By Gene Stanley/Messenger Sports Correspondent
With only 21 players on the roster, West End head coach Randy Hallmark is doing his best to get his athletes not only in game shape, but get them in good enough shape to play an entire game.
“There are a lot of them who will have to play on both sides of the ball,” Hallmark said. “They’ve got to be in great shape to do that, and we’ve had a good spring and summer, trying to get ready.”
Hallmark’s method is tried and true at West End. He was the Patriots’ head coach from 1990-97, accumulating a 64-26 record and making the playoffs in six of his eight seasons.
From 1993-95, the Patriots went undefeated until the playoffs.
After brief stints as head coach at Arab and Albertville, Hallmark was defensive coordinator at Etowah for seven years and was in the same position at Sardis last season.
Hallmark has always been a defense-first coach, so look for improvement in that area of the game.
“This year, we’re going to have to rely a lot on our defensive line,” he said. “The secondary and linebackers are all young, but they’ll get battle-tested soon enough.”
Seniors Kaelan Cleveland, Zak Compton and Chris Justice; juniors Austin Russell, Blake Simmons and Andrew Robertson; and sophomores Jorge Tomas, Tristan Garmany and Tyler Moody are all expected to get playing time on both sides of the ball.
“Besides having a couple of seniors, the line is one of the few spots where we have a little depth,” Hallmark said. “Most of those guys already have game experience, too.”
Moody, junior Chase Blanton and so-phomore Brett McCurry will see time at linebacker, while juniors Levi Weems and Timothy Parker and sophomore Rhett Lister are the safeties. Senior Dalton Goodwin and sophomore Alex Nichols will play cornerback.
Senior Tyler Browning isn’t expected back until the second or third game, as he broke a leg playing baseball this summer. Hallmark noted that Browning’s return should do a lot for the lines, calling him a “standout lineman.”
Last season, the Patriots gave up 279 points in 10 games, finishing with a 3-7 record.
“I’m pretty old school,” Hallmark said. “I believe that a stout defense and good kicking game are the first steps toward winning. Those are the areas we’re concentrating on.”
Since Hallmark’s departure, West End has a 73-77 record. More importantly, the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game in that time.
Even though he graduated from Sardis, Hallmark calls West End home.
“All of my kids graduated from here,” he said. “Times have changed and it’s a little different than it used to be, but it feels like I’m home again.”
Also coming back is the Wing-T offense.
Learning that art at quarterback is Weems, who passed for 857 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.
“Levi is a good passer,” Hallmark said. “He looks like a quarterback because he is tall. We’re working on his footwork and ball-handling skills so that he can operate in the Wing-T.
“I think he’s good enough of an athlete to make it work.”
Lining up at fullback will be junior Chase Blanton.
“I expect Chase to carry our offense,” Hallmark said.
Goodwin, Parker and Lister will also see time at running back.
Goodwin will also play wide receiver part of the time. Sophomores Connor Bailey, Dylan Hanrihand and Tyler Hawkins are the other receivers.
Back in the saddle – page 30
Weems will punt and kick extra points, while Tomas will handle kickoffs.
Hallmark sees the region battle as tough from top to bottom.
“I think Fyffe, North Sand Mountain and Ider will be strong,” he said. “I think Westbrook and Gaston will be good. I know Gaston’s moving up but they have as good a shot as anybody. Whoever gets in the playoffs will have earned it.”
Assistant coaches are Chad Weems, Joe Payne, Seth Ward and Hank Hallmark.
The Patriots’ Class 2A, Region 7 opponents include Gaston, Westbrook, North Sand Mountain, Fyffe, Ider, Sand Rock and Section.
“Football is a tough sport and we have to get back to teaching toughness,” added Hallmark. “The kids have to buy into the program and be accountable for themselves. It’s going to take some time but were excited and can’t wait to get them to working and build a good, solid foundation.”
Hallamrk said that there is no big secret to football.
“The kids who go out and work to get stronger, faster and better are the ones who will do well in the games. We will never ‘out-athlete’ the other teams, so we have to do all the other things better than they will. We just have to outwork them.”
Hallmark expects maximum effort and results from this year’s team.
“We just have to get everybody working together toward the same goal. It will take some time to get the work ethic established again, but I’m confident that we can do that. Once it’s established we will see a huge difference in the program.”
There is no secret to Hallmark’s intentions with the program.
“We have to approach this like we did [in 1990]. We just have to work hard to put a good product on the field. Were not looking to go 5-5. We’re looking to win all of them.”
Josh Price contributed to this story.
Aug. 30 – Susan Moore
Sept. 7 – @Ider*
Sept. 14 – Fyffe*
Sept. 21 – @Westbrook*
Sept. 28 – @Cleveland*
Oct. 5 – N. Sand Mtn.*
Oct. 12 – @Section*
Oct. 19 – Sand Rock*
Oct. 26 – @Gaston*
Nov. 2 – Good Hope
* Region game
Fultondale 50, West End 13
Ashville 40, West End 15
West End 42, Cold Springs 14
Sumiton Chr. 19, West End 14
Tanner 55, West End 20
West End 12, Cleveland 6
Oakman 42, West End 13
Westminster Chr. 35, West End 20
West End 48, Falkville 0
Gaston 18, West End 6