In 2015, Wichita Northwest finished 10-1 and advanced to the quarterfinals, its best advancement in seven years. The Grizzlies tallied 48 points a contest and permitted 26.5.
The following fall, Northwest dropped back to 6-4. The Grizzlies led 6A in scoring offense per game with 50.1 points. For the second straight fall, WNW, led by coach Steve Martin, broke the state record for yards per contest. However, the defense permitted 39.2 points a game.
The defense featured multiple sophomores, including middle linebacker Josh Carter and defensive linemen Marcus Hicks and Percelle Finch. Carter, in his first season as a starter, delivered 131 tackles, 42 more than any teammate.
Hicks and Finch combined for 50 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Overall, Northwest tallied just 12 sacks as a team.
“We had six sophomores starting, so we didn’t really have a lot of experience on that side of the ball,” Carter said.
Last year, the Grizzlies again scored 50.1 points per game and paced 6A in scoring offense per game.
Northwest vaulted back up Class 6A behind a much improved defense. The Grizzlies finished 10-2 and lost to Derby in the state semifinals. It marked the second-best advancement in school history, trailing only a state runner-up finish in 1996.
Carter, a three-sport standout, had another exceptional fall with first-year defensive coordinator Ed Cronn, formerly at Junction City. Cronn changed the Grizzlies’ look from a 4-3 to 3-4.
“That really fits with the guys we have,” Carter said.
Carter moved from a true middle linebacker to some on the edge and ‘B’ gap coverage. He led the team with 143 tackles, more than twice as any other player, and collected all-state Class 6A honors.
Hicks, a major Division I prospect who recently committed to University of Oklahoma, and Finch combined for 144 tackles, 32.5 TFLs and 14 sacks.
A year after finishing No. 27 in the 32-team Class 6A in scoring defense, Northwest bumped to ninth with just 21.92 points allowed a contest. The 17.3-point per game defensive drop stood third in 6A. Carter said Northwest was a “really good goal line team” in 2017.
“They are going to gain yards on us, but we don’t break down very easy,” Carter said. “They can get a drive going, but as long as we keep pounding back, we are going to wear them out. We got a lot of goal line stops this past year.”
This season, Northwest drops down to Class 5A West and is a legitimate state title contender behind Carter, Hicks, Finch and tailback Breece Hall, a recent Iowa State commit.
“I think this year we can get it done,” Carter said.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Carter has a 3.7 GPA and great weight room numbers with a max clean of 310, bench 360 and squat of 590. Carter’s top squat, which came entering his junior year, is the school mark for all weight divisions.
He has had interest from Kansas State, Iowa State, North Dakota State and some Division II schools but no offers yet.
While his squats especially have earned social media attention, Carter has focused on his weaknesses in the last year. He has taken a yoga class at the local YMCA every Wednesday. He is also an avid film studier and will often watch at night on his own.
“One of coaches called me ‘no hips’ because I couldn’t change direction very well, so I was kind of embarrassed to go in there just because I was one of the only guys in there,” Carter said. “But I just had to humble myself, and I just told myself that I was doing this to get better at football and all my other sports, but it’s definitely helped a lot.
“I can change direction better,” he added. “It helps me in the weight room a lot just because it teaches you to get depth on squat and be more explosive. You reduce your risk of injury a lot if you are able to move properly.”
Carter has been an all-state wrestler and finished fourth, third and second in the state shot put the last three years. Football-wise, Carter has enjoyed playing for highly successful coach Steve Martin (75-30 in his career, 44-19 at Northwest). Carter said Martin has “made a big impact in my life,” especially a moment from several years ago.
“He probably doesn’t remember this, but he told me my freshman year in weights class, he’s like ‘You are going to be our starting Mike backer next year,’” Martin said. “I really took that to heart. I just worked my butt off. He’s just believed in us since Day 1. He respects us and we respect him, and we are always going to have his back and vice versa, so it’s a great experience playing for him. He’s our No. 1 supporter.”
Last year, the defensive improvement helped in multiple big wins including Wichita Heights (37-20), Great Bend (63-27), Kapaun (26-14) and Garden City (36-23) in the regular season.
In the Garden game, Northwest had to overcome a leg injury to veteran center Earon Garcia and mount a big second half comeback.
The Kapaun victory marked the fewest points Northwest has scored in a game since the 2014 playoffs. In the postseason, NW defeated Campus, 57-24, and then dominated Garden City in the rematch, 49-6.
“I think we had a bad taste in our mouth even though we won,” Carter said, referring to the first GC win. “We just wanted to come out there and make a statement going into semis that our defense is up there, and we are a force to reckon with.”
Northwest ended the season with a 53-41 loss to Derby. While Northwest outgained Derby in total yards, the Panthers made multiple key plays at critical times. Northwest had trouble stopping Derby on third down and had an offensive drive end at the 1-yard line.
Then, the Panthers had a 98-yard scoring drive. Additionally, the Panthers had an onside kick recovery and a 51-yard punt return. Derby delivered a late pick-six to seal the win.
“We made five mistakes that game, and that’s what ultimately cost us,” Carter said.
