Behind the Scenes of Northwood’s football team


Neil Godse

TACKLING THE GAME: Northwood’s frosh and JV players watch their varsity team sweep Valley View High School during the Homecoming game.

Jaycee Hendrickson, Sports Editor

From the booming crowds of Portola Stadium, a sea of students cheer as Northwood’s football team opens the 2022 season with a decisive victory against Woodbridge High School. What you see from the stands, as football players throw down their helmets and rally up their teammates, is pure excitement: A result of endless dedication and hard work.

But hidden behind this contentment is the unspoken side of Northwood’s success—the side of exhausting practices matched with the determination of the team’s roster and coaches alike.

The energy shortly before practice is lighthearted and fun. Small groups are scattered across the field as players mess around with their teammates in anticipation for practice. From as far as the tennis courts, you could peer over the softball fences and see footballs in the air, tossed across 50 yards in a short game of “Three Flags Up.”

“Helmets on!”

At 3 p.m. sharp, Andrew Penrod and senior captains Jonathan Kang and Adam Harper call for warm ups.

Stretching across the sideline of the upper grass field, a combination of Northwood’s JV and varsity teams begin to mentally prepare for the day’s work.

Although the attention has begun to focus, the dynamic remains relaxed as a couple of guys continue to pass the ball and work down the field, following their leadership through a series of short sprints, quad pulls and scoops.

After nearly 10 minutes, the whistle blows—immediately silencing the team as they tense up.

Head coach of Northwood’s football program J.C. Clarke begins to direct the first drill of punt returns. The entire team quickly lines up into a long, uniform line that faces the pack of coaches in front of them. Calls for attention, silence and determination are demanded of the players, to which they immediately return.

It may have been nearly 20 minutes since the official commencement of practice, but any passerby could feel the change in dynamic in that moment. The next two hours consist of various drills including formations and snap count, posititionals, playbook review and more.

Listening to the voices of Clarke and Northwood’s six assistant coaches, without the context of coaching, makes practice an intimidating sight. There are constant shouts of orders and criticism directed at the players, but despite the relentless direction of the coaches, all athletes have the same understanding: It’s all for the love of the game and each other.

On the field, criticism is not given with ill-intent. It is given with the intention of continuous growth and improvement. The team’s success depends on these students’ willingness as athletes to accept that. However, this is completely based on their mentality.

An aspect of athletics that is commonly overlooked, mentality has an incredible impact on a team’s success. Along with physical improvements in game-play and strategy, Northwood’s coaches look to build a culture that overcomes mental blocks and overexhaustion early in the season—starting with game day

“The day of the game is about managing emotions,” assistant coach Dean Toohey said. “You have to stay relaxed as much as possible until the game starts. If you don’t, you’ll be exhausted before it starts.”

This approach seems to be working as the Timberwolves have started the season strong. The next two games (University High School and Laguna Hills High School) are away, but Northwood will return to Portola Stadium for a home game on Oct. 21 against Irvine High School.

“I feel very excited about the upcoming season,” Kang said. “From the last season we had, we hope to continue to build off of it and get better everyday.”

In 2021, Northwood’s varsity football team was titled Pacific Hills and CIF Division 11 champions. None of this success would have been possible without the “behind the scenes” of this team—and with high hopes for the season, they look to mark 2022 in the books as well.