The 2014 football season is just around the corner, and hopes are high all across the Peach State. For the Westfield Hornets hopes are also high, but they are also a little different this season. They have now gone from the hunter to the hunted. After trying year in and year out to try and break through that championship barrier, Westfield did just that and beat their longtime nemesis Stratford for their first football state championship in school history.
Well, last year was just that… last year. It is not time to live in the past, it is time to look forward to the future. In this season preview, I will highlight the new region, the offensive and defensive key losses and impact players, as well some preseason predictions on how the schedule will turn out.
CHANGE IN REGION
The biggest change to the GISA and to the Hornets this year will be the absence of the Macon schools. Tattnall Square Academy, Mount De Sales Academy, and Stratford Academy have all decided to move to the GHSA ranks, and as a result, caused a ripple effect of changes in the GISA. Westfield will now have to get used to seeing some new region matchups in the form of Westiminister, Gatewood, John Milledge, Flint River, and Augusta Prep.
At first glance it might not sound like much, but there are a few good teams in the new region. Westfield will most likely be the team to beat, but watch out for John Milledge, Flint River, and Gatewood. John Milledge went 11-1 last season, and beat some quality opponents including Tattnall by 4 touchdowns and Mount de Sales by 25 points. Flint River and Gatewood also had solid seasons while both went 7-3.
Bottom line… there will be good football and quality opponents to play this season, just make sure your GPS is primed and ready to find these new locations.
KEY OFFENSIVE LOSSES AND IMPACT PLAYERS
Key Losses: RB Chandler Duggan, RB Stuart Smith, FB Drew McCrory, OL Bert Hiley, OL Payton Wainwright
Without a doubt the biggest loss to the 2014 Hornets football team will be in the offensive backfield. Chandler Duggan returned to Westfield after a few years in northwest Georgia to run wild on GISA defenses. The moment a seam opened up, there was no catching #17.
Not to be overshadowed however, Stuart Smith and Drew McCrory both were just as valuable as Chandler. Smith ran wild on Southland early in the season and had multiple times where he racked up touchdowns in crucial situations. McCrory was the workhorse that Coach Jones went to any time he needed a few yards, and Drew rarely disappointed. The loss of the “big three” in the 2013 Westfield backfield will be tough to replicate in 2014.
Two guys that helped to open some of those running lanes were Bert Hiley and Payton Wainwright. These two would alternate in and out at guard throughout the season, and provided the young offensive line some stability and leadership. Those intangibles is what will be missed most from these two integral parts of the 2013 state championship team.
Impact Players: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Giles Amos, FB Josh Jenkins, ATH Tanner Westbrook, C Cameron Washington
While replacing the offensive backfield will be tough, Westfield will have no issue with the offensive aerial attack from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Going into the season opener last year, it was a neck and neck battle between Fitzpatrick and Tanner Westbrook. The battle only lasted one half of football however, and Ryan seized the moment. With such weapons as Giles Amos, Cam Forester, and Gavin Edmonson to throw to this season, I see no reason that Ryan won’t have an even bigger year this year.
The #1 target for Fitzpatrick is sure to be Giles Amos. Amos came on the scene last year and proved to be one of the top players in all of GISA. With his ability to go up and get the ball, and then the ability to run away and through defenders, Amos will be a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. In my opinion, Giles has to be the preseason GISA AAA Player of the Year. At the very worst, he will command so much attention that he will make things easier on his teammates.
One of my most favorite guys on the entire teams is this guy: FB Josh Jenkins. As you might have heard in the movie Rudy, “you’re five foot nothing, 100 and nothing, but you got more heart than the whole team put together”. If that doesn’t sum up Josh Jenkins, I don’t know what does. I expect big things out of Jenkins this year as he should assume the starting fullback role. Josh will fire out of the backfield like he is shot out of a cannon, and have the ability to be a true home run hitter. One area of weakness may be ball security, but if he gets that under control, he could easily put up 75 yards per game on the ground.
If Jenkins is Rudy, then Tanner Westbrook is the Martin Prado of the Westfield football team. Westbrook can, and will, play any position on the football field. Not only will he play it, he will play it well. I would imagine that he will be a favorite to assume one of the wingback roles in Coach Jones offense this season, and he will be counted on heavily to be that senior leader to this offense.
The final guy I predict to be an impact player on offense this season is Cameron Washington. Cam is a big boy. Not only is he big though, he is quick, strong, and very smart. He is the key to calling out protections and ensuring his teammates know their assignments. As he continues to grow and build his confidence, I think Cam will be an even better football player. Expect big things from #78 this year, he won’t disappoint.
