior varsity.
“Offensively, we have as much skill position talent as we’ve ever had,” Hall said. “But it all comes down to the fat boys up front.”
Hall’s reference to the offensive line reflected his greatest area of concern on this year’s offense. He already has lost senior starter Thomas Reynolds to a season-ending shoulder injury. While the Chargers return all-conference tackle Dylan Jarman (6-1, 235) and guard Demitri Nobles (6-0, 255), the rest of the line is in flux.
Defensively, it’s the opposite story.
“The defensive line is maybe our biggest strength,” Hall said.
Back are all four up-front starters in the Chargers 4-3 defense, including ends Brady Koenning (6-3, 250) and Hunter Blackmon (6-1, 210) and tackles Jay Williams (5-9, 285) and Elijah Washington (6-1, 330).
Most of those starters will be pressed into double-duty on the offensive line.
The rest of the defense is nowhere near as settled. Worley is back and will get help from new middle linebacker Jacob Leviner, while the other spot is up for grabs.
Ditto the secondary. Filling four starting jobs likely will be B.J. Harrington and newcomer Darius Cole at safety along, with newcomber Nitrell Evans and either Justus Thompson or Darius Horton at the corners.
For the defense to shine, the line will have to up the pressure — junior Blackmon (all-stater Jourden’s younger brother) led the team with five sacks last year — to give the youngsters time to develop.
“That’ll definitely be the key,” Hall said.