West End took a bit of a step back in 2018.
The Patriots went 1-9 last season, with their lone win coming late in the season over Class 2A, Region 6 foe Woodland 25-22 on a field goal as time expired. Other than a 42-34 loss to Gaston, West End lost every other game by at least 27 points.
“A lot of the problems we had last year — we were outmanned a lot,” Patriots coach Kyle Davis said. “We played a lot of young guys and had a lot of injuries. We, as a coaching staff, could have handled our situation a lot better.”
Junior Eli Pearce, the new starting quarterback, said the team lacked the correct mindset.
“I thought most of our team, at the beginning of the year, didn't believe; not a whole lot of us had a winning mentality,” he said. “I think the first game, when we lost to Susan Moore (42-12), people thought the season was already over.”
But West End has optimism that things will get back on track.
“I felt like we weren’t a team, we were a bunch of individuals going out there and playing, not really caring about each other,” junior Hunter Tucker said. “We’ve grown together as a team (in the offseason).”
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The engine that drives Davis’ offense, the quarterback, will see a new face in 2019. Jacob Jones graduated, so former receiver Pearce moved over to be the new man taking snaps.
“Jacob was a fantastic quarterback; threw it well,” Davis said. “Eli’s a smart kid. He understands what we’re doing. There’s some mechanical things we’re working on [like] throwing mechanics, but I think he’s going to do good for us.”
Jacob Camacho, a former running back, moved to the slot and Davis noted he performed well in the spring. Jackson Tidmore, who has been injured, also could return and make an impact to complement Jeremiah Roberson at receiver.
Last season’s defensive struggles are something Davis knows needs to be turned around — though youth was prominent on that side of the ball.
The Pats will have their fourth defensive coordinator in four years with John Mark Mintz replacing Matthew Smith.
Etowah transfer Trevor Willett will join Mason Barnett, Levi Armstrong and Dakota McAlpine on the defensive front, and Davis praised his hard work.
“I feel like we’ve stepped up our game on the defensive line and in the linebacker part,” senior offensive lineman Hunter Tucker said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
Cornerback is one spot Davis stressed where players still need to step up.
Pearce was a standout at receiver in 2018 (43 catches, 877 yards, seven touchdowns), so he has an understanding of the team’s pass concepts, and his athleticism will bring a new dimension the offense hasn’t seen in a while.
“At first, I had to get comfortable, but I feel like I’m comfortable now,” Pearce said of the position move.
Roberson, a senior, was a second-team All-State receiver last season after grabbing 67 passes for 818 yards and 11 scores.
Armstrong is back at running back. The stout runner should be a good counterpoint to the passing game with his size and strength to pound the rock between the tackles.
Tucker, entering his third year as a starter, is back to anchor the offensive line that started numerous underclassmen last season. He also racked up 58 tackles in 2018 at middle linebacker.
“I think our offensive line is going to be a lot better,” Davis said.
Tucker also is upbeat about what the offensive line can do in 2019.
“We didn’t have a lot of depth, and I think we were really weak in the weight room (last season),” he said. “This year, we’ve grown closer together and I think we’ll produce well.”
Key to a Successful Season
The quarterback being so important in Davis’ offense, Pearce must be ready to step in from the get-go and make plays with his arm and legs.
The lack of a running game last season hampered West End’s chances for success, so establishing Armstrong on the ground to take the pressure of Pearce and the passing game will be big.
On a related note, last year’s defensive struggles must be corrected; West End yielded 48.8 points per game.