KEY DEFENSIVE LOSSES AND IMPACT PLAYERS
Key Losses: DE Payton Wainwright, DE Charlie Ayer, LB Bert Hiley
Anytime you lose your two starting DEs that is tough to replace. It becomes even harder when those two guys are Charlie Ayer and Payton Wainwright. Charlie and Payton both had non-stop motors and would chase down the ball carrier all over the field. If you include Bert Hiley in that mix, Westfield loses 3 of their top 5 tacklers from the season. In total that is 200 total tackles and 37 tackles for loss that will be missing from this year’s team. Who will be the guys that will step up in their places?
Impact Players: LB Wade Walker, LB Conner Cawthon, CB Tanner Westbrook, CB Tucker Moody, FS Giles Amos
The brightest spot on defense last season in my opinion was the play of Wade Walker. He fits in the Josh Jenkins mold of not being the biggest guy on the field, but he led the team in tackles last season with 110 and had 16 tackles for loss. Any time a ball carrier was going down within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, you could almost bet that Wade was in on the stop. I expect Wade to build on his great season last year, and be the leader of the defense this year.
The next guy in line in intensity behind Wade Walker would have to be Conner Cawthon. Cawthon places like his hair is on fire, and just runs wild all over the field making plays. He had 60 tackles last year, and I expect him to creep up closer to that 100 mark this year as he begins to play a little more disciplined and is relied on more heavily as a leader along with Wade.
The two CBs for Westfield last season were two of the best playmakers in GISA. Luckily for Westfield, those two guys return. CBs Tanner Westbrook and Tucker Moody accounted for a combined 9 interceptions and make it extremely difficult on opposing quarterbacks to find open receivers. Tucker is one of the strongest individuals on God’s green earth with what he has gone through, and as he will be in his second full season since his heart issues, he should be more confident and play even better this year. The sky is the limit for these two shut down cornerbacks.
The final impact player on defense will be the tallest guy on the field: Giles Amos. Just as Giles creates mismatches on the offensive side of the ball, he does just the same on the defensive side of the ball. Giles is 6’4, extremely athletic, and loves to make the big hit (remember the playoff game against Trinity-Sharpsburg?). If a quarterback is pressured and decides to just throw the ball up for grabs, Amos should be in for a treat and an easy interception.
Week 1 vs Southland
Talk about a tough way to start… Westfield will have their hands full with their former region-mate in the Southland Raiders. While the Hornets beat up on the Raiders in Americus early in the season last year, Southland put up quite a fight in the GISA State Semifinal. I predict a tough out of region game with the Hornets having to work hard for this season opening win. In the end though, Westfield wins this one at the Hornets Nest.
Week 2 vs Valwood
Here is another tough matchup as Westfield takes on the GISA AA State Runner-up from a year ago. The Valiants will be ready to play and could very well sneak out of Perry with a W. Wetfield wins this one too, but not by much.
Week 3 at Trinity-Sharpsburg
The first road game of the season will also be a very tough test. Westfield was able to defeat Trinity behind a great performance from the defensive backfield. The Hornets will win this one in their first road game of the year.
Week 4 vs Deerfield-Windsor
This is the game that is always circled on the schedule for Westfield. The Hornets broke through with a big win last year, but it will be tough to duplicate that effort this season. My gut feeling says this is going to be a game that comes down to the wire, and Deerfield comes up with that one extra play to win.
Week 6 vs Bulloch Academy
After having to stew on the loss to their rival over a bye week, Westfield will come out and make short work of the Gators. The Hornets can pick a score in this one.
Week 7 at Westminister
Opening up region play will bring the Hornets to Augusta to take on Westminister. I don’t foresee any problems with this one as Westfield will come away with an easy win.
Week 8 vs Gatewood
Welcome to the Hornets Next, Gatewood! Gatewood is a solid team, but Westfield will be rude hosts and take care of the new region foe.
Week 9 at John Milledge
This is the game that will decide the #1 seed in the region. John Milledge will play well in front of their home crowd, but I think Westfield will show the same resolve they showed in the state title game and sneak out of there with a win.
Week 10 at Flint River
Trap game! Coach Jones will have to have his team ready for this one, and as they will be emotionally and physically drained after the previous week’s game against John Milledge. Westfield will have to be ready to go, and I think they will.
Week 11 vs Augusta Prep
Easy win to wrap up the season. Westfield will have to make sure not to incur any injuries, and just be ready for the playoffs.
STATE TITLE #2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!