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Norton may not be as speedy as Gage Bumgardner, but he's got a strong arm and is more than willing to take a hit

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Listed at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Levi Norton is a far different quarterback than any of the signal callers seen out of St. Helens in the several seasons. Many quarterbacks also see the field as receivers and defensive backs, but not Norton - He was a linebacker and right guard in youth football.If any spectators had shown up to football practice at St. Helens High School early in the first week of helmets and shoulder pads, they might have been confused as to why a linebacker was calling plays during seven-on-seven drills.

And they'd be entirely right, and entirely wrong at the same time.

The ‘linebacker' is 6-foot-1, 225 pound sophomore Levi Norton – and he'll be playing quarterback for St. Helens this season.

“In youth ball, I was actually overweight,” said Norton, who turned out to be a bit of a gunslinger at practice on Wednesday. “I played right guard and linebacker.”

Norton takes over for graduated quarterback Gage Bumgardner, who was converted from receiver for his junior and senior seasons, and also starred in the defensive backfield at free safety. Bumgardner was a runner when the offense broke down, and made hay darting around helpless defensive backs. He was also far more slight of build, standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 190 pounds to Norton's listed 225.

And unlike Bumgardner, Norton doesn't plan to dodge around people. He'll simply run through them.

“Oh yeah, for sure. Plus, I can't really run around people, it doesn't work out,” said Norton. “I'm just going to get tackled anyway, so I might as well give something to somebody else instead of just getting tackled.”

Head coach Jared Phillips, now entering his second year, had plenty of praise for Norton's ability to read defenses and direct the offense. Phillips also spoke of Norton's tenancy to knock someone down rather than fake them out, and said the team was planning to tweak the offense to fit the style of the new personnel.

Norton wasn't necessarily the fastest runner on the field at practice on Wednesday, that title likely belonged to junior receiver Bryce Bumgardner, but made up for it with accuracy and a rocket arm that will hopefully lead to big yardage when Bumgardner is his target.

Norton holds his knowledge and familiarity with the game as one of his greatest strengths, and said it will be something he leans on throughout the season.

“I know the offense really well and I'm pretty smart,” he said. “I just know the ins and outs of everything, so I can make up for some young and un-athletic ability, I guess, or quickness.”

Bumgardner and senior Justin Helgerson were the team's leading receivers last year, and return along with sophomores Myles Terry and Tyler Rea.

On defense the coaches were happy with progress on Wednesday, as the team was able to pick up and implement a new scheme in one session. Speedy and sneaky defensive backs forced quarterbacks to make several mistakes, leading a few tight passes into the hands of the opposition.

The Lions are hard at work in preparation for their first game on Sept. 5, when they'll get a rematch with Parkrose and highlight-reel quarterback Jonathan Boland. Last year, the Broncos stole an October match up that might have cost St. Helens a trip to the post season, a major goal of theirs during the 2014 campaign.

First on the docket, though, is a three-team jamboree at 6 p.m. on Aug. 29 at St. Helens High School featuring 7-mile war rivals Scappoose, as well as R.A. Long from Washington.

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