Chet Kuplen, Managing Partner of Sports in Kansas, on Carter
"He wont pass the eye test just by looking at him, but then you see him lift and play, he definitely does. All he ever hears is what he can't do at the next level because of his size. I dont know what level he will end up at but whatever level he does, he will be the heart and soul of a team that wont be outworked. The coaches love him, the teammates love him and he's one of the hardest nosed players in the state. In my six years since starting Sports in Kansas, he's got to rank up there at one of the biggest weight room kids we've seen. His videos we've put out always go viral of the 590 squat etc. And by that I mean he is an aboslute freak in the weight room and he will make someone who takes a chance on him a real nice player at the next level. Hall and Hicks are going to get all the media praise because of recruiting, as they should, they are darn good players that are top of the line all state selections, but when it comes to talking about high school football players only in the state and nothing to do with projection of recruiting, he ranks near the top of my list. Sometimes we forget to appreciate kids playing the game of high school football and label them on what they are going to do at the next level. Josh is going to do big things right now and has been for the last two years already. He's also a very explosive shot put thrower and beats guys twice his size all the time. I am sure he's up for the challenge to prove people wrong that he can play at the next level, there's no doubt in my mind. He's a self made player."
How did you get involved in football?
I actually started playing in fourth grade, and a lot of the guys I play with now in high school and even surrounding schools, I played with them on that team. It’s kind of neat to play ball with them and just watch us grow up together.
What are your goals this season?
I think we have a really good shot at it. Each year we take a step closer to that. I think the talent and the culture we got going out at Northwest can put us in a really good chance to win it this year.
Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?
What makes you such a force as a player?
When we get the game plan on Monday, I probably watch 10 plus hours of film, especially later in the season when we have their whole game tapes from all the games they’ve played that year. I just fly to the ball, wherever the ball is at.
What’s the atmosphere like to play football on Friday night for your school and town?
It’s just a different atmosphere. Those big-time games like Derby and Carroll, you’ve got over I am sure 5,000 people there. It’s kind of getting you ready for college ball in a sense.
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?
“We are just like a big family. We have one of the better student sections in the state. We just feed off their energy and another thing that is kind of special is our administration just recently started letting the football alumni on the sidelines, so it’s cool to see those guys that you watched when you were underclassmen watch you on the sideline now just supporting you.
Who are other key players on your team?
Marcus Hicks, Breece Hall, Percelle Finch, (all-purpose threat) Roy Johnson, (offensive lineman) Joey Duncan, (wide receiver/outside linebacker) Kale Patterson
Favorite thing about football?
“The relationships that I have made over the years with my teammates and coaches. Now we are just like a family. We can come talk to each other about it even. I would do anything for them, and they would do anything for me. And you get to hit people.”
Do you play any other sports, tell us about that?
Wrestled and thrown the shot put since my freshman year. This past wrestling season, I wrestled 220 pounds and probably my biggest accomplishment from that season was taking third in the state meet, and then in track, I have been on the state podium every school year in high school. Taken fourth, third, second in that order, so I am kind of hoping to continue that trend and win a state title my senior year.
What is it like to play for your coach (Steve Martin)?
“It’s a great experience. He’s made a big impact on my life. He probably doesn’t remember this, but he told me my freshman year in weights class, he’s like ‘You are going to be our starting Mike backer next year.’ I really took that to heart. I just worked my butt off. He’s just believed in us since Day 1. He respects us and we respect him, and we are always going to have his back and vice versa, so it’s a great experience playing for him. He’s our No. 1 supporter.”
What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better and plans to get better this summer?
“Offseason actually started the Monday we got back from losing the semi game. …We just grinded all offseason, winter. This summer, we went down to Tulsa for a team camp just to see what we were looking like and compete, where we need to make changes at. Me personally, I have been working on my agility and mobility a lot.
What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?
We have had a lot of coaches come in this offseason, but ones that I think took a bigger interest in me were Kansas State, Iowa State, North Dakota State and several Division II schools. I don’t have any offers yet, but I think that after this season, I will definitely pick up a few and maybe pick up a couple in July because I am going to a few camps.
Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?
Probably just chilling with my friends.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I kind of see myself as a collegiate weight coach or a trainer or somewhere in the fitness industry, and hopefully have a family and just be financially stable.
Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?
My favorite subject would be math. I just like math because it makes sense. You can only have a certain outcome. I have a 3.7 GPA. I am pretty involved in school.
Who is your role model?
(Well-known motivational speaker) Inky Johnson. He is a former cornerback at Tennessee University. He is a big process guy. Everything in life has a process. You can’t cheat it. You’ve just got to stay on track. Everything will take care of itself if you commit yourself to the process.
Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?
I am a Chipotle guy. That’s what I get most of the time, just because it’s cheap and you get a lot of food.
One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?
I actually have a twin sister (Katie), and it’s kind of funny because when I tell people, they are like no way, just because me and her have such different personalities. Even some of my friends didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago. That’s something that a lot of people don’t know about me. She used to play volleyball freshman year, but she’s a dedicated student, has a 4.0. That’s kind of her alley right now.