When Stephen Field was first hired as Northwestern’s football coach in January, he and defensive coordinator Luther Campbell spoke about what it would take to bring the Bulls back to elite status.
It was clear Northwestern needed to restore its identity.
“We looked at the 1995 Bulls team, and what they accomplished,” Campbell said. “They won a state title with a very tough defense. That’s what Northwestern football has always been about. And when coach Field and I talked, he said to me that’s what he wanted — to get [Northwestern] back to those days.”
So far, the plan is working.
Northwestern (6-1, 1-1 in District 16-6A) could find itself in a must-win situation Friday night when it takes on rival Central (4-2, 2-0 in district) at Sun Life Stadium.
If the Bulls survive, it will likely be because of another great performance from a defense that has allowed six points or less in six of its seven games this season. In addition, Northwestern’s senior-laden group has not allowed an offensive touchdown the past three games — wins against Southridge, Columbus and Belen Jesuit.
“The kids have been in this system for two years, and it’s easier now and they understand a lot better,” Campbell said. “From the beginning, we’ve told them it’s about playing assignment football and they have been playing lights out football. As far as physical strength, they’re strong like that 1995 team was.”
The Bulls know their greatest challenge lies ahead in a Central team sporting a pair of All-American level running backs in Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook, a young mobile quarterback in Keith Reed, a emerging star receiver in Devontae Phillips and an improving offensive line.
“We know they are a great team, but we just have to stay within our system and not get away from what we know how to do,” senior linebacker Darius Redmond said.
Field said Redmond has been one of the most underrated players on the Bulls’ defense.
Redmond leads the team in tackles with 79, including 50 solo. Alongside Redmond, senior linebacker Jaquatin Victrum has a county-best five fumble recoveries.
Senior defensive end Marquiese Blanchard has a county-high 16 sacks and 49 tackles, and junior defensive end Michael Smith has nine sacks.
They, along with the interior line of seniors Yonel Henri and Larmond Braxton have helped a talented Bulls’ secondary.
Versatile defensive back Artie Burns, a University of Miami commitment, has been a force on special teams and defense with three interceptions and 48 tackles.
Senior cornerback Aaron Brown has not allowed a significant catch this season according to Field, and senior safety Deandre Coley has also been a force.
“All that work in the summer has helped us stay humble and when the offense has struggled we’ve just given them a pat on the back and been able to help them get past it,” Brown said.
Northwestern has had its own big weapon on offense in senior running back Darius Tice, who has 753 yards on 76 carries and 12 touchdowns. Like Cook and Yearby, junior Joseph Robinson has been an all-around threat in the kick return game and on offense.
A big loss
The Bulls’ lone, yet costly 20-14 defeat so far this season, came Sept. 21 against Carol City. If the Chiefs beat Homestead on Thursday night, they can put Northwestern of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“Since I got here I’ve always told them it’s about adversity,” Field said. “When you’re on the ship and it starts to rock real bad, lock and load because smooth seas are to still to come.
“Those that jump off won’t see paradise. The thing about our defense and our team period is they don’t quit whatever the situation. That’s what I’ve been most proud of in coaching them so far this year. Whether we make it or not, I just want to win and accomplish this for our kids.”