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Westover hopes strong defense will carry team

Patriots return six starters from stout 2013 unit

Westover High School’s defensive line, anchored by Georgia commitment Trent Thompson, second from right, should be the team’s biggest strength this season. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

Westover High School’s defensive line, anchored by Georgia commitment Trent Thompson, second from right, should be the team’s biggest strength this season. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Senior Jysanti Richardson will anchor a young defensive secondary. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

ALBANY — In 2013, the Westover High School defense was the backbone that helped the Patriots to a 9-3 season and the first region football title in school history.

But that was last season.

“We can’t live off last year,” Parks said. “We’ve set the bar high for this class. We’re working to get it.”

With six returning starters, a strong defensive line and a solid group of linebackers returning, Westover hopes to be even better this fall. It also helps to have the nation’s top recruit for the Class of 2015 — Georgia commitment Trent Thompson — on your side at defensive tackle.

WESTOVER PATRIOTS

• REGION: GHSA Region 1-AAAA

2013 RECORD: 9-3; lost to Stockbridge 35-0 in second round

COACH: Octavia Jones (5th season)

RETURNING STARTERS: DT Trent Thompson (Sr., 6-3, 305); DE Malik Cunningham (Sr., 6-0, 192); DT Djimon Greene (Jr., 6-2, 246); OLB Antravious Parks (Sr., 6-0, 225); DB Jysanti Richardson (Sr., 6-0, 172); MLB Otis Glenn (Sr., 5-7, 180); C Courtland Hughley (Sr., 5-10, 283); G Desmond Leggett (Jr., 5-9, 330); OT Detravious Greene (Sr., 6-4, 228); WR Tracy Brown (Sr., 5-7, 151)

TOP NEWCOMERS: QB Emory McKenzie (Jr., 6-2, 205); TE/DE Jarvis Reid (Jr., 6-3, 211); WR Devantae Seay (Jr., 5-10, 161); OT Stephen Colbert (Sr., 5-10, 297); WR/DB Travionte Brown (Jr., 5-11, 151); DE Terrence Mosley (Jr., 5-11, 220)

2014 SCHEDULE:

Aug. 23 – at Lee County

Sept. 5 – at Jonesboro

Sept. 12 – at Northside-Columbus

Sept. 19 — Cairo

Sept. 26 – at Monroe

Oct. 10 – at Americus-Sumter

Oct. 18 – Worth County

Oct. 24 – Dougherty

Oct. 31 – Bainbridge

Nov. 7 – Region Play-in

Thompson will anchor a front that also includes senior Malik Cunningham and junior Djimon Greene.

One area on defense that will be thin as far as experience, however, is in the secondary, where defensive back Jysanti Richardson is the lone returner. But the Patriots have a solid corps of underclassmen waiting for their opportunity.

Last season, after Westover started the season 1-2, the defense did not allow an opponent to score more than 17 points in a game during an eight-game winning streak. In fact, opponents were held to single digits in five of the eight wins.

The defense was instrumental in a big 14-9 victory over Cairo on Sept. 27, a game that ultimately decided the region title. Then it held off Worth County late in the year in a 24-17 win that clinched the school’s first region championship.

Patriot coach Octavia Jones believes the 2014 defense could be better than last season.

“It’s probably the best front we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Jones said. “We’ve had pieces here and there during previous years. This year, as a unit, we have a chance to be the best.”

After last year’s effort, what do the Patriots do for an encore?

“It’s up to us,” Richardson said. “Last year, that was last year’s seniors’ team. It’s our turn now to step up to the plate.”

There aren’t as many returners on offense, where there are some key positions to fill. Quarterback Ta’Keevian Harris, wide receiver Mike Green and running back Shannon Saunders all have graduated. But the good news is that whoever wins starting roles in the skill positions will have a solid offensive line in front of them.

Seniors Courtland Hughley and Detravious Greene return at center and tackle, respectively, while junior Desmond Leggett returns at guard.

Until the offense has time to mature, however, Westover coaches are hoping the team’s strong defense will help shoulder the burden.

“The first thing we established is that the defense is the thing we want to hang our hats on,” Jones said. “Of course, we want to score on offense, but the defense is what is going to keep folks out of the end zone until the offense has a chance to score.”

The Patriot defense wants to help the offense mature, then improve on the statistics that last season’s team compiled.

“They want to be stingier,” Jones said. “We talk about shutouts and goose eggs all the time. They’ve set goals for themselves, which we talk about all the time. But the accomplishments that last year’s team did, those were last year’s seniors’ accomplishments. This group has not accomplished anything yet.

“In order for them to leave their legacy, they’ve got to win the state title or win region again.”