In 2012, the school hopes to build upon that success on the field, and a key part of that returns in Darius Latham, a two way lineman who is proving to be a major college recruit, and a big reason head coach Keith Shelton has been inundated with college coaches during the contact periods.
"He's gotten a lot of interest during the visiting period where guys are kind of stopping in," Shelton said. "Then, just in the last week or so, it's been a little mini-explosion I'd say. Michigan's offered. Michigan and Tennessee, and later that day, because he actually got both of those on the same day, later that day, he picked up an offer from Northwestern."
Previously, Latham had landed offers from Indiana, Mississippi, Purdue and Minnesota. He also has interest coming from Kentucky, Iowa, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and more. With his size and ability, he played both ways for Shelton, and colleges are still divided on exactly which side of the ball he will play at the next level.
"It's almost even. Some have said they're kind of looking at him as possibly both. I think he's a good enough player and they've expressed it and said they like him and if he's not a defensive player, that he may have a huge upside on the offensive side of the ball. They're all excited about him as an offensive player, but others have said he kind of fits their scheme as a bigger defensive lineman."
Latham came to North Central as a basketball player. For awhile, he had to be convinced that he was a better college football prospect, something he now is seeing with the scholarship offers rolling in. He's still a key starter on one of the state's top hoops teams, and what he shows out there in addition to what he exhibits on the football tape has colleges excited about his upside.
"He is a rare combination, He's got the size at 6'5, 280-285-lbs, but he has great feet. He's on the basketball team down here that's won state and been to semi-state. He's started every game since his first day in basketball, as a freshman, as a center, and then he's just very very fluid, He's very athletic, but he's also strong. He carries his weight well. It fits his frame. Some of the guys, they're a little surprised to see him on film, because they see his dimensions and they wonder how he'll move and he just moves well. I think that's what excites them."
A leader on and off the field, Shelton says all of the recent attention and success could not happen to a better kid.
"He's great. He's a good student. He's about a 3.02. He's a leader. I'd say the guys on the teams, look up to him, physically, literally and metaphorically. He's played a lot of football for us. We brought him up as a freshman, so he has a lot of games under his belt. When Big Darius talks, he has the attention of his teammates. We don't have any complaints with him. He's a great player, and if it's possible, he's even a better person."
That demeanor and attitude has helped Latham handle a process that can be difficult, stressful, and potentially ego-boosting. The addition of major FBS offers has not changed him though, and Shelton says his star pupil simply takes everything in stride.
"He's done a great job, I think Darius expects good things to happen. He knows that he plays basketball and he plays it well, but a lot of the skills that he provides, translate to the next level in football and maybe even beyond. He's pretty even keel. Sometimes kids start getting attention and their attitude changes, that's not him. He's played a lot of basketball, traveled a lot, seen a lot and been teammates with guys on the basketball team who are going to Purdue and Iowa, so I don't think the process surprises him."
Where will Latham end up? It's too early to tell. Because of basketball season, scheduling winter visits and junior days has been an impossibility. During the season, he had a chance to see games at Notre Dame and Michigan State, but has not visited any others since. As a result, a decision coming any time soon is almost out of the question. Shelton and Latham do discuss recruiting and have a good idea of what to look for.
"He and I have talked a little bit about the process. He's in that stage right now where he's kind of seeing where he is and who's interested and he's just thankful and appreciative of the interest. As he gets a little later, heading into summer, he'll start looking at what fits him best. I think he'll look at academics and his major, a little bit geographically just to see where he feels comfortable and where they, as a family, feel comfortable, The big thing is, if you weren't playing football at the school, would he want to attend the school. Right now, he's just taking the offers as he comes and continuing to work hard and do the things that have gotten him this attention."