Pictured, kneeling, from left: Jay Glover, Isaiah Roberson, Kaiden Silor, Russel Smith. Standing, from left: Malachi Whisenant, John Collier, Jacob Umphrey, Tristen Allen.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
West End’s first-year head football coach Derrick Sewell knows how the first chapter of a successful football program should read.
“When I laid out the foundation of who we’re going to be and what we’re going to do, it all went back to the weight room,” he said. “And these guys have bought into that. Not only physical strength but mental strength and trust is gained in there.
“The weight room is where we go to work, and this season will go as we go in there.”
Sewell speaks from recent experience. He guided Ragland from 2-8 record in 2019 to a 9-3 mark and a state playoff victory last season. Not counting a forfeit win over Gaylesville in Week 2, the 2020 Purple Devils defeated the opposition by an average score of 33-7.
The 2020 Patriots started out 4-2 before losing their final four games, all region contests. All-State quarterback senior Eli Pearce was lost for the year to injury in Week 2.
Returning is senior running back Isaiah Roberson, who in 2020 rushed for 1,115 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior Jake Edwards and junior Thad Pierce are back at receiver. Both had 18 catches last season.
After suffering an ACL injury that forced him to miss most of last season, junior Tyler Jones will start at quarterback.
“We’re excited for Tyler,” said Sewell. “He’s kind of chomping at the bit. He’s had a good summer and he’s working hard.”
The offensive line will be manned by four seniors, including John Collier at center, Jacob Umphrey and Russell Smith at tackle and All-Etowah County selection Ashton Self at guard.
West End graduated its top three tacklers but Self (64 tackles) and Edwards (57, five sacks) return to the defensive line. Senior Jay Glover, who had four interceptions last year, returns to the secondary.
Sewell pointed out that the communities of Walnut Grove and Altoona stepped up when he wanted to upgrade the facilities.
“That weight room was not where it needed to be. It hadn’t been touched in a while as far as updates. We’ve done over $30,000 worth of renovations, and only $10,000 of that was in a grant form. These people in this community have bought in to what we’re trying to do, and I think that’s important for our success.”
West End shares Class 2A Region 6 with Gaston, Westbrook Christian, Sand Rock, Southeastern, Locust Fork, Spring Garden, Cleveland and Donoho.
“We do want to win, and we want to win now,” said Sewell. “We have a lot of seniors, a lot of juniors, and a handful of sophomores who have a ton of playing experience, so this program is ready to be successful now. Now, that’s not going to happen just be because we get to win. It’s going to be because we put in the work. And I’m overwhelmed with how these guys have worked since I got here.”
Staff writer Emma Kiekemier contributed to this article.