OAKWOOD — The West Hall Spartans are forgetting last year even happened.
There was brief talk about the winless season prior to the opening of fall practice, but coach Mike Newton knows this year won’t be like the last.
“That’s over with,” Newton said. “I told them that the first day of practice was the first day to make the playoffs, and that’s what I believe and that’s what I want the kids to start to believe.”
And this year it’s all about team, as Newton said the Spartans “have to pull together and play as 11.”
West Hall is just two years removed from a 3-0 start, and with quarterback Shunquez Stephens still at quarterback, Newton thinks his team will benefit from the new play-in game that decides playoff seeds.
“Everybody still has a chance in the second half of the season,” he said.
Throughout his high school career, Stephens knew he’d enter the season as the starting quarterback. This year, he might be expected to do more.
So far during practice, Stephens has lined up at quarterback, tight end and linebacker and Newton said they have some “other things” they want to do with him, especially since the Spartans have a viable backup quarterback in Chandler Newton.
“I feel good about our offense in general,” the coach said. “We can do more things this year.”
Expect the Spartans to stick to their spread attack, especially with the wealth of receivers and running backs on the roster. Returning starters Brandon Fuqua and William Stroup will be joined on the receiving corps by Zack English, who has shown throughout the offseason he can contribute. Fuqua is the team’s leading returning receiver after a breakout year in 2009 when he caught 52 balls for 607 yards and five touchdowns.
Replacing senior running back Marquise Young are Dre Pou and Antonio Pittman, who are both capable of filling the void. Young was the team’s second leading rusher last year and with 359 yards, one touchdown and an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Stephens was the team’s leading rusher with 422 yards and three scores.
The Spartans only averaged 19.9 points per game last year, which was down from 21.9 the year before. With a defense still under construction, West Hall’s offense might be relied on to keep the games competitive.
If the head coach feels good about the offense, the complete opposite is true about the defense that has received a complete overhaul.
The Spartans changed defensive schemes to a multiple front 3-4, and Newton has taken over control of a unit that surrendered 43.8 points per game last year.
“We’re really focusing a lot on defense,” Newton said. “We have 11 jerseys and each kid has to earn the right to wear that jersey.”
So far, no one has. Which is why the majority of the offensive players — like Stephens, English and Chandler Newton — may see time on defense.
“The defense is really open,” Mike Newton said. “It’s a big competition, and we’re going to put the best 11 on defense.”
When fall practice opened, Newton had no clue who his kicker would be. A week later, he had his answer.
Connor Kirkland was impressive enough in practice to earn the starting job of kicking extra points and field goals, while Ishmail Miranda will handle the kickoff duties.
Anything more than a winless season will be considered a step in the right direction, but if Stephens plays like he’s done in the past, then the Spartans will certainly be competitive in several games.