Westover star LB and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Don Mills and the Pats open Saturday vs. Tift County. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Counting down to kickoff
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at WESTOVER marks the 25th of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section during the final few days as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Friday, we’ll conclude our weeks of previewing the season with a final story on HERALD NO. 1 MONROE. Enjoy!
ALBANY — The entire Westover football team was in Americus attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer camp recently, and the kids had a free Friday night off to just hang out and relax.
That’s what coach Octavia Jones thought he would see when he walked into the players’ main room.
“I thought they would be playing video games or hanging out talking and having a good time, but when I walked in there, they were all in there watching the film of (last year’s) Cairo game,’’ Jones said. “That lets you know they want it. They want to go after it.’’
Cairo, the perennial powerhouse of the region for years, was unbeaten in 1-AAA and in first place last season when it came to Albany to face the Patriots, headed for the region title when Westover shocked the powerhouse Syrupmakers with a 20-0 halftime lead. Cairo, which eventually made it to the Final Four last season, came back in the second half and won the game, 28-20.
It was the ultimate feeling about the one that got away.
“We wanted to see that Cairo game and remember how it felt,’’ said tight end/defensive end Josh Burton, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior. “We don’t want that to ever happen again. We know we just have to put forth the effort.’’
That game — and really all of last season — stung at Westover, where they’re trying to take the program to another level. That was the idea when Jones showed up three years ago. Westover has had only four winning seasons in its history, and with any luck the Patriots would have had one a year ago.
They went 4-6 and lost five games by a total of 20 points, including a 23-20 three overtime loss to Class AAAA Bainbridge, which went to the playoffs, and two-point losses to Early County (21-19) and Americus-Sumter (14-12), as well as a five-point loss (23-18) to Worth County.
“We could have been 8-2 or even 9-1,’’ Jones said. “But I’m not satisfied that we played teams close. We want to win those games.’’
Monroe beat Westover on the final day of the season, ending Westover’s playoff hopes, and Jones said the road back to this season began that night.
“After the Monroe game we told the players to remember this feeling all of the off-season so you won’t have this feeling again next year,’’ he said.
They got back to work three days later.
“They were hurting and they are hungry,’’ Jones said.
But they were together.
“This team has a much stronger bond than last year’s team. We have come together and believe in each other,’’ defensive back Nytrellis Ross said. “We talked a lot at the FCA camp. We discussed everything. I think we will be better because of the senior leadership and because of that bond.’’
Jones believes it, too.
“We definitely feel like we’re better,’’ Jones said. “All of our guys have 100 percent bought into the system of what we’re doing. Last year, we probably had more talent, but this year’s team will win more games — and is more disciplined.
“They’re buying into doing it our way, and they understand the team concept. This is the third year, and this is the year you should start to see more of the fruits of your labor. I’m pretty excited about the season. I’m having a hard time sleeping at night. I can’t wait for the season to begin.’’
Right in the middle of all that pain from last year — and the new adrenaline pumping into this year’s team — is a pretty talented group that could make a name for itself. Westover returns six on offense and six on defense, including Don Mills, a 6-1, 215-pound senior who is one of the top linebackers in this part of the state, and running back Dalviness Greene, who ran for 1,021 yards last year despite suffering a knee injury that sidelined him down the stretch. Both are Herald Dynamite Dozen selections.
Greene might not rush for as much this year because the backfield is that crowded with the addition of Quantavious Moran, a 5-9, 150-pound junior, and Jaelon Benjamin, a 5-9, 160-pound.
“We’ve got other running backs,’’ Jones said. “We are going to split it up a little more and give (Greene) some help. I want him healthy at the end of the year. We’re looking to go to the playoffs.’’
Quarterback T.J. Wester, who started seven games and threw for more than 600 yards last year, is also back, and Jones believes Westover’s aerial numbers will be up this season.
“(Wester) is much better,’’ Jones said. “He’s stronger, he’s making throws he wasn’t making last year and we’re catching the ball much better. Our receivers are (also) much better this season.’’
