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YOUR CROWN AWAITS, PART II: Westwood

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

Jake Edore had to think a minute. He was standing there with a large group of players from Westwood's football team. They were all talking about the season, the bits and pieces that had made it so memorable -- the snapshots of a 12-0 run that has lifted the Wildcats into tonight's GISA Class A State Championship game against Memorial Day in Savannah.

"I don't know what to say,'' Edore said. "I don't know what to add to what everyone else has already said.''

Then he stopped, looked around and almost whispered.

"We're brothers,'' he said.

That's where this journey has brought Westwood, this road from 4-7 a year ago to a perfect season in 2010 -- and a chance to win it all tonight. Because when the kids from Camilla show up at Garden City Stadium for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, they will arrive hooked at the hip and the heart, arms locked together.

They'll roll into the state title game like one huge orange ball, because that's Westwood, where it's so hard to tell where one player begins and the other ends -- a group of kids who have leaned on each other so long and so hard that somewhere along the line they emerged together, along with a perfect season.

Sure, there are stars on this team. Plenty of them. Look at Edore, who does a little of everything and does everything well, from running the football to playing defense to kicking game-winning field goals.

There's Mason Worsham, a brilliant and tough junior quarterback who throws and runs like a fifth-year senior, a general on the field who can pick a team apart and pick his team up in and out of the huddle.

His favorite target is John Vereen, who is almost too much fun to watch, running routes and snatching passes with hands that were born for Friday nights. Vereen -- like everyone on this team -- is one of those kids who is impossible not to like.

Opponent's secondaries?

They hate him. He has caught at least one TD pass in 11 games this season, only missing out on one against Randolph Southern, because the Wildcats were too busy grinding out more than 400 yards on the ground.

J.T. Edore, a freshman running back who looks like a younger version of his older brother Jake, gained more than 200 yards himself that night, and had a another 200-yard night against Curtis Baptist in the first round of the playoffs.

And then there's Daniel Hays, a linebacker who leads the defense. Hays is just another one of those tough, smart kids on this team who will find a way to beat you -- then find a different way to beat you again.

Hays is the heart of the defense, and Jamie Davis is the voice. Davis, a freshman linebacker, not only plays bigger and older than a kid who just arrived, but he inspires. Really. After a big play, Davis lets out a howling scream that is loud enough and fierce enough to break glass in Alabama.

The kids love it.

And they've left teams screaming recently. After staging three of the most dramatic endings in Georgia to start the season 3-0, the Westwood Wonders have simply destroyed everyone else, outscoring the field 317-70 during the last eight games, while storming into the state title showdown with back-to-back 50-plus-point outings in the playoffs.

The Wildcats can run and throw and the reason is simple. Their offensive line just out-works the guys in front of them. Part of that is coaching, part of it hard work and part of it talent and passion. Then there's that brotherhood Edore talked about.

It's family up front, where Carlton Brooks and Taylor Bentley lead the way. Bentley likes to talk about how Kenny Chesney's, "Boys of Fall" song and the line about how "We've got each other's back,'' was written for the Westwood kids.

Bentley means it.

Brooks had another word for it. "Family,'' he said. "We are a family.''

Those lineman, those unsung kids who live in the dirt and lift Westwood to glory include Ethan Lambert, Nolan Rigsby, Dylan Larkin, Jamie Davis, Brooks, Bentley and Vereen, who also blocks as a tight end.

They don't have a fancy nickname. They don't need one.

Brothers never do.

They do have a season they will never forget. After going 4-7 and losing game after game by an eyelash a year ago, the Westwood kids were so hungry they devoured the off season, working like madmen to get better. Westwood coach Ross Worsham said they had a chip on their shoulder. It was more like a boulder -- a huge boulder that they collectively grabbed and tossed to the other side of Georgia. It lands tonight in Savannah.

Teams that go 4-7 and then race to the state title get movies made after them. These kids just want their names up there with the other six Westwood state champs. And they have a chance to be the third unbeaten team in the school's rich football history.

But to do that, they will have to beat a bigger, faster and more physical team from Memorial Day, a team that won the last two Class AA state titles before dropping down last offseason.

"A lot of people have us as the underdog,'' Westwood head coach Ross Worsham said. "People are saying that because they say Memorial is bigger and faster. They are big and they have two or three kids who are faster. But that doesn't mean they have a better team.''

Enter the big orange ball theory -- and coach Worsham knows it. He knows just how big and smart his kids play. He has seen it all year.

He saw Westwood beat AA power Southwest Georgia Academy -- a team that just missed playing for the state crown last week when the Warriors lost in the semis to Edmund Burke, 15-14 -- thanks to Edore's last second field goal to win the opener, 19-18. And then he watched his kids claim last-second victories against AAA teams Tiftarea and Sherwood Christian.

The Westwood Wonders indeed. Three weeks, and three inspirational wins.

"I think after we beat Sherwood, that's when we knew we might have a special team,'' said Mason Worsham, the coach's son. "That's when we knew we could win it all.''

Mason's father just kept preaching to play "10, one-game seasons,'' and now his team will play one season in one night.

We got better every week,'' Ross Worsham said. "These kids worked so hard, but they like each other so much. They even like practice.

"When you give them a break, they go get a football and start throwing it around. They love the game.''

So does the coach, who nurtured this group along to get them here.

"It just flew by,'' he said. "It's been such a great season.''

Hays laughed, remembering what coach Worsham told the kids after that 19-18 win on opening night.

"He said, OK we're undefeated at 1-0,'' Hays said. "He said now we've got a chance to be undefeated at 2-0 next week. It just seems funny now when you look back on it, now that we're 12-0.''

Hays knows why.

"We're close,'' he said. "And we never got down. We have never been mad at each other. If somebody didn't make a play or something bad happened in a game, we just picked each other up.''

Brothers, that's what Edore called them...

That's who will show tonight in Savannah, the Westwood Wonders, those kids who just kept believing in each other, the kids from Camilla who will arrive as one, arms and hearts locked together.