Infectious energy dominated North’s home bleachers. North’s football players high-fived, congratulated each other, and proudly strode off the field. After the Knights walloped the Pirates 35-14, and improved to 3-1, one thing became clear: coach Jeff Reilly’s multi-faceted schemes are leaving opponents confused and helpless, unable to answer the Knights’ combination of a supreme system and prolific athleticism.
The districted hired Reilly from Hopewell Valley High School, where he served as the team’s defensive coordinator, to replace outgoing coach Chris Casamento. With the bulldogs, Reilly steered the ship for one of the best defenses in the area. His flexible defense left teams baffled by its versatility and ever-changing form. Now, Reilly is trying to implement his philosophy with the Knights: “Basically, it is a 4-4 defense that uses multiple and split coverages. Depending on what a team runs offensively, we can adjust our defense to appropriately fit that offense,” Reilly said. The key to the defense is the two outside linebackers, who will shift positions depending on the offensive formation. Against a run-oriented formation, the linebackers may move up to the line and act as defensive ends, whereas they may move back and play safety against a pass-oriented look.
Players have responded well to the new system. “Personally, I like the defense because I feel like we have more protection,” linebacker Robert Peterson said. “Instead of having just three linebackers, we have four athletic ones that can swarm to the ball and make big plays.” Thus far, the defense has forced four interceptions through three games, allowing just 16.5 points per game in its two victories.
The 3-2 Knights have also seen a huge increase in production on the ground. The offense has already rushed for over 200 yards twice this year, including a 281-yard burst against the Steinert defense to open the season. This success is in part due to the use of the I formation, a set in which a fullback and running back line up directly behind the quarterback. “The pro I offers simple blocking concepts that the players have executed very well,” Reilly explained. “We can control the tempo of the game and break the will of the opposing defense with this approach.” Though Reilly admits the offense will have to change up its tendencies at some point, the I formation will continue to be an integral part of the playbook. Quarterback Kevin Murphy also lauded the effectiveness of the I, for both running and passing game. “The I formation is much different from last year, and it has taken some getting used to, especially for me,” Murphy said. “As a quarterback, it’s helping me make reads and see defenses in a different way.” Scoring 22.3 points per game, the Knights offense has had its say thus far this year. “When executed properly, we are feared by our opponents,” senior lineman Greg Olsson said.
Overall, coach Reilly stresses discipline and attention to detail. He ensures players pick up after themselves in the weight room, arrive to practice on time, and give great attention to the details of the game. “Basically the little things count with coach,” Peterson acknowledged. A fan of Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, Reilly truly appreciates the commitment the players demonstrate: “They have to love coming to practice while taking pride in being a part of the football family,” he said.
Under Reilly’s watch, the Knights seem to be on the fast track to success. If the first three games give any indication, North is going to be a force to reckon with come playoff time in November.