Jimmy Williams knew just what he was getting into when he took the job as head football coach at West Johnston.
Moving to the helm last season after spending two seasons as defensive coordinator under Randy Ragland, Williams had watched the Wildcat program’s journey during most of the 14 seasons when he was head coach at East Wake.
Last season the Wildcats went 4-7, missing out on the state 4A playoffs largely because of a six-point loss to East Wake. But that was kind of a typical season for West, which opened in 2002. The Wildcats are 0-3 all-time in playoff games, all on the road.
“We had a lot of transition last year with verbiage and how we call plays, and that’s gone,” said Williams, who is now in his first season as athletic director and will direct the East team in the N.C. Coaches Association All-Star game next summer. “It’s been a very smooth transition from last year to this year, in terms of knowing the scheme and understanding the terminology. It’s been very helpful and I’m very happy with that.
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“I think we’re a little bit more physical than we were last year, and we were pretty physical so I feel good about that. That’s something you have to pound every day, to get them to live that mentality.”
The Wildcats have an experienced nucleus returning, with six starters back on offense and seven on defense. Key losses from last season’s seniors include kicker Alex Mattes, who is now at East Carolina, and tight end Josh Banfalvy, now at Old Dominion.
They should have solid leadership in senior Cameron Williams, who switched from running back to quarterback in the middle of last season. Coach Williams said Cameron, who will also handle some kicking duties, will play full-time at outside linebacker as well.
“He’ll play defense because we need to win,” the coach said of the quarterback, who had 615 yards total offense and ran for nine TDs last season. “He’s a special athlete with good speed, and is very physical. He’s a competitor, and he wants to win here. I wish I had a team full of Cameron Williamses.”
The quarterback is one of five Wildcats who should see plenty of action on both sides of the ball.
Senior Tre Frederick, who had 299 receiving and 102 rushing yards for five total TDs last season, will play tailback and cornerback, while classmate Brandon Baucom will play slotback and outside linebacker. Both senior Dylan Lawrence and junior Jake Strickland will double at tight end and outside linebacker.
“Depth is an issue,” the coach said. “We can’t play as fast as I want to be yet because we’ve got guys going both ways. We’re going to play the best players, but we have some ‘No. 2s’ that can step up and give them rest.
“Our first 11 on defense will be good, and our first 11 on offense will be good if the line comes around.”
Junior left tackle Zach Olsen (6-foot-1, 270 pounds) and senior Mike O’Brien (6-1, 220) — who plays center and guard, will anchor the offensive line.
Sophomore Andre Wilson will back up Cameron Williams under center.
Other top defensive returnees include seniors end Sam Campbell (6-5, 230), tackle Nay Fuller (6-0, 275) and safety Josh Collier.
“Campbell has three offers already,” Coach Williams said of the champion wrestler. “He’s the kind who looks great just getting off the bus.”
The coach said he figures Garner is the favorite to win the Greater Neuse River 4A while just about every other place is up in the air.
“For us it’s all about the first three games (non-conference matchups against county rivals Smithfield-Selma, South Johnston and Cleveland),” he said. “Our effort’s been good, and when it’s good you can fix everything else. We’ve talked a lot about how to finish a game, because so many of our games were close. I think our kids were a little surprised last year when they were as competitive as they were. I just hope we’re going to be able to seal the deal in close games this year.”