By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Westbrook enters the 2013 high school football season having to replace 14 seniors from last year’s squad.
One of those graduated players is former quarterback Jonathan Ford, a Birmingham Southern signee who accounted for 2,000-plus yards in 2012.
Westbrook coach Tony Osborne is looking to senior Jake Kilgo to replace Ford.
“The biggest question has been at quarterback,” Osborne said. “We’ve had three players competing, and Jake emerged as the starter. [We’re] not really move around [players], but we’ve got competition at a couple of positions, but, overall, we’ve got a good foundation of returning starters. So if we can fill in with some younger players, I think we’ll be okay.”
Fortunately for the Rainbow City squad, the quarterbacks will have the most prolific signal caller in school history to look to as they attempt to nail down the starting job.
Brodie Croyle will serve as Osborne’s offensive coordinator, in his first season on the Westbrook staff.
The former University of Alabama and NFL quarterback played for Osborne more than a decade ago, leading Westbrook to its only appearance in a state championship game in 1997.
The offense should not change much under Croyle, although more than likely the playcalling will depend on the development of whichever player wins the starting quarterback job.
One aspect of the offense that will help the new quarterback will be the offensive line.
“I think we are going to be much improved there,” Osborne said. “We’ve got three starters coming back and some young players that can contribute.”
Another aspect of the offense that should allow the team to flourish is a group of receivers that got plenty of playing time a season ago.
Even though the team’s top two receivers graduated, Osborne said there is plenty of experience returning, including senior Brien Welch, who caught 23 passes in 2012.
“It looks good. Quality-wise, we are going to be as good, or better, at the receiver position. We are not going to have quite as much depth.
“Fortunately, last year we rotated eight receivers in and out every series, so the guys who weren’t starting got a lot of good playing experience.”
Like any other small school, depth will be an issue for Westbrook. But Osborne said this year’s squad is a hardworking team and has been eager to learn and put in the work during practice. The coach hopes that effort translates into a strong team in the fall.
The defense is a part of the team that returns a solid corp of players and will be an area the team will lean on early in the season.
“[The defense] should be our strong point early on,” Osborne said. “We’ve got some good experienced guys coming back and we’ve got good overall team speed. Again, depth is not as good as it was last year, but we’ve got some quality players there.”
As has been the case the last few seasons, Westbrook faces a tough region schedule. The usual tough foes remain in Fyffe and North Sand Mountain. But this season, a few teams expect to be improved, making the road to the postseason a daunting task.
“In our region, Fyffe and North Sand Mountain has been, the last couple of years, the top teams,” Osborne said. “Sand Rock is going to be really good. They had a young team (last year) and have a lot coming back. But our region is tough every year, top to bottom. Ider, Gaston is going to be much improved, West End, so it’s tough to find a team that you would label as an automatic win. You have got to be ready every week.”
Even though Westbrook lost a large group of seniors from a season ago, the Warriors will replace that group with another group of 14 seniors this year. The growth of the seniors’ leadership will be crucial, especially early in the year, as the team breaks in a new quarterback along with several other new starters.
“It’s real important, because they are the seniors, they are the leaders,” Osborne said. “Fortunately, they had some real good people to look up to last year and try to emulate, so we are looking for some good leadership from them (this season).”
For the complete 2013 Messenger Football Preview that includes team rosters, photos and schedules, purchase a copy of the Aug. 23 edition of The Messenger.