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Game of the Week: Norton looks to get back on track

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:53 AM

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Last year, the Norton Community High School football team finished 3-6, the Bluejays' first losing season in 17 years, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Norton committed 24 turnovers and lost close games to Perryton, Tex., and Thomas More Prep-Marian, a squad that hadn't beaten Norton in more than 70 years. The team had a football meeting before Thanksgiving break and coach Lucas Melvin said the team had the personnel to "do great things" in 2012.

"The whole team didn't want to have what happened last year to be this year again," senior Jacob Brooks said. "So we put hard work in."

When Norton came back to school after break, Brooks and three teammates -- seniors Andrew Ellis, Dalton Miller and Lane Bigge -- started going in before school to lift. The morning lifting continued for months in basketball and track season. Brooks would text other players and, if they weren't coming to weights, he would leave the weight room, go wake them up and then take them to the weight room. Numbers steadily grew. Brooks has enjoyed taking over leadership responsibility, calling it "a great honor."

"I wanted to put our words into action," Brooks said.

On Friday night, Norton looks to return to tradition of success when it hosts rival Smith Center in a 7 p.m. game.

"The kids played hard," Melvin said. "Injuries didn't help us. One thing that hurt us especially later in the season was our own mistakes and turnovers. Just going through some things that we hadn't gone through for a while."

As far as accolades, Brooks is the arguably the team's top returning player. Known for his athleticism, Brooks has put on 20 pounds since last year, can high jump 6-foot-2 and has broken 11 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

Brooks earned second team all-MCL honors in 2011 as a wide receiver and return specialist. He again is expected to play a variety of roles for the Bluejays.

"He has got some speed and some speed that we are going to try to utilize," Melvin said.

Brooks finished last season with 64 carries for 364 yards and three scores, caught 13 passes for 349 yards and a team-high five TDs, blocked a field goal, had two punt returns for 42 yards and returned 16 kickoffs for 403 yards. His 10 scores led the team. Hutchinson Community College offered Brooks a scholarship this summer.

"He is an extremely fast young man," Smith Center coach Roger Barta said. "He played last year and had an outstanding year last year and he is back and he is a good athlete. He is very quick. He is very fast. He has grown now. He is about 195 pounds on the program, so that's going to be a real challenge. I think maybe he is their best football player and we are going to have to get after him."

Miller, who saw time as a backup quarterback in 2011, will start under center this year. Melvin emphasized turnovers after last season. Last fall, the Bluejays had a 9/10 TD/INT ratio and had 23 fumbles, 14 lost. Melvin has focused on Norton taking care of the ball and staying focused and disciplined throughout fall camp.

"Dalton wants to be good, and I think that he understands what we are trying to do," Melvin said. "So that helps. He hasn't started a game yet in varsity, so what he is going to be like is yet to be seen. He was close to being a starter last year, so that helped him."

Norton started 3-1 before it lost the final five games. Injuries also affected the Bluejays, especially with senior Treven Rossi. He had 21 tackles in five contests and earned all-league honorable mention defensive honors, but didn't play after Sept. 30. In addition, Norton returns a bevy of all-league players including senior linemen Alex Riggins and Eli Bozarth and junior kicker Austin Hager, all second team all-league selections. Seniors Bigge, Miller, Lucas Engel and Carson McKenna collected honorable mention, too.

"For me, it was a disappointment and I think for the whole team it was a disappointment," Brooks said. "It was hard to see yourself let down the community like that. I think that just adds fuel to the fire. Some games we came out flat right off the bat, and we just can't do that, and we needed better leadership."

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