Northridge Strong: Polar Bears football excels on the “revenge tour”

These are different times for the Northridge community for a lot of hard-hit reasons. That includes the high school football program.

Perennially stuck at the bottom of the Southwestern Buckeye League, Northridge takes a 3-0 record to unbeaten Milton-Union (3-0) in a great Week 4 Buckeye Division opener on Friday.

The Polar Bears have done the unlikely after recovering from the Memorial Day tornado outbreak that devastated many areas of the north Dayton community and with just five seniors.

RELATED: Fairmont has a Tank on its side

“It’s the revenge tour, a statement season,” assured Jerron Lander, one of those standout seniors who doubles as a running back and linebacker. “They think we’re the same Northridge and we’re not. We want to show everybody what the real Northridge is all about. The Bear is coming.”

That’s a bravado that has been missing with Northridge football. Last year’s 5-5 team was the best since back-to-back 4-6 seasons in 2007-08. Twice in the last decade the Polar Bears were winless; three other seasons they won one game.

»» RELATED: Week 4 football power rankings

There have been outstanding Northridge players. Receiver Drew Ogletree was the state’s Division III offensive player of the year in 2015 and is a senior receiver at the University of Findlay. Twon Hines, the football and basketball standout senior and 2019 grad, also was All-Ohio and is a freshman receiver at Notre Dame College in Cleveland.

But they are the exceptions.

Veteran Northridge coach Bob Smith has witnessed the transformation of Northridge football, first as a player then coach for 36 seasons. A 1980 Northridge grad, Butch McPherson took over the program when Smith was a senior and immediately made Northridge football must-see entertainment on Friday nights. Smith took his game to the early 1980s great University of Dayton teams and eventually returned where he grew up.

»» RELATED: Week 4 football schedule

“It means the world to me to coach here,” said Smith, who also has coached Northridge track and field for 36 seasons. “Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s hard at a lot of places. People always ask me, why don’t you go somewhere else? No, I want to be here. It’s about the kids and it’s about the difference I want to make in their lives. That’s what I want to do.”

Northridge senior Shawn Shehee is a difference maker. A bruising 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds, he leads the SWBL in rushing with 396 yards and six touchdowns. That includes a career-high 200 yards rushing in last week’s 28-22 comeback win at Troy Christian. Northridge trailed 16-0 at halftime and scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to win.

»» RELATED: Coldwater No. 1, Alter No. 2

Darryl Story Jr., a senior receiver/defensive back, is a four-year starter. He also started on last season’s basketball team that lost to Trotwood-Madison in a D-II regional final. Matt Moon, an outstanding junior receiver/linebacker, also is key to the Polar Bears’ early success.

Northridge has never qualified for the playoffs and came closest back when just four teams in each region advanced. This is the best start since Northridge also was 3-0 in 2013. The Bears didn’t win again that season.

»» SOCIAL MEDIA: You should like Marc Pendleton on Facebook and Twitter

Northridge and Milton-Union will leave the SWBL to join the new eight-team Three Rivers Conference in the fall of 2021.

“This is something to let the new league we’re going into know that the Bears are coming,” said Story.

The Bears’ warm-up T-shirts are emblazoned with Northridge Strong, similar to the Dayton Strong theme. That recovery – from the tornado aftermath to losing football seasons – is evident in the Bears’ can-do attitude and mounting enthusiasm. That coincides with the new PK-12 Northridge Local Schools that will open on Monday at the campus off North Dixie Drive.

»» RELATED: Northmont passes Fairmont

“I love this community,” Smith said. “I want to win just as bad as anyone else and these kids are starting to see that and they’re believing. We’ve got some good young kids who have been winning and they’re starting to filter in, so hopefully that (winning) cycle is starting to come back.”

• Another Week 4 matchup of undefeated teams is National Trail at Arcanum, both 3-0, of the Cross County Conference. Arcanum athletic director Jason Schondelmyer, also the head football coach, said the Trojans will wear the popular Ohio Army National Guard camouflage jerseys that have been approved by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

»» PHOTOS: Fairmont at Northmont, Week 3 football

Participating teams generate a military appreciation theme and honor hometown veterans prior to kickoff. Bellbrook, Centerville, Coldwater, Urbana, Waynesville, West Carrollton and Xenia also have been approved to don the camo look for one game.

»» RELATED: "Change the culture"

»» PHOTOS: Dixie football at practice

»» MIKE & MARC: Talking Week 4 football

About the Author