WEST END SENIORS. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Conner Barnard, Dakota McKay, Jesus Zaragoza, Jordan Thomas, Ashton Reliford. Standing, from left: Evan Stancil, Thad Pearce, Eli Golden, Aaron Kidd, Tyler Jones, Dawson McKinney. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Dirty 30 is coming to a high school football field near you this fall.
The above nickname applies the 2022 West End Patriots, whose relatively small roster features some big-time talent.
“This is a special group in the way that these guys go about their work,” said head coach Derrick Sewell, who is entering his second season in Walnut Grove. “The best thing is that out of those 30 guys, we’re going to be able to play a lot of kids just one way. The challenge is to find a way to get our guys rest. With our numbers the way they are, we’re planning on limiting their reps early on so that late in the season they’re fresh and ready to go.”
Sewell’s 2021 team went 3-7, with one of those victories against Westbrook Christian, a team the Patriots came up short against the previous three years.
Six starters return on offense, while four are back on defense.
“We have 10 seniors and almost as many juniors with a lot of playing experience,” said Sewell. “These guys lead by example and make sure things are being done the right way.”
Sewell and his staff are seeing the results of the weight program he instituted shortly after his arrival.
“Our goal was to make sure we had a good off-season in the weight room,” he said. “We committed to five days a week, so there were no off days.”
Much talent is at Sewell’s disposal, none more vital to the team’s 2022 success than senior receiver Thad Pearce, an All-State, All-Region and All-County selection who caught 54 passes for 755 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Senior quarterback Tyler Jones, who threw for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns, is back, along with junior running back Rockman Sainsbury, who rushed for 448 yards. Sainsbury made the All-Etowah County Schools team at linebacker, where he registered a team-high 107 tackles.
Sewell noted that the members of the offensive line are undersized compared to last year, but smart and gritty.
“They understand who they are and what we’re asking them to do. We’ll only be as good as the offensive and defensive line can be.”
The Patriot defense lost several starters, but among the returnees is junior linebacker Josh Carroll, who had 32 tackles last year.
Junior Evan Stancil, who was the team’s kicker last season, will continue in that role as well as starting at defensive end along with senior Eli Golden, who will see time at tight end.
West End’s Class 2A, Region 6 rivals are Gaston, Southeastern, Holly Pond, Cleveland, Locust Fork and Pleasant Valley. The Patriots will play Gaylesville, Sand Rock and Glencoe in non-region action.
“I feel like we can make the playoffs, and I wanted to pick up non-region teams that would hit us in the mouth,” said Sewell. “We’ll get a good dose of physical football against those three teams, and we’ll see if we’re where we want to be.
“We don’t want to lose the integrity of who we want to be, which is a hard-nosed team that is able to stop the run. Right now, we’ve got that. I don’t know how many wins it will lead to, but we’re headed in the right direction.
“I think the teams we’ll play this season will realize that we’re a different and much more physical team.”