Editor's note: With more than 140 prospects expected to report for football preseason workouts next Tuesday, this article previews the offensive unit for the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen. The defense will be previewed Sunday.
Even though coach Rob Green's Golden Norsemen were picked to finish sixth by the Southwest Junior College Football Conference coaches, Northeastern A&M starts preseason drills with a solid offensive unit.
“We don't have a whole lot of starters back on either side of the football, but we have a pretty good nucleus of kids that have experience in our system,” Green said. “Our spring was a little sporadic because of all the rain, but we'll bring 40 sophomores back that should be our leaders.”
Besieged by injuries last season, the Golden Norse finished with a 4-5 record and a 1-5 mark in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference.
Offensively, the Golden Norsemen lost nine starters. The lone returnees are left tackle Jeremy Bean (6-5, 305 of Broken Bow) and running back Jeremiah Sampson (5-8, 175 of Coweta).
“I really feel like we've got six legitimate Division I-type players coming back on the offensive line,” Green said. “They're all in the 6-4 to 6-5 range and 300 pounders.
“Add to that mix the fact that we've got four wide receivers returning that all have above-average speed,” Green said. “So our offense has some solid foundations to build upon.”
“Going into the preseason, we'll be looking for someone to emerge as our leader at quarterback,” Green said. “We'll also be looking to add some depth at running back.”
“All last spring we worked with a ‘no huddle' offensive approach,” Green said. “Our kids bought into it because it reflected the ‘real' speed and the college level.”
Inexperience and a lack of depth at both quarterback and running back are two concerns addressed by the Golden Norseman coaching staff during spring football practice.
Returning to handle the quarterbacking chores is Jordan Gary (6-3, 175 of Ardmore).
"Jordan is a redshirt freshman that is primarily a pocket passer," Green said. "He has a strong, accurate arm and gets rid of the football with pin-point accuracy.
"We're going all spring with a no-huddle offense which seems to fit Jordan's ability," Green said. "Always in years past we've tried to play at an up-tempo pace, but the no-huddle approach adds a new dimension to our offense."
Transfer Corey Conley provided depth at quarterback during the spring. Conley (6-0, 190 of Catoosa) attended Tulsa Community College last fall semester.
Freshmen Trey Mundin (6-1, 200 of Verdigris), Daniel Walker (5-11, 185 of Commerce) and Barrett Allberg (6-1, 210 of Cushing) will provide quality depth at quarterback.
"All five quarterbacks have a grasp of what we're trying to accomplish with our offense," Green said. "It's just that none of them have taken snaps in live game situations so that they don't have a feel for the speed of the game."
Returning to bolster the Golden Norse ground game are Jeremiah Sampson, Shawn Baker and redshirt freshman Justin Fields.
Sampson (5-8, 175 of Coweta) ranked second on the team as a freshman in rushing with 330 yards on 44 carries and one touchdown in six games. He caught four passes for 13 yards.
Baker (6-0, 190 of Tulsa Edison) has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. As a freshman, Baker rushed for 307 yards on 60 carries and scored four touchdowns in nine games. He caught three passes for 30 yards while returning four kickoffs for 45 yards.
Fields (5-10, 185 of Ardmore) is completing the adjustment to running back after sitting out as a cornerback last season.
"While we'll go into preseason searching for a couple of good quarterbacks, the running back position is a huge concern for us," Green said. "We feel like we've addressed that concern by signing what we consider to be five of the top six running backs in the state."
Freshmen signees at running back include Devon Fowler (6-0, 195 of Joplin, Mo.), D.J. Moore (5-11, 180 of Lake Highlands, Texas), Durell Parker (6-0, 190 of Wagoner), Da'sor Horton (5-11, 200 of Oklahoma City Douglass), Everett Shaver (5-10, 170 of Wagoner), Herman Walter (6-0, 185 of McAlester) and Dominik Williams (5-11, 205 of Ardmore).
While the Golden Norsemen coaching staff have spent much of the spring searching for replacements in the offensive backfield, the receiving corps has an abundance of experience.
Redshirt freshman David Balenseifen (6-2, 200 of Mustang) took most of the repetitions at tight end during the spring while Brian Booker (6-2, 235 of Ardmore) was sidelined with a broken foot.
"In our offensive scheme the tight end is more a fullback-type player," Green said. "We rely on their blocking technique more than their pass catching ability."
"We've got five wide receivers coming back that have some game experience," Green said. "In fact, looking back, there are a couple of them that I wished we would have played more."
Veteran wide out Walter Coleman (5-11, 200 of Denton, Texas) caught 10 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown in five games last year. Coleman also returned five kickoffs for 110 yards.
"Walter made a spectacular one-handed leaping catch in our first game with Dodge City, Kan.," Green said. "He has all the skills to be an outstanding wide out."
Transfer Kendal McKellum (6-1, 195, Tulsa Hale) joined the Golden Norsemen in January after signing with the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Redshirt freshmen Don Hawkins (6-4, 185 of Tulsa Victory Christian), Albert Coleman (6-1, 185 of Oklahoma City Western Heights) and Colton Chelf (6-2, 190 of Enid) have been in the Golden Norse program for a year.
"All of these kids have better-than-average speed on the outside," Green said. "They each have the ability to be a game-breaker in our no-huddle offense."
Freshmen signees expected to contribute during the fall preseason are Jermaine Sherman who was one of three Wagoner Bulldogs to sign with the Norsemen.
Sherman (6-3, 185) was co-offensive most valuable player in both District 4A-3 and the Verdigris Valley Conference and Oklahoma all-stater.
Other freshmen wide receiver candidates are Oklahoma all-stater Taylor Antle (6-4, 190 of Foyil) and Shane Devers (6-1, 185 of Sand Springs).
Perhaps the most experienced unit on the offensive side of the football for the Golden Norsemen is the interior line.
Anchoring the middle of the Golden Norse offensive front is former Miami Wardog Zack Kellogg (6-4, 280).
"Zack has really worked hard at developing his technique and he's become the cornerstone of our line," Green said.
Returning at guards are Jordan Karriman (6-4, 290 of Grove) and Levi Adcock (6-5, 290 of Claremore-Sequoyah).
"Both these guys were redshirts last year and they both put that time to good use," Green said. "They worked hard in the weight room to improve their upper body strength and endurance."
After starting four games as a freshmen, Jeremy Bean (6-5, 300 of Broken Arrow) and Logan Clair (6-5, 301 of Mustang) return at tackles for the Golden Norsemen.
"Both Jeremy and Logan have the physical tools to be D-I recruits," Green said. "They both saw considerable playing time last season."
Redshirt freshman Scott Powers (6-1, 295 of Sperry) has been alternating at different positions along the line.
Freshmen signees expected to be impact players on the interior line are Oklahoma all-staters Danny Crittendon (6-5, 295 of Commerce), Ryan McCaul (6-4, 290 of Moore) and Mikel Sparks, 6-1, 270 of Morris).