The North Penn football team racked up 14 wins and claimed the District 1-6A title in 2016. But now it’s a new season and senior Justis Henley and the Knights know it’s now their time to continue the program’s success.
“It’s a little strange because last year, I wouldn’t say I would look for Ricky (Johns) to make those plays and Reece (Udinski) to make those plays and those type guys, but usually there were guys making the plays and I did my part, they were so great,” Henley said. “But I feel like this year, the weight is on my shoulders.”
And for the eighth consecutive year, the Knights’ year kicks off against La Salle, the clash between the Suburban One League and Philadelphia Catholic League heavyweights set for 7 p.m. Friday night at North Penn’s Crawford Stadium.
North Penn took last season’s Week 1 matchup with the Explorers 33-24, ending a four-game losing streak against its PCL rival — NP’s last win over La Salle coming in the 2011 PIAA 4A semifinals — and also claiming a victory for the first time in the teams’ opening week series since it started in 2010.
After beginning 2016 by beating La Salle, the Knights went on to win their next 13 games — securing their first district title since 2011 in the process — before falling to St. Joseph’s Prep in the PIAA semifinals.
La Salle, meanwhile, went on to place third in the Catholic League Red Division behind eventual state champs Prep and Archbishop Wood and finished 6-5 overall, its first season since 2007 with fewer than eight wins.
A major hand in La Salle’s struggles was being without quarterback Isaiah Jones, who missed his junior year due to an ACL injury that occurred during the 2016 preseason. Now Jones is back in action and the dual-threat QB helms an Explorer offense that may have graduated top rusher Syaire Madden but returns a solid offensive line that includes Chris Maloney and Garrett Zobel and La Salle’s leading receiver Troy Holland, who hauled in 40 receptions for 524 yards in 2016.
North Penn will also have a different quarterback from last year’s Week 1 meeting. Udinski graduated after throwing for more than 4,000 yards — the first District 1 quarterback to do so — and in his place steps junior Steve DePaul, a transfer from Norristown who threw 557 with the Eagles last season.
The Knights will look to new cast of offensive playmakers to help DePaul after graduating their top receiver (Johns) and rusher (Nick Dillon) from last year’s attack to put up 40.4 points per contest. Henley should be go-to target after the senior caught 49 passes for 940 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016.
Seniors KJ Cartwright — a Germantown Academy transfer — and Khan Jamal, who transferred from Plymouth Whitemarsh, should get the chances out of the backfield.