By Nathan Berg
There will be a change in the guard at West Hall, as former offensive coordinator Krofton Montgomery takes over after former head coach Tony Lotti moved on to Apalachee. In his new position, Montgomery hopes to continue the winning culture established at West Hall by Lotti and bring the program to its sixth straight playoff appearance.
In fact, after turning in a 5-6 overall record, including a first-round playoff loss to St. Pius X a season ago, Montgomery even has his eyes set on improving his team’s final standing this year.
“You’re never happy with a 5-6 record,” he said. “Always want to be on the winning side of that.”
Montgomery will have to accomplish that with a bit of a roster turnover along the offensive line after losing right tackle Josh Taylor and center Corey Davis — who Montgomery called the team’s “spark plug” — to graduation. The team will also be without linebacker Austin Sinclair — West Hall’s leading tackler from the 2017 season — as well as safety and wide receiver Cameron Shirley, who Montgomery referred to as “a field general, offensively and defensively.”
Montgomery said replacing those players won’t be easy, but it’s not something he or the rest of his team will be dwelling on.
“It’s just next man in,” he said. “That’s got to be the mentality.
The road won’t be an easy one for the Spartans, competing in the rugged Region 7-4A, especially with back-to-back matchups against last season’s state champion and state runner-up Blessed Trinity and Marist, respectively, looming. West Hall will look to improve upon its 1-3 region record from last year in an effort to secure a higher playoff seeding and make a deeper push into the state tournament.
After going down three scores to St. Pius X early in last year’s playoff loss, Montgomery’s offense rallied to score 28 in the second half. Although the rally wasn’t enough to secure a win for West Hall, Montgomery said he thought in that second half, “the drum started beating a little bit.” Montgomery hopes to keep the drum beat going strong in his first season as head coach.
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Montgomery said he doesn’t plan on completely scrapping Lotti’s offensive scheme, though there will be a new look on that side of the ball for West Hall in the coming year.
“We’ve made some changes philosophically with our Xs and Os,” he said.
The theme of Montgomery’s vision for change in the Spartans offense this year is balance. After going with an extremely run-heavy attack in 2017, he said he plans on trying to air the ball out more in the coming season. Montgomery hopes to move away from the Wing-T formation the Spartans often showcased last year and try to spread the offense out more.
“We were balanced a couple years ago, and I felt like we were a very dangerous offensive team a couple years ago,” Montgomery said. “People had to respect the long ball. They couldn’t pack the box as much, and we want to get back to some of that.”
Senior Quentin Smith will take over as starting quarterback, allowing Michael Thompson — who played behind center quite a bit in 2017 — to spend more time at running back. Thompson will be part of a three-headed monster of a backfield, joining Solomon Riley and Braylon Powell in taking handoffs from Smith.
In terms of receiving playmakers, Montgomery said his squad has undergone a serious upgrade in terms of depth. He pointed to players like Braden Martin and Zach Lingle as new additions who will join three-year starter Jeremiah Prather in a wide receiver corps that will look to get more involved in a new offense that isn’t afraid to air the ball out more.
Upperclassmen Jackson Bartlett and Ricky Castillo will reprise their roles at left tackle and right guard respectively. Meanwhile, Matt Sinclair, the younger brother of the graduated Austin Sinclair, will slide into right tackle.
The emphasis for West Hall defensively, according to Montgomery, will be on tackling fundamentals. Montgomery said poor form tackling from his team against North Hall in the Spartans’ spring game prompted him to help the team get back to basics.
Good tacklers will be at a premium, considering the team will be without its leading tackler from a season ago in Austin Sinclair.
Montgomery also said his defense will play more quickly this year in an effort to make opposing offenses uncomfortable.
“We want to dictate to them that they’ve got to make decisions fast,” he said. “Whether that’s bring more heat, do different types of coverages.”
The hope, for Montgomery, is an opposing offense on its heels will commit more turnovers, which is what Montgomery refers to as a “stat that matters.”
To help improve his team’s turnover margin this season, Montgomery said he’s looking for breakout years in the secondary from Prather at cornerback as well as Solomon Riley at safety.
Montgomery said placekicking will be a major point of emphasis in the coming season, with Rodrigo Lopez stepping up from playing mostly junior varsity last season to take on kicking duties. After a shaky field goal percentage last year, Montgomery said the focus will be on being consistent on extra points and field goal tries within 35 yards. Prather, already expected to play a role on offense and defense, will take on punt return duties.
As Montgomery put it, “the cupboard’s not bare” when it comes to returning talent for the Spartans. The loss of Sinclair will be felt, but many key players will be returning on both sides of the ball, and West Hall will have plenty of seniors contributing on offense and defense.
Without any major changes in scheme, Montgomery’s squad should have every opportunity to continue its five-year streak of playoff appearances started by Lotti.