2023 High School Football Preview: West End not satisfied with status quo

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Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

After West End posted its first winning season in seven years and the team’s first playoff berth in six seasons, head football coach Derrick Sewell believes that the 2023 Patriots will not rest on last season’s laurels.
“The biggest thing we learned after last year is that with success, everything then becomes harder,” said Sewell, who is entering his third year in Walnut Grove. “So I’ve challenged our guys to elevate their game along with the way they work, the way they act and the way they speak. This game is hard, and hard is not always an attractive thing these days. So I’m super-proud of this group after making things as hard as we could on them and I’m excited for them to go out and see the results of that hard work.”
West End went 7-3 overall last season and 3-3 in Class 2A Region 6 play. The Patriots were at 6-1 and 3-0 in the region before two straight region losses dropped them to third playoff seed.
Sewell pointed out that the most important thing with a 30-man roster is keeping the injury list to a minimum.
“You’re always a turned ankle away on a Wednesday from having to do everything differently that Friday, so that’s going to be crucial. But while our overall numbers don’t look that large, I think we have the right people in the right places.”
Graduation hit West End hard over the past two years, during which time the Patriots lost 24 players. The 2023 graduation took away the team’s starting quarterback and top receiver, but the Patriots are solid at running back with the return of All-Messenger and All-County senior Rock Sainsbury (912 yards, 13 touchdowns) and senior Kane Lawson (671 yards, nine TDs). Lawson also had 16 receptions for 356 yards and two scores.
“Rock is an explosive running back and tough between the tackles,” said Sewell. “I expect him to be a big leader on defense. He’s dynamic, can rush the quarterback, drop into coverage and play man to man. He’s a very versatile athlete.
“It’s hard to label Kane on offense because we will use him in multiple ways. As a former defensive coordinator, a kid like this is a nightmare because you never know where he’ll line up and how they’ll get him the ball. Kane’s a threat to take it all the way on any given play.
“Triston has emerged as a great leader for us, not to mention an exceptional athlete. He’s one of, if not the best, pure route runners I’ve seen. Defensively we can leave him on an island a lot of the night and know that he’s got it covered.”
Sewell sees seniors Jace Golden and Braden Thornton, juniors Jayden Dumas, Jackson Price, Drake McDevitt and Colby Pierce and freshman Brooks Golden as contributors to both sides of the line.
Sewell hopes to have enough depth at some point to maintain a separate offensive and defensive line.
“We really want to prioritize rest for the guys in the tren-ches. The guys with [jersey] numbers below 50 know that they’ll not get as much rest.”
The West End defense, which returns seven starters, looks formidable.
Returning for his senior year is 2022 Etowah County Schools and Class 2A All-Region 6 Defensive MVP Josh Carroll, who registered an area-high 152 tackles at linebacker, including 15 for a loss. Sainsbury (87 tackles, four sacks) and Lawson (74 tackles) are also back at the position. Back in the secondary is first-team All-County, All-Area and All-Messenger and second team All-State selection Jaxon Hamby, who as a freshman recorded 65 tackles, picked off an area-best five interceptions and recovered three fumbles. Senior Tristan Chaney had 57 tackles at cornerback.
Hamby will also be stepping in at quarterback.
“He’s very athletic and has a live arm,” said Sewell. “He’ll be dangerous as a runner and a passer. He’s elevated his leadership, strength and agility and quarterback skills this offseason, and I believe we’ll all be pleased with the results.”
Sewell also sees senior cornerback Skylar Yancey and junior safety Jackson Mayo as contributors at defensive back.
West End’s Class 2A, Region 6 rivals are Gaston, Southeastern, Holly Pond, Cleveland, Locust Fork and Pleasant Valley.
“We’re happy that we went 7-3 last year with a playoff appearance, but if any of our 30 guys are satisfied with that, then we’re in trouble,” said Sewell. “When you begin to be satisfied with being average, I think that’s when you start to go backwards. In order to be a consistent contender, you always have to have that desire to move forward and take that next step. My goal for them is making sure that we compete from the opening [kickoff] to the final buzzer. When you get to that point, the wins will take care of themselves.
“I like being at West End because there’s high expectations, but along with those high expectations is a community that will really bond behind these kids. It is a true family dynamic out there.”
Taylor Beck contributed to this article.

 

 

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