Jones expects Burton, a defensive end who is now also playing tight end, and Jackie Childs, a defensive back turned receiver, to boost the air game, but the Patriots will make their living on the ground.
“We’re going to run the ball,’’ Jones said. “That’s our bread and butter. That’s our identity. That’s who we are.’’
The Patriots bring back three starters on the offensive line, including all-region and Herald All-Area lineman Devin Swan, a 5-10, 225-pound guard, Shombie Williams, a 5-11, 220-pound center, and Jamie Roberts, a 6-3, 330-pound senior. The Patriots are also expecting big things from Trenton Thompson, a 6-3, 270-pound sophomore.
“I think this team will be better,’’ Greene said. “We’re hungry and we want this to be our year.’’
Swan will play some at tackle on defense, and Burton returns at defensive end. Brenton Wimbley, a 5-11, 180-pound junior, moves from linebacker to the other defensive end spot. Jones plans on using several kids at defensive tackle, where he will rotate as many as seven players in the two tackle spots. Jakori Barron, a transfer student from Martin Luther King Jr. High in Atlanta who sat out last year, will start at linebacker, and Antravious Parks, who played some at linebacker as a freshman, returns.
Mills, who has already received interest from Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and other schools, is the key and biggest force on defense. He made 118 tackles last year and is expected to be even better as a senior.
“He’s going to be our leader,’’ Jones said. “He’s got the size and the ability to make the play, and he has the brains to go with it. He has a 4.0 GPA.’’
The secondary is one of Westover’s strength with the return of Kel Miller, who had six interceptions last year, Anthony Hill and Ross, who saw playing time as well.
Jones believes in his defense, and he thinks Westover will have an edge in close games with kicker Tanner Stumpe, a junior who was hitting 40-yard field goals in practice this summer.
“We hang our hat on our defense,’’ Jones said. “We plan on being in the game.’’
And he plans on something else.
“I feel like this team is going to put the program where it needs to be — in the playoffs,’’ he said.
Westover's 2012 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Octavia Jones (3rd season as head coach at Westover, 3rd season overall; 7-13 career record).
2011 RECORD: 4-6.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Kenyatta Phillips (associate head coach); Bryan Brown (defensive coordinator); Derrick Greene (offensive coordinator); Coleman Camp (DL); Cleatus Hopkins (OL); Calvin Poole (RBs); Jeff Hunter (DBs); Nick Carlisle (assistant); Lewis Smith (assistan); Matthew Hawthorne (special teams) .
RETURNING STARTERS: T.J. Wester (Sr., QB); Dalviness Greene (Sr., RB); Jamie Roberts (Sr., OL); Shombie Williams (Sr., OL); Jackie Childs (Sr., WR); Josh Burton (Sr., DE); Kel Miller (Sr., DB); Anthony Hill (Sr., DB); Jay Cunningham (Sr., DB); Don Mills (Sr., LB); Antravious Parks (So., LB).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Jaelon Benjamin (Jr., RB/DB); Trent Thompson (So., OL/DL); D.J. Harris (Sr., OL/DL); Nytrellis Ross (Sr., DB); Brenten Wilmberly (Jr., DE/TE); Jakori Barron (Sr., LB/FB); Jaquri Shingles (Jr., WR); Toney Mosley Jr. (Jr., OL/DL); Anthony Morgan (Jr., LB/FB); Julian Colwell (Jr., DB/WR); T.J. Cromer (Sr., QB).
PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: Trent Brown (OL, Middle Georgia College, committed to UGA); Chris Green (DL, Lenoir-Rhyne).
2012 Westover Patriots' schedule
Saturday vs. Tift County, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 vs. Jonesboro, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 vs. Lee County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 vs. Monroe, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Cairo, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Crisp County, 8 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Americus-Sumter, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 vs. Dougherty, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 at. Worth County (1-AAAA), 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 10 vs. Albany, 7 p.m.
-- BOLD denotes GHSA Region 1-AAAA game