By Chris McCarthy
Kyle Davis knows that last season’s six-win season was an important stepping-stone for his program.
That being said, West End’s third year head football coach believes his program is more than ready to ascend the next rung on the ladder.
“We want to make the playoffs,” said Davis. “It’s been a while here (six years) since we did, and once you get in, everybody’s got a shot. But I do think that our biggest plus is our experience.
“Strength-wise, it’s the largest offseason gain I’ve had since I’ve been here. I think that last season’s success kind of helped the kids to really want to live in the weight room during the offseason.”
The 2015 Patriots won their final two games by a combined score of 90 to 27 to finish 6-4. However, a Week 7 loss to Gaston effectively knocked them out of the postseason race.
“One score kept us out of the playoffs,” said Davis in reference to the 36-44 loss to the Bulldogs. “But what I was most proud of is that my guys could have folded up the tent and lost the last two games, but they battled and we won out.
“I do feel that this year, our kids probably are better prepared to play in Week 1 than they were last year, in that we have a lot of kids who are young in age but have a lot experience under their belts.”
Davis pointed to seniors Hunter Moody and Andre Little playing since they were sophomores and juniors Matthew Hood and DeWayne Miller since they were freshman.
Little last season was a second team all-state selection with 46 catches for 734 yards and seven touchdowns. On defense, he had 96 tackles at safety. Davis said that Little would also see time at quarterback.
“I think that Andre’s come to realize his role on this team as a leader,” said Davis. “He’s demonstrated what a leader should be.”
Senior Gage Lankford is expected to draw some of the attention away from Little.
“Gage played every snap on offense last year, and out of his 17 catches, about four went for touchdowns and most of them were for big first downs,” said Davis. “Gage probably has the best hands on the team. Whenever you throw it to him, he’s going to be there.”
Senior Jordan Malin, who ran for 225 yards, will see extensive time in the backfield. Junior Payne Stancil, who started at kicker the past two years, will take over at quarterback. He will continue to handle the kicking and punting duties.
“Payne has vastly improved over the summer in the seven-on seven camps,” said Davis. “He just needs to be tested in a close game, but he’ll get the job done. I have all the faith in world in him. He’s going to be one of those guys that consistently will have a ‘quietly’ good game.”
However, Davis said that the two top units of the team would be the offensive and defensive lines.
“We’re very deep in both areas,” said Davis. “If we’re going to be successful, it’s because we’re doing the job up front. Really, our defense is going to have to carry early until our offense gets in synch.”
The Patriots have two All-County returnees on the defensive front four with juniors DeWayne Miller (54 tackles in 2015) and Chase Daniel. Junior Tomas also is a returning starter.
Linebacker Matthew Hood had 93 tackles last season as a sophomore. Moody is a three year-starter on the line who will play at linebacker this year.
Lankford and senior Tyler Grant will man the cornerback positions, while Little, Malin and senior Dylan Butler will rotate at safety.
The Patriots share Class 2A, Region 7 with Cleveland, Cold Springs, Falkville, Tanner, Tarrant and Winston County.
“We had (Class 2A state runner-up) Fyffe in our region last year, so I think that you can swap them for Tanner this season, since they’re both great teams” said Davis. “But after that, we really feel that competitively we can be one of the better teams in the region.Hopefully we can sneak up on a few folks who aren’t ready for us and get into the playoffs.”
“Even after losing so many skill players from last year, we’re a talented football team. If you add them all up, position for position, I think we might be more talented that than year. But what I’m concerned with is our mentality, because we can be an 8-2 team or a 2-8 team.”