One year ago, Westwood coach Ross Worsham, left, and his kids were involved in tight game after tight game early in the season until they finally hit their groove and never looked back, capping 2010 with a lopsided 31-12 state title win. (email@example.com)
CAMILLA -- They're pretty creative and awfully talented at Westwood, so you would think someone at the school would make a nice framed sign to hang in Ross Worsham's office.
It would simply read: "Never Settle.''
Worsham says it all the time, and it's become the theme for his football team and the unofficial mantra for the school itself.
After all, you can go to the front desk at Westwood and buy T-shirts that read just that: "Never Settle.''
Nice theme, and it fits this football team like gnats fit in at Camilla. That's why the kids who went 13-0 and won the GISA Class A state title last year are so eager to get the season started.
They don't want to go 13-0 and win another title.
They want to be better.
"You don't ever want to be satisfied. You never want to settle,'' said Worsham, who has built this program into a state power. "I always say that, and it goes for everything, not just football.''
His kids believe him. Ask anybody on this team and they will tell you the goal is not to just go 13-0 and win a title, but to literally get better every day.
That was more than evident last year when Westwood seemed to improve from week to week and then peaked in the title game with a one-sided 31-12 victory against Memorial Day.
"You don't win the Super Bowl on the first day of the season,'' Worsham said. "You see a lot of teams and they look great for the first seven, eight games and then they fizzle. You have to pace yourself. You want to get better every week and peak at the end of the season.''
It could be a longer road this time around. Westwood has a brutal schedule, playing bigger schools for the first month of the season, and everybody will be wanting to knock off the state champs.
"We know we all have a target on our backs,'' said Worsham's oldest son and Westwood quarterback Mason Worsham, who will be starting his fourth season under center. "We know it will be a challenge, but we like a challenge.''
Mason Worsham is a Herald All-Area player and has been named to the first team GISA Class A All-State team two years in a row. He's smart and calm and cool, a kid who has the kind of savvy it takes to lead, whether he is picking a defense apart with his arm, or taking what opponents give him on the run. And he's as modest as he is talented.
The Wildcats lost John Vereen, a Bilentnikoff-type receiver who seemed to catch everything that was near him, to graduation. When asked about the loss of Vereen, Mason Worsham didn't blink with his response.
"He made me look good,'' he said.
The Wildcats lost their two biggest and best linemen in Carlton Brooks and Taylor Bentley, and running back Jake Edore, who had a monster season as a senior. But everybody else is back on offense, and the additions could have impact.
Caleb Morrell, who was the quarterback at Pelham last year, transferred to Westwood last spring after his father, former Pelham head coach Jim Morrell, left the Hornets program.
Morrell will line up at receiver and also play defense -- and he can kick. He's got 40-yard field goal range, and last week in practice he hit a 48-yarder.
Another notable addition is freshman Chason Worsham, who admits, "As little brother, I've got a lot to live up to,'' referring to Mason. The youngest Worsham has speed and good hands and will see time at cornerback and running back.
J.T. Edore is back at tailback, where he gained 200 yards on just 10 carries against Randolph Southern to win The Herald's Player of the Week award last year. He finished the season with more than 1,000 yards and was named to the All-State team as a freshman.
Douglas Nobles is back at receiver with some thoughts on just how good this year's team can be.
"I think we can be better,'' Nobles said. "We're smarter and we're more experienced. And we've done it, so we know what it takes.''
Mason Jones, a senior who returns at receiver and linebacker, feels the same way.
"I think we'll be better,'' he said. "We've done it before and we know how hard it is to (win a state title). We know this year we will have to work even harder.
"We're not settling for one state championship. We want another one. And if I was a junior I'd be looking for three.''
Most of the Wildcats go both ways, including Mason Worsham who leads the secondary, which means Ross Worsham has nine starters back on defense, including his top linebacker Daniel Hays, a four-year starter who was an All-State player as a junior. There's no doubt in Hays' mind that this team could be as good -- if not better.
"We've got a lot of returning seniors, and the morale on this team is just like it was last year,'' Hays said. "We're all close, and we all know what it takes to win. It's never easy. It makes you want to work harder, because you can always be better.''
They don't need T-shirts. These kids live the "Never Settle,'' life on the field every day.
There's talent and experience everywhere you look at Westwood, where Jamie Davis (6-foot-3 and 238 pounds), who was a force at linebacker last year as a freshman, will also play tight end this year.
Davis will be part of an offensive line that includes returning starters Dylan Larkin, a junior center, and seniors Nolan Rigsby and Ethan Lambert -- and two new kids on the block. Junior Clayton Lamar gained 55 pounds and now stands 6-5 and weighs 225. He will start on both sides of the line at tackle, and senior Trent Brown will also start on the line.
Last season's 13-0 run also had a carryover effect to this season. The numbers are up -- and everywhere. Westwood has 36 players, up from 28 a year ago, and 10 seniors. Only four seniors played last year.
Enrollment is also up at the school, and whether the success of the football program and other sports -- Westwood won the boys and girls state track titles, a girls tennis state title, and the girls played for the state basketball title and the baseball team also played for the state title -- helped is anyone's guess. But it didn't hurt.
Now the Westwood kids -- the ones they call the Westwood Wonders who won it all a year ago -- want to do it again.
"We want to leave a legacy,'' Mason Worsham said. "We want to go 13-0 and 26-0. There's no way we are going to settle.''
Westwood's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Ross Worsham (7th season at Westwood).
2010 RECORD: 13-0.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Earl Ford (defensive coordinator); Glen Davis (linebackers/defensive line); Mickey Davis (offensive line).
RETURNING STARTERS: Mason Worsham (Sr., QB/DB); Daniel Hays (Sr., LB/FB); Mason Jones (Sr., LB/WR); J.T. Edore (So., RB/DB); Jamie Davis (So., LB/TE); Dylan Larkin (Jr., C/DL); Ethan Lambert (Sr., DT/OT); Nolan RIgsby (Sr., DL/OL).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Caleb Morrell (Sr., WR/DB/K); Chason Worsham (Fr., DB/RB); Brody Collins (Jr., WR); Alex Chambless (Jr., DB); James Davis (Jr., OL/DL).
2011 Westwood Wildcats schedule
Saturday vs. Southwest Georgia Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 1 at Tiftarea Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Sherwood Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Flint River Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. Fullington Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 vs. Dawson Street, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Randolph Southern, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Windsor Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Crisp Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 vs. Terrell Academy, 7:30 p.m.