By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Although the 2017 West End roster may not contain the amount of star power as in the past few years, Kyle Davis believes that his Patriots will provide the communities of Walnut Grove and Altoona with something to cheer for this fall.
“I can’t say that this team is as nearly talented as we were last year, but we can accomplish just as much if not more than last year because of these kids’ coachability, discipline and selfless attitude,” said the Patriots’ fourth-year head coach. “We’re more team-oriented this year. There are some guys that you’ll have to check their jersey number once or twice, but by the end of the year, you’ll know who they are.”
The Patriots are coming off a 2016 season in which the program earned its first postseason appearance in six years and first playoff victory since the 2001 season.
“Folks have to remember that the seniors on that team didn’t win a game their freshman year,” said Davis. “The biggest thing for those kids was believing in what we asked them to do and going out and doing it.”
Davis did note that depth is a concern.
“We’ve got 25 guys on the roster and we may have 14 who are going to play. If we get a few of those guys hurt, we’ll be in trouble.”
A key graduation loss for the Patriots is Andre Little, a receiver/cornerback/kick returner who led the team in catches and touchdowns, receiving yardage and tackles. He was named The Messenger’s 2016 Player of the Year and was a first-team Class 2A All-State selection.
Back under center, however, is the quarterback who threw to Little. Last season as a junior, Payne Stancil threw for 2,421 yards and 31 touchdowns on the way to honorable mention All-State honors.
“If you told me two years ago that Payne would be putting up those types of numbers, I’d have called you crazy, and he probably would have, too” said Davis. “But that’s a testament to the kind of kid that he is. He knew what kind of shoes he had to fill with Hunter Grant, and he went out and worked hard and got better in every game. I feel really good about having Payne back there and getting the ball to the guys he needs to get it to.”
Seniors Nick Campbell and Marcus Strickland will be two of Stancil’s primary targets.
“In my opinion, as far as attacking the football in the air, Nick goes up and gets the ball as well as Andre did,” said Davis.
Davis views sophomore Levi Armstrong as a star in the making at running back.
“If he can keep his eye on the prize, Levi’s going to be something special. He’s big and fast and he moves well.”
Barring any setbacks during training camp, the offensive line will feature junior Michael Patton and senior Matthew Hood at guard, senior Dewayne Miller and junior Jagger Barnett at tackle and freshman center Hunter Tucker at center.
Most of the players from that unit make up the defensive front four. Patton was a second-team All-State pick last season at defensive end with 68 tackles and 12 sacks, while Miller was an All-State honorable mention selection at tackle with 54 stops.
Hood, who had 64 tackles in 2016, returns at linebacker, along with sophomores Mason Barnett and junior Thomas Demedicis.
Strickland, who started at strong safety last year, is back in the secondary. Campbell, junior Kaleb Arledge, juniors Donovan Golden and Jacob Chamblee and sophomore Jerimiah Roberson will rotate among the other three spots.
Davis is confident that his squad will rise to the occasion in the Patriots’ Class 2A, Region 7 battles against Cleveland, Cold Springs, Falkville, Tanner, Tarrant and Winston County.
“In this region, we’re a legitimate playoff team. It may be the fourth seed again or it may be higher. I also feel that all four of our non-region games are winnable. We’re also on the cusp of being able to say at the beginning of every season that the playoffs should not be our ultimate goal. It’s something that we should expect.
Assistants are Matt Self, Larry Rose, Jason Bynum and Hunter Grant.