Northgate optimistic after nightmare season in 2018
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 7:48 PM
One season after the Northgate Flames were barely an ember, second-year coach Mike Fulmore is feeling a bit more optimistic.
“Our numbers are looking good,” he said. “Things are really going pretty well for us right now. We’re just really excited.”
Fulmore has about 25 players in camp this season — a viable number for WPIAL Class A football — and returns seven starters on offense, including the entire line. They also welcome three athletes from the basketball program and a transfer from North Allegheny.
“The attitude is definitely up from last year 100%,” senior guard/linebacker Clayton Cooper said. “I’ve never been more confident about a year at Northgate than this year.”
Said senior quarterback Christian Davin, “I think that we’re working more as a team this year.”
Only two years removed from a trip to the WPIAL Class A semifinals, Northgate last year limped through an injury-ruined 0-10 season, getting outscored 435-89 and dressing as few as 12 players for a game. The Flames lost games 39-0, 48-0, 54-0, 56-0 and 60-0, in the season finale to Laurel.
Fulmore refused to use injuries or defections as an excuse.
“We never talk about our numbers,” Fulmore said. “We talk about playing the game of football. I always tell those guys, ‘There’s been championships won with less players.’ “
Still, Fulmore is taking drastic steps to ensure his team has the best chance to remain healthy for when Big 7 Conference games start. Last month, Northgate informed the WPIAL it would be forfeiting its Aug. 30 game against McGuffey rather than risk injury against the Class AA school. Northgate lost to McGuffey, 48-0, last year and saw five players injured, including starting QB Davin with a season-ending neck injury, on an already-shorthanded roster.
Instead, the Flames will take their 0-1 record and travel to play St. Paul (enrollment 237) in Norwalk, Ohio, for their Aug. 30 game.
“We felt like it was important that we don’t sit Week 1,” Fulmore said. “(St. Paul is) a little bit closer to our size. It’s more even of a matchup. …. It’s a team that’s built very similar to ours, and we feel we can get some good work in that week.”
One question is behind center, where Davin and sophomore Davonte Christie are battling for the starting quarterback job. Regardless of who starts, he will be protected by an offensive line that returns guard Cooper, four sophomores — tackles Vito Pascale and Damion Pike, center Dylan McWilliams and guard Israel Sustayta (6-foot-3, 330 pounds) — and adds sophomore guard Jake Harrison from Class 6A North Allegheny.
“They worked hard this offseason each and every day to get better,” Fulmore said of the O-line. “They get to know one another. They are still young, but they all played last year.”
The roster also welcomes three players from the Northgate basketball team: senior wide receiver Jacian Sustayta, who led the team in receiving in 2017 but didn’t play last season, and sophomores Delvin Mitchell and Jeff Roberts.
Linebackers Pascale and Cooper will anchor a defense that can only improve after allowing a Class A-worst 43.5 points per game last season.
Perhaps the best news for Northgate this offseason was the continued renovation of its downtown Bellevue home, Alumni Field. Two years after the decayed light poles were torn down, the Flames will return to playing Friday nights after having home games at J.C. Stone in North Park in 2017 and Saturday afternoon games at Alumni Field last season.
Fulmore said the sod was expected to be in place the week of Aug. 19, and the home opener is scheduled for Sept. 27 against Sto-Rox. The location for the Flames’ Sept. 6 game against visiting Our Lady of the Sacred Heart still is being finalized.
The players, for sure, are hyped to return to Friday night lights after last season’s woeful experience.
“Saturday afternoons last year were horrible,” Cooper said. “We got through it. But Friday nights this year are going to be awesome. I’m so excited to run through that smoke when we come out of the locker room and be able to ring that bell once we win. It’s been a long time.”
coach: Mike Fulmore
2018 record: 0-10, 0-7
All-time record: 205-216-7
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, at Perry, 4
8.30, at St. Paul (Ohio), 7
9.6, OLSH*, 7
9.13, at Union*, 7
9.20, at Cornell*, 7
9.27, Sto-Rox*, 7
10.4, at Springdale, 7
10.11, Rochester*, 7
10.19, at Bishop Canevin*+, 7
10.25, at Laurel*, 7
*Class A Big 7 Conference game
Passing: Christian Davin
21-36, 305 yards
Rushing: Anthony Barbarino*
Receiving: Eric Hogan*