Westwood football coach Ross Worsham has directed his team to 26 straight wins and two straight state championships, but all of that winning streak will be on the line tonight when he goes up against Piedmont Academy, which has its own 26-game winning streak.
Counting down to kickoff
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at Westwood and Terrell County marks the 18th and 19th of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section during the next week as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Saturday, we’ll take a one-day break from season previews for Week 1 game action from eight area teams but will resume the series of previews Sunday with a closer look at Miller County and Seminole County. Enjoy!
CAMILLA — Ross Worsham has his own way of looking at things — even if it is from a lofty perch.
After all, his Westwood Wildcats haven’t lost a game in two years.
“Everybody says when you’re on top the only place you can go is down,’’ Worsham said. “But that’s not true. You can stay on top.’’
That’s what they believe in Camilla, where Westwood has put together an incredible run, winning back-to-back GISA Class A state titles with identical 13-0 seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Westwood moves up to Class AA this season, and after capturing titles and the imagination of the Camilla community and all of GISA with a streak for the ages, Worsham isn’t sitting still. His kids will put all that and more on the line in the opening game of the season tonight when they meet Piedmont Academy, which pulled off the same magic in Class AA over the last two seasons, going 26-0 and winning a pair of state titles.
“We’ve won 52 games in a row between us,’’ Worsham said. “And both streaks will be on the line.’’
Expect a big crowd at Centennial Stadium this evening in Camilla, where somebody’s streak will die. You would have to be crazy or crazy like a fox to schedule this game.
Worsham said it just seemed like a good idea to play Piedmont.
“We were both having a hard time scheduling non-region games,’’ Worsham said. “Some teams just wouldn’t play us. We were at (the coaches meetings) in Macon in March, and we got to talking about it, and we both felt it would be a heck of a matchup. So we did it.’’
Opening night is going to feel like a playoff game. If there wasn’t already a lot of pressure on this year’s Westwood team to keep the streak alive, now the Wildcats face the best AA program in GISA.
“That first game is definitely the most pressure. Somebody’s streak is going to end,’’ said Chason Worsham, the coach’s son who plays running back, defensive back and also handles the kickoffs and extra points. “I like that pressure. I think we perform better under pressure.’’
That’s the only way to go 26-0.
Chason is back after gaining more than 500 yards on the ground as a freshman, but his older brother, Mason, is gone. Mason was a four-year starter at quarterback and the winner of the Herald’s People’s Choice Award for Player of the Year.
It was a huge loss, because of his experience, talent and savvy. Mason simply didn’t get rattled and always seemed to make the play when his team needed it most.
The kid who replaces him is cut from the same cloth.
Mitch Good (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) saw plenty of time in a backup role last year as a junior, and he has that same easy-going nature as Mason, the kind that can steady a team in a storm. It doesn’t hurt that he also has a strong arm and a lot of talent.
“Mitch is a lot like Mason in that things don’t bother him. He has that relaxed composure. He’s a real level-headed kid,’’ Ross Worsham said. “He knows the offense. He’s a smart kid, and he was on the field a lot last year as a receiver and quarterback. He’s got a good arm and can run, too. We feel good about our quarterback.’’
The Wildcats lost nine seniors — the most they have had in Worsham’s seven years as the head coach — but bring back six seniors and a ton of talented underclassmen. Seven starters are back on each side of the ball.
“We lost nine seniors, and they were all key players for us,’’ the coach said. “But we’ve got underclassmen who played last year. We feel like we’ve got enough to compete.’’
The team’s leading rusher is only a junior, but J.T. Edore has had two solid seasons in the backfield, and he’s bigger (12 pounds heavier at 190) and stronger this year. He gained 1,254 yards and had a whopping 8.47 yards-per-carry average in 2011 while scoring 29 touchdowns.
The expectations are bigger this year.
“He’s as strong as a bull,’’ Ross Worsham said. “He gained 12 pounds, and it’s all muscle. We’re looking for a big year from J.T.’’
Edore also returns as an outside linebacker, and he will handle the punting, which will make every team think twice about a possible fake.
