For the Record

Coach: A.J. Berberian, fourth season

Record: 18-14

Starters back: 4 on offense; 4 on defense

Past five seasons: 18-33, one playoff appearance (2003)

The Breakdown

The toughest thing for new Northern quarterback Andrew Athens will be finding dependable receivers. The Patriots were the only SMAC team with four receivers with at least 20 catches apiece -- Jason Hammer (45), Warren Gorman (34), Jason Seufert (25) and Matt Radford (22). They have all graduated. Look for senior Bryant Spriggs to be a target.

The backfield is more settled. Sophomore A.J. Brown, who was called up from junior varsity late in the season and took critical carries in Northern's playoff loss to Lackey, will be the featured back. Although he is only 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, Brown packs plenty of muscle. He bench-presses 230 pounds and squats 320. Junior fullback Joe Stallings also returns.

Athens should have good protection from three returning starters on the offensive line -- seniors Ricky Moore, T.J. Repass and Phil Wilkinson.

Northern went 7-3 in 2002 and 8-3 last year. Another winning season would give the Patriots three consecutive for the first time since 1991, Jerry Franks's fourth and final season as head coach. It is an impressive improvement for Berberian, who took over the program when it had won one game the two previous seasons combined.