Last season, the Red Raider football team reached the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and finished with an impressive 9-3 record.
“We want to get back to the playoffs,” said senior linebacker Isaiah Twitty. “To do that, we have to push it to that next level in practices and not only get back to the playoffs, but advance further.”
Northwestern dropped its first round playoff game to Marion University of Marion, Ind. Marion went on to defeat Morningside College in the national championship game. For the first time in four years, the Raiders will be without Brandon Smith in the offensive backfield.
The 2013 graduate finished his career third on NW’s all-time rushing list with 4,207 yards. Returning for NW is senior running back Theo Bartman, who ran for 1,287 yards last season and is expected to carry an even bigger load.
Senior quarterback Davis Bloemendaal also returns to the quarterback position that he has held for the past two seasons.
On defense, the Raiders will be without standout defensive tackle Jordan Carlson, who won last season’s GPAC Defensive Player of the Year award. However, returning notables such as Twitty and senior cornerback Jerel Kyles will fill the void. Twitty recorded a team high 64 tackles and four sacks last season. Kyles, a four-year starter, was an All-GPAC pick last season.
“Guys like (Carlson) and (Smith) will definitely be missed, but at the same time ,we have guys that have practiced against and learned from them the last few seasons that are ready to step in,” Twitty said. “Their time has come, and we expect them to play very well.”
Despite losing some valuable players to graduation, the Raiders return 13 seniors and 21 juniors, which gives them plenty of depth and experience to build on last season’s playoff appearance.
“We are all one body; everyone is equal,” Twitty said. “From seniors on down, we are all one unit, and nobody is superior to anyone else, from the captains on down.”
The Raiders open their season on a long road trip to Muskogee, Okla., to play Bacone College on Saturday night. The game begins at 6 p.m.