“We lost some good seniors, but I think we can be better,” Edore said. “The schedule is definitely harder. We know the pressure is on us. Some people think we’re going to get lazy thinking the winning is just going to come. But we worked hard this summer to push ourselves. We are going to stay hungry.’’
If there was any chance of growing complacent, the coach took care of the problem by starting with a mammoth test against state power Piedmont.
Suddenly, everything is on the line from the opening kickoff.
“Everyone knows about this game,’’ Edore said. “It gives us more to fight for, more motivation. There’s pressure going into this game. We have to keep our cool and fight through it.’’
The Wildcats, however, may face an even tougher opponent in Week 2 of the season when they travel to Macon to play Stratford, the state runner-up in Class AAA last year.
Worsham said his team had its best summer of workouts since he has been at the school, and he went the extra mile by having all of his players go through a six-week intensive workout of agility skills at the Athletic Republic, a facility in Lee County that specializes in training athletes for different sports. Worsham said every team should go through the regimen at Athletic Republic, which has 172 training facilities worldwide — but only one in Georgia.
The kids felt the same way.
“We pushed each other,’’ Chason said. “We have all known each other since we were little kids. We know what each other can do. We lost a lot, but we had a lot of people mature and step up this summer.’’
Coach Worsham knows he has enough experience coming back. His offensive line has a chance to excel. Jamie Davis (6-4, 245) is an anchor on defense at middle linebacker and the biggest brick in the wall at offensive tackle. Davis is a two-year starter, and he’s only a junior.
The other tackle is also a Davis — James Davis, a 6-5, 195-pound senior who started on the defensive line and saw playing time at right tackle on offense last year.
The anchor on the OL is Dylan Larkin (6-0, 200), a four-year starter who returns at center. Two young players take over the guard spots: Jaques Irvin (5-11, 205) and Johnny Hendricks (6-0, 210), both of whom are sophomores. Irvin played guard and linebacker last year, and Hendricks saw time with the defense as a freshman.
Edore and Worsham will carry most of the load, but Good can throw, and he will have Ridge Collins, a sophomore who made 20 catches for 250 yards last year. Senior Kaleb Bentley (6-2, 170) will be the other primary target. Junior Dylan Smith, meanwhile, will see time at running back and receiver.
Worsham’s defense could be even better than a year ago when it gave up an average of just 7.5 points in the regular season. The biggest losses were Mason in the secondary and Daniel Hays at linebacker, but there’s plenty back for defensive coordinator Earl Ford.
Edore, Jamie Davis, and Irvin are back at the linebacker spots, and Davis is a monster at that position, where he made 65 tackles a year ago and had a dozen plays for losses, including two sacks. James Davis, Larkin and junior Zachary Hembree will play up front, and Chason, Collins, Bentley, Good and Smith will man the secondary.
“We lost a lot,’’ Ross Worsham said. “But we feel if we get better every week and stay healthy, I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.
“We’re definitely confident and expect to win every time we step on the field. And that means a lot. If you look at programs that win, you will see they have that. Even if — and I emphasize if — you haven’t got as much talent, having those expectations of winning every time you step on the field will carry us a long way.’’
Westwood’s 2012 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Ross Worsham (7th season at Westwood and overall — 54-21 career record).
2011 RECORD: 13-0.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Earl Ford (defensive coordinator); Mickey Davis (OL); Glenn Davis (LB); Matthew Gay; Brett Shiver.
RETURNING STARTERS: Mitch Good (Sr., QB); J.T. Edore (Jr., RB); Jamie Davis (Jr., LB); Chason Worsham (So., RB); Kaleb Bentley (Sr., WR); Brody Collins (Sr., WR); Dylan Larkin (Sr., C); Jacques Irvin (So., G).
other key players: Dylan Smith (Jr., CB); Ridge Collins (So., WR); Ralph Collins (Jr., QB); James Davis (Sr., OL).
PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: Mason Worsham (Fr., QB, Valdosta State).
2012 WESTWOOD WILDCATS’ Schedule
Aug. 24 vs. Piedmont Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Stratford Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Dawson Street Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 vs. Windsor Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Tiftarea Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 vs. Brookwood, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Sherwood, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Valwood, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 at SGA, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Terrell Academy, 7:30 p.m.
BOLD denotes GISA Region 3-AA game