To say North High football hasn’t been here in a while would be accurate. As a matter of fact, it would be a drastic understatement.
The No. 6-seeded Stars take the field against No. 2-seed Visalia-Central Valley Christian in a Central Section Division IV semifinal this Friday at 7 p.m. It will be the first section semifinals appearance for the program since the 1983 season. The team also played in semifinals in 1970 and 1954 — which was North's first and only section championship season — according to section football historian Bob Barnett.
In other words, this is largely uncharted waters for a program that wouldn't ordinarily be mistaken as a football juggernaut.
“We’re just happy that we can be a part of this school and make this happen. Break records,” said senior quarterback Bailey West. “We’re a school that can go somewhere, and can become something.”
Clearly the team has been playing quality football, and has some momentum to build off of.
North has won six consecutive games, including three straight in eye-opening fashion: a 21-14 win over Highland in the regular-season finale, snapping the Scots’ undefeated season and granting North a share of the Southeast Yosemite League title; a 21-14 victory over East Bakersfield in the first round of the D-IV playoffs; and a 36-35 overtime road triumph over Selma in Friday’s quarterfinal.
Head coach Norm Brown, in his fourth season with the program, said his team represents grit, toughness and resiliency. Brown added that his program aspires to be a positive inspiration to Oildale, a community with a low socioeconomic sector.
“Kids that come from very tough backgrounds and don’t have much. Our kids might not have cell phones, clothes, food to eat every night. I’m serious," Brown said. "It’s really awesome that we’ve been able to overcome a lot of that and be where we are right now.”
The head coach would add: “We represent our community correctly. With pride, class and togetherness. Hard work, respecting each other as teammates.”
Curt Derossett was a freshman on North’s 1970 team that went 9-0, only to lose to Fresno-Bullard in the playoffs. Those nine wins are a program record, which the Stars have matched this season with their current 9-3 mark.
Derossett said Brown has “Just done a tremendous job,” with this year's team.
“It has been,” he said, when it was pointed out this season has been an unparalleled success. “And hopefully it’s not over Friday.”
Brown said offensively, the Stars are spearheaded by West and its offensive line. Running back Chris Romero has rushed for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But the team has gotten an added dimension to its passing attack from receivers James Johnson (39 receptions, 723 yards, seven touchdowns) and Victor Boggs Jr. (36 catches, 553 yards, five touchdowns). Brown added that slot receiver Jeremiah Minifield has also contributed in giving the offense a boost.
Last year, Johnson was the only North player to top 150 yards receiving, as the Stars combined for 1,289 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. This year, the team has recorded 1,902 yards through the air and 15 scores.
“They’ve allowed us to be more balanced,” Brown said. “That has been important the last three years — trying to build a balanced attack.”
Central Valley Christian owns a 9-2 record on the season, along with a 21-12 win over Bakersfield Christian. Even so, that victory came minus BCHS standout quarterback Braden Wingle, and a fired up North team feels as if it has a shot at returning to its first section championship in more than 60 years.
“It’s going to be a difficult ballgame. But we think we can match up with them,” Brown said. “We can create some problems for them, and they have some areas of concern for us.”
Added West: “If we come out and practice hard, I think we can come over the top. We have confidence in each other, we trust each other. We don’t let each other down. We just pick each other up.”
Editor's note: This story was updated to correctly state North's last section semifinals appearance. It was 1983.