By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
In 2012, West End High had a very young football team.
Now, strike the word ‘very’ and say the Patriots are a young squad.
Last year, West End had six seniors and five juniors. In 2013, there are again six seniors but nine juniors – and the eighth-graders and freshmen from a year ago are a grade above.
“They know our system a little better now,” coach Randy Hallmark said. “I feel better and think we’ll be better. Last year, we had bad defense, we couldn’t score and our kicking game was bad. All three phases should be improved.”
Even though Hallmark has eight years in at West End, 2012 was his first season back after a 14-year absence.
Most of last year’s line-up returns, including a pair of 2012 All-Etowah County selections in senior and three-year starter Levi Weems at quarterback and senior Chase Blanton at fullback. Junior Rhett Lister returns at wingback but a new starter, sophomore Caegan Epperson, will be the tailback.
Most of the offensive line, including senior tackle Austin Russell, junior tackle Jorge Tomas and junior tight end Tristan Garmany, is back.
Junior Tyler Moody, who was hurt most of last season, is back at guard. Senior Brett McCurry was moved to guard to improve the line’s speed.
Junior Nick Cline is in the guard rotation. Junior Austin McCright didn’t play last year but is this season’s center.
Most of the starters will play both ways.
“We have some depth so that guys can take breathers,” Hallmark said. “But not enough depth for them to play one way only.”
Being in such a tough region will make it tough for the Patriots to make the state playoffs, but that is a goal for the Altoona/Walnut Grove squad.
“Making the top four of this region is a big challenge,” Hallmark said. “Fyffe and Section have got to be the top two, and the rest are all good. Last year, North Sand [Mountain] probably had the best team they’ve ever had.
“Ider, Sand Rock and Westbrook were good. And Gaston should be improved. Some good teams will miss the playoffs.”
Assistant coaches are Hank Hallmark, Joe Payne, Matt Harris and Chad Weems.
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.