Pictured, from left: Jacob Kelly, Kinnedy Cranfield, Joseph Rayburn, Carl Henry, John Riley Sullivan, J.D. Berndt, Jackson Shoars, Andrew Martin, Hayes Wiggins, Jackson Barron. (Not pictured Hunter Millirons, Dayle Cable)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
With the loss of 19 seniors and the early departure of last season’s leading receiver and second-leading rusher, Westbrook head coach Drew Noles expects last season’s greenhorns to fill some gaps.
“We started 13 sophomores throughout the season, so we have a lot of starters back,” said Noles, who is 18-6 in two seasons in Rainbow City. “Our numbers are good; we’ve got about 61 players in [grades] 9 through 12 and about 94 in [grades] 7 through 12.”
The 2020 Warriors went 10-2 and won a postseason game for the second year in a row. It was the first time in 10 years that Westbrook finished with double-digit wins.
“Winning breeds winning, there’s no doubt about that,” said Noles. “This group is fun to be with and easy to coach, and that’s worth so much. I’ve had teams that have won a lot of games that honestly were tough to coach, and it wasn’t very fun. This group has done everything we’ve asked of them. I’ve got 61 kids out there that I care about. It keeps me going.”
The defensive line will be stout, highlighted by senior tackles Carl Henry (90 tackles, 11 sacks in 2020) and Kinnedy Cranfield (83 tackles, nine sacks). Henry was a Class 2A All-State selection in 2020.
“No doubt, those two guys are what we build our team around,” said Noles. “We’ve got 10 guys that can play on the defensive line in a varsity game, so I think the defensive line has got a chance to be really good. You’ve got to be able to run it [and] you’ve got to be able to stop the run.”
Junior Mason Coley will start at quarterback.
“Mason is such a dependable player,” said Noles. “I trust him, and for what we do offensively, trust is the main thing. We’re going to try and run it and control the clock and have Mason get us in the right place.”
Junior KarMichael Cattling, who finished with 615 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season, returns at halfback. Senior Jackson Shoars is also expected to contribute at linebacker, along with junior Jackson Bryant.
“We did lose seven of our top eight linebackers, but we’ve got some guys that can play,” said Noles.
With 22 years of coaching experience under his belt, Noles is not a fan of non-stop, year-round athletics for high school athletes.
“Almost all of our kids are multi-sport, and I really believe in kids having time away. I think sometimes coaches are actually killing athletics with all of the things that they have to do, with parents being there three or four times a day, trying to get a kid to basketball or football or baseball. I just believe there’s a whole lot to be said about a kid going fishing in the summer.
Kids will be kids, and that’s something that we believe in.”
Staff writer Emma Kirkemier contributed to this article.