Chargers relying on talent, depth and team-building to fuel 2020 success

Posted 2/24/21

Last season, the Chargers were able to string together an impressive four-game winning streak in the middle of the season, showing life after opening the season with three straight losses. But after the win streak, they went on a four-game losing streak to close out the year.

The News + Record is worth reading!

We’re all about Chatham County, and we welcome you to our site. You can view up to 1 stories each month, then registration is required.

Please sign in below if you have an account. If not, please register here to get an account and an additional 3 stories each month. It’s easy and takes just a minute.

Our staff works hard to bring good journalism, writing and story-telling to Chatham County. HELP US! You can get the News + Record mailed to you weekly by subscribing here.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Chargers relying on talent, depth and team-building to fuel 2020 success

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.

Unlimited Digital Access: $3.99/month

Print + Digital: $5.99/month

Posted
Updated:

PITTSBORO — For Northwood, last year’s focus was on the fundamentals. This year, it’s all about using those fundamentals to work and win as a team.

Cullen Homolka, Northwood’s head coach, finished his first season with the Chargers in 2019 at 4-7, which he noted was “a learning experience.”

“I was just trying to figure out where we were and how raw we were, what we needed to work on, that was kind of the season in a nutshell to me,” he said. “We just had to go back to fundamentals and kind of build a base. Hopefully this year the product on the field is a little bit better than it has been in the past.”

Last season, the Chargers were able to string together an impressive four-game winning streak in the middle of the season, showing life after opening the season with three straight losses. But after the win streak, they went on a four-game losing streak to close out the year.

And when they lost, it typically wasn’t close. Each of Northwood’s losses, aside from a one-point loss in overtime to Orange, were by at least three touchdowns.

Homolka said he partially blames himself for trying to make things “too complicated” coming in, which took away from some of the core elements of playing good football that he was trying to teach them.

More important than wins or losses, however, was Homolka’s chance to familiarize himself with the team and craft a vision for what he wants his program to look, feel and play like.

“(You need to) have some really good core stuff that you can always fall back on, repping the heck out of it and just getting really good at the stuff you believe in,” said Homolka. “And trying to put it in a situation where you’re not relying on just a couple of kids, but the entire team doing their job to be successful.”

If there is one thing Homolka appears to want from this upcoming season, it’s for his team to play like one. While egos are undoubtedly going to get involved, he is trying to stress that everyone’s role is important, not just those who get the outside praise.

“I just put them in situations where there’s a lot more team-building involved than I had in the past,” said Homolka. “Encouraging each other, not being negative, having a good locker room presence … just being good teammates, understanding what it takes to rely on others to get things done.”

While Northwood has the talent on the field, Homolka’s idea is that the talent needs to mesh together to support the team as a whole if the Chargers want to win.

Looking ahead

Homolka’s emphasis on building a team, rather than just a group of individuals, is evident in the way he speaks about both sides of the ball.

Offensively, he refuses to name individuals he thinks will be key players for the Chargers this season because it would be “unfair for what I’m trying to do” in terms of creating a team atmosphere, according to Homolka.

However, that doesn’t stop him from gushing over the offensive line, which he said could have anywhere from six to eight players who could start at those positions. That’s how much talent and depth they have in the trenches.

“They’re talented,” Homolka said. “They can come off of the ball and they’re big and they’re athletic and they definitely care about the team first. I hate having to pick five out of them because I probably could start six if I was able to. So I’m excited about the front five more than anything.”

Having a stellar front five will allow Northwood to play the type of offense it chooses: a run-first, downhill style with athletes like senior Aidan Laros — the team’s all-conference punter who recently committed to Florida International University — who will also act as one of the team’s primary ball carriers.

On defense, Homolka is excited about a plethora of athletes, complimenting players on all three units: the defensive line, linebacking corps and secondary, all of which have more depth than they’ve had in recent years.

Specifically, Homolka is ready to see the linebackers go to work, including returning senior starters Will Lake (2019 all-conference), Jake Mann (2021 Oklahoma long snapping commit) and Laros, along with seniors Hue Jacobs and Cade Little and sophomore Troy Ennis.

“We’ve got a good core and then we’ve got a couple of juniors who are going to be helpful at that position that will probably play a big role,” said Homolka. “I’m excited about them.”

In total, the Chargers have more than 50 players on the varsity roster this season, plus around 30 others playing for the JV team. The interest in the program remains extremely high.

Unlike other schools, Northwood hasn’t been hit quite as hard with academic eligibility issues, to which Homolka gives credit to both his players and the teachers at Northwood for staying on top of schoolwork during remote learning.

While it’s been strange to practice in winter weather for a football season that starts at the end of February, Homolka said his players never complain, even on days when “it feels like we’re practicing in the middle of a pond.”

Throughout the offseason, even when they weren’t allowed to work out in person, he had players reaching out to him and asking questions, participating in Zoom workouts and remaining dedicated to honing their craft.

“It’s definitely opened my eyes to the importance of my role as a head coach and as a leader for these young men,” said Homolka. “Win-lose, as long as we go out there and play every down and not quit, I’m going to be a happy man.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment