Westover QB T.J. Wester is starting the season splitting time with T.J. Cromer as the Patriots hope to use two quarterbacks to upgrade their offense.
ALBANY -- There's nothing like a breath of fresh air -- even when it comes a year later.
Well, especially when it comes a year later.
"The difference this year is I can breathe a little better,'' said Octavia Jones, who enters his second year as the head football coach at Westover.
Jones knew it would be a long climb when he took over the program in Northwest Albany, where the Patriots have had only four winning seasons in their history.
OK, Westover didn't have a winning season last year. But the Patriots did win the city crown, beating all three city rivals -- their only three wins. The kids and coaches -- and even principal William Chunn -- celebrated like kids in a candy store when they beat Monroe on the final day of the regular season to take home the title.
Now they want so much more.
"I want to be great,'' said defensive tackle Chris Green, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection. "I believe we can be great.''
That's what Jones wants -- another leap, possibly a giant one. And if anyone wanted to see the difference in the landscape at Westover, all they had to do was take a look at a 13-6 scrimmage victory against Thomasville in Thomasville two weeks ago. Last year, Westover lost the same scrimmage, 32-0.
"I think we will be a lot better,'' said receiver Kenneth Towns, another Dynamite Dozen selection who could have a breakout season. He caught 24 passes for 424 yards last year, but those numbers could soar if Westover's offense gets into high gear.
Westover is trying to pick a quarterback, and Jones may split time between newcomer T.J. Cromer, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior who came over from Tift County, where he was a backup quarterback as a sophomore, and T.J. Wester, a 6-1, 185-pound junior who has moved up from the JV.
"Wester is more suited for the run,'' Jones said. "Cromer has a better touch as a passer. We like them both.''
The T.J.'s will run an offense that has a much better line and features tailback Dalviness Greene, who gained more than 800 yards last year as a sophomore.
"I think he can rush for 1,000 yards with the team we have this year,'' Jones said.
The Patriots bring back seven on offense and return a whopping 10 players, including Green, a preseason All-State player, on defense. He made 97 tackles, including 25 for losses, last year and also recorded five sacks.
There's also linebacker Don Mills, a junior who made the All Region 1-AAA team and The Herald All-Area team last season.
"Don went to the national Under Armour camp this summer and was rated as one of the top 100 athletes in the country,'' Jones gushed of Mills. "We're looking for a big year from him. We had three players go to Under Armour camps and get named to the Top 100: Don Mills, Chris Green and (tight end/defensive end) Josh Burton.''
Green and Mills will lead what Jones hopes is one of the top defenses in the region.
"We're going to hang our hat on our defense,'' Jones said. "And our offensive line is going to be a key for us. We feel we will be better because of the play on our line.''
Jones said he is also counting on Jamal Childs, a senior who will play strong safety, Derrick Akins, a senior who will play defensive end, and sophomore Shannon Saunders, who was an impact player at linebacker as a freshman, to lead the defense.
"Childs and Akins will also provide leadership,'' Jones said, and then added that Saunders, although young, will be a major factor. "He's a football player. He can do anything on a football field.''
Westover's defense looked good at times last year. The Patriots went 3-7, and in their three wins the defense gave up a total of only 25 points.
"I think we'll be a lot better this year,'' Green said. "I think we worked too hard not to show it.''
That's part of the problem at Westover -- the Patriots need to show how much better they can be in just one year. Jones believes his defensive and offensive lines are much better and that they will prove it on Friday nights.
Seniors Teven Hale (5-10, 280), Devin Swan (5-10, 220) and Quentin Johnson (6-6, 360), and juniors Jamie Roberts (6-1, 330) and Shombie Williams (5-9, 230) make up Westover's starting offensive line, but Green also will see time there as well.
Jones calls Roberts "J-Roc" and says, "He will be the rock on our offensive line.''
The feeling at Westover is that everyone will be better on this team.
"There's a big difference this year. We've had them for one year, one full cycle with us,'' Jones said of his players. "They know what to expect from us. They have confidence in us, and we have confidence in them."
Another hurdle Westover cleared was simply lining up with the same timetable as the other schools in Georgia. Jones, the former boys and girls track & field coach at his alma mater, Monroe, was busy last spring leading his girls team to their second consecutive state title and leading his boys, who won the state title the year before, to a state runner-up finish.
He didn't get to Westover until June and had to play catch-up in every possible way to get his team on the field last autumn.
"It's so much easier this year,'' Jones said. "We've been able to take our time and not rush. It's made a big difference. Everyone knows what we want. They know what our expectations are. Our goal is to win a championship.''
That's the leap they want to make at Westover, and the Patriots may have enough returning starters and enough talent to make a run at the Region 1-AAA title -- and possibly a run in the playoffs.
"This team is so much different, so much better than a year ago,'' Green said. "We all want to win this year.''
That's Jones' philosophy, and he doesn't sugar-coat what his expectations are this season.
"I want success to come right now,'' he said. "My mentality has spread to the kids, and they're eager for success as well. We won three games in the city and won the city championship last year. Our expectations have grown. We want to win a region championship.''
Westover High School's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Octavia Jones (2nd season at Westover, 2nd as head coach overall).
2010 RECORD: 3-7.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Kenyatta Phillips (associate head coach/special teams); Bryan Brown (defensive coordinator/linebackers); Derrick Greene (offensive coordinator/receivers); Brian Simon (defensive tackles); Coleman Camp (defensive ends/special teams); Cleatus Hopkins (offensive line); Calvin Poole (running backs); Nikki Carlisle (defensive line); Lewis Smith (defensive backs).
RETURNING STARTERS: Kenneth Towns (Sr., DB/WR); Chris Green (Sr., DT/OL); Dalviness Greene (Jr., RB/DB); Teven Hale (Sr., OL/DL); McKenny Martin (Sr., FB/DL); Derrick Akins (Sr., TE/DE); Devin Swan (Jr., OL/DL); Shannon Saunders (So., LB/RB); Don Mills (Jr., LB); Freddie Stephens (Sr., LB); De'Marcus Holloway (Sr., DL/OL); Kerry Bryd (Sr., DE/TE); Jamal Childs (Sr., DB/WR); Octerius Jackson (Sr., WR/DB).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Tarturino Wester (Jr., QB/DE); Taljon Cromer (Jr., QB); Jamie Roberts (Jr., OL/DL); Quentin Johnson (Sr., OL); Terry Wiley (Jr., P/K); Nytrellis Ross (Jr., DB/WR); Anthony Hill (Jr., DB/WR); Joshua Burton (Jr., DE/TE); Deen Worley (Jr., WR); Shombie Williams (Jr., OL/LB).
2011 WESTOVER HIGH SCHOOL PATRIOTS schedule
Today at Mitchell County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 3 at Albany, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 vs. Bainbridge, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Early County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 vs. Dougherty, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 29 vs. Worth County, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 vs. Crisp County, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Cairo, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Americus-Sumter, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 vs. Monroe, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.