For coach Jimmy Williams, convincing his football players they can win, was taken care of last year as West Johnston tied a school record with eight wins.
As Williams enters his third year as coach, the program has a new attitude.
“We’ve got kids here who have never had a losing season going back to their first season as a (junior varsity) player,” Williams said. “I think in the past people would look at West Johnston and assume a win. With the way we played people, that’s not going to be the case. We’re not going to sneak up on people.”
The biggest change last year, Williams said, was winning close games. West Johnston (8-4) held fourth-quarter leads and finished third in the Greater Neuse River 4A with a 5-2 conference record.
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“We’ve won enough games now that we’re confident we can win a game in the fourth quarter. We’ve proven it to ourselves,” he said.
Fourteen seniors who helped lead West’s turnaround are gone, leaving some questions for the next group to answer. Quarterback Andre Wilson, who got almost half of last year’s snaps, is poised for a big year as is running back Tony Mack.
“We have extremely high expectations for (Wilson). We feel like he’s going to be able to get it done,” Williams said. “We’re going to let him call some plays from the line of scrimmage.”
Three of the Wildcats first four games do them little favor. Middle Creek, Cleveland and South Johnston all finished in the top three of their respective leagues last year. West Johnston opens at Smithfield-Selma, a team it beat 39-6 to start last season.
Should the Wildcats do well in those games, it would be another shot of confidence for a program that’s gaining more of it each year.
“They’ve never had a lot of success here starting off strong,” Williams said. “If we can start off strong I think we can parlay that into our conference.”
Offense: Spread multiple.
Defense: Multiple 4-man front.
Contributors: QB Andre Wilson; RB Tony Mack; TE Johnny Rose; OL Connor Denning; DL Jalen Pulley; DL Parker Keys; LB Jowann Holder; LB Jake Strickland; LB Quinton Brown; LB Josh Long; DB/WR Deandre Blevins.
Expected team strength: Linebackers.
Question mark: Wide receivers.
The main number: 48 – West allowed 48 or more points in three of its four losses, compared to allowing 19.9 per game in its eight wins.
Player they’ll miss the most: Cameron Williams. He ran, he passed, he defended, was named to the East-West All-Star game and won the N.C. High School Athletic Association sportsmanship award.
The quote: Williams: “I wouldn’t classify it as a very good year. A very good year is playing at Thanksgiving and beyond. But it was a very good year for West Johnston.”
Game to watch: Sept. 18 vs. Rolesville. The GNRC opener against a team with lots of potential could set the tone for the rest of the year.
Past five years
2014: 8-4 (5-2), 4A first round
2013: 4-7 (2-4)
2012: 3-7 (2-5)
2011: 7-4 (5-2), 4A first round
2010: 4-7 (3-4)
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Up next: Corinth Holders