WEST END SENIORS. Pictured above, kneeling, from left: Brady Jenkins, Dakota McAlpine, Kaleb Pierce, Andrew Dodge. Standing, from left: Jacob Camacho, Eli Pearce, Hunter Tucker, Trevor Willet. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
West End certainly won’t be lacking for firepower in 2020.
The Patriots’ offensive arsenal features The Messenger’s 2019 Offensive Player of the Year in senior quarterback Eli Pearce. In his first season as a starter after switching from receiver, Pearce threw for 2,386 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing 87 times for 768 yards and 11 TDs. He was selected the All-Etowah County Offensive MVP and was a first team 2A, All-Area 6 pick.
At one position or another, Pearce has started every game since his freshmen year,
West End head coach Kyle Davis believes that Pearce has only scratched the surface of his potential.
“Eli does a great job for us,” said Davis. “He’s a team captain and great leader. He’s a humble kid who works hard.”
Some good news for Pearce and his backfield mates is that every starter on the offensive line returns in seniors Hunter Tucker, Kaleb Pierce and Dakota McAlpine and juniors Trey Ruger and Ashton Self.
West End struggled ear-ly on last season before winning four of its final six games, including the last three in a row.
“We’re definitely coming in on a high note,” said Davis. “As last year went along, our kids started learning our system a little bit better. We hope that momentum carries over in the first part of the season. I think this is our strongest and probably the most talented team we’ve had, and our mental toughness has grown substantially.”
For the first time in several years, Davis said experience, or lack thereof, will not be an issue.
“It’s the first time I think that we’ll have a team that is overly experienced. We’re not going to be having three, four, five sophomores and freshmen starting like we have the last two or three years. We have eight seniors, and of those seniors, there’s probably over 200 starts in all of them. All of them have been having to play since they were freshmen and sophomores. We still have some young kids, but even our sophomores have 10 games under their belt.”
Other than senior Trevor Willett, who last year caught 19 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns on the way to All-County honors, Pearce’s 2020 receiving unit will require a fair amount of game seasoning.
Fortunately for Pearce and his backfield mates, the offensive line is the most experienced unit on the team.
“That group has probably over 100 starts in all of them,” said Davis. “Eli can throw for a million yards, but if he’s lying on his back, he’s not going to be able to do anything. This [offensive line] has done a good job, of growing and maturing, and I tell them every day that we’re going to win or lose based on their performance.”
Led by Tucker, an All-Messenger, All-Etowah County and All-Area tackle who finished last season with a team-high 81 tackles, the Patriots are in good shape at linebacker.
“Hunter has played every down since he was a freshman,” said Davis “He’s just a solid guy. You can always count on him being there. He’s shown really good leadership over his time at West End.”
Returning at end are Willett and Roberson, who had 70 tackles at end last year and was an All-County pick.
West End’s Class 2A Region 6 competition includes Westbrook Christian, Gaston, Sand Rock, Southeastern, Locust Fork, Spring Garden, Cleveland and Do-noho.
“Our region is a very competitive, top to bottom,” said Davis. “I don’t see us having a top-heavy region. I think there’s five, six, seven teams that can go in there and compete for [the] playoffs. It’s a cliché, but we’re really going to have to take it game by game. Every week is going to present a new challenge. I’ve told our guys this year is we have an opportunity to be as good as we want to be. The excitement that’s surrounding our team this year is very, very high.”
Emma Kirkemier contributed to this article