2018 West Point Warrior football team, coaches and cheerleaders (RiverCat Photography)
WEST POINT – Football season has arrived and that means the West Point Warriors are eyeing a fifth straight playoff appearance this fall. The Warriors posted a 6-5 record last year after their season ended in round one against Brooks on the road and are anxious to build and improve on that experience in 2018. Head Coach Don Farley is entering his sixth season with the Warriors and likes the way this team is put together numbers-wise. He likes some of the things he saw during their spring game but said he will still need some inexperienced players to make an impact this year.
“We had a productive spring, finished with a tie in our spring game with Holly Pond. We had a lot of new faces playing in that game; we had close to 70 kids in the spring and all our kids got to play in that game and we found out a lot about ourselves,” Farley said. “We’ve still got some veteran guys but they’re young in terms of playing time. We’ve got 16 seniors and 13 juniors so we’re about 50/50 in terms of upperclassmen and underclassmen.”
The Warriors are entering Region 7 this year and with that comes a familiar, but difficult schedule. Farley has been preaching to his players all summer that this year’s schedule doesn’t have any spots for them to relax.
“We’re in a new region this year and for us it’s a mixture of teams that we’ve played the past two reclassifications. We’ve added Russellville and Lawrence County, and we’re familiar with those teams. We still have Hayden and Corner, we’ve added Jasper and Dora, and we’ve played Hamilton the last couple of years so it’s teams that we’re familiar with but it’s a very competitive region,” Farley said. “Everybody from top to bottom is a very solid, very well coached team so we’ve been stressing to our kids this summer that there aren’t going to be any off nights. You can’t afford to have a bad night.”
Farley and his staff will have to find three new faces to start on the offensive front this year, including a replacement for last season’s anchor, Deakon Hembree. Hembree earned a spot on the All State First Team last season. On the other side of the ball, depth in the front seven is Farley’s biggest concern.
“We lost three very good linemen last year, so our offensive line is kind of being remade. I played offensive line and these guys know how much we stress that it starts up front. The offensive is going to be huge for us this year, and we’ve had some guys stepping up for us there,” Farley said. “Of course, our defensive line is the same way. We’ve taken a hit with numbers in the last couple of years with defensive line depth. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about depth on the defensive side in our front seven. Our secondary’s coming back intact, and we feel pretty good about those guys. Our receiving corps, running backs and quarterbacks are strong so both sides of the line on offense and defense is where we are really looking for guys to step up. There are opportunities for guys to step up and we’re just looking for some depth. I’ve always told our players and our coaches to do a good job of developing depth, and we try to make sure that we have kids ready to play four quarters.”
The good news for the Warriors is they will have a lot of experience and production returning to the skill positions on offense. Farley is excited about the group of receivers he has this year, but the most notable returners are in the backfield.
“We have Hunter Persall returning this year. Hunter was a 2,100-yard rusher last year, lead 5A in rushing, All State player and he’s back so we’ll make sure he gets his touches in the game. We have Rylan Jones returning as our quarterback, and Rylan got a good season under his belt last year. He got to learn the speed of the game so we’re expecting some good things from him. Brayden Martin and Steven Rodriguez are back, and we need to make sure both of those guys get their touches to be able to help us in some areas,” Farley said. “We’ve got Michael Roberts coming back on the offensive line and he’ll be a senior so we’re looking to him for leadership on the offensive line this year. On the defensive line we’re really looking to Colby Jones to step up and be a leader for us and then Caleb Smith at linebacker is also coming back as a senior, so we’ll be looking for both of those guys to be leaders. Those are a couple that guys played last year that we’re excited about.”
Jones has been working on his mechanics as a passer in the offseason, but the team focus has been on working together. Jones and his team understand that a great team can’t be made up of individuals.
“I’ve been working on being a quicker passer. I’ve been known to hold the ball too long, but as a team our theme has been ’11 on the field, 11 strong.’ It’s not about a single person,” Jones said. “If our right tackle gets hurt, the next is going to step in and be just as good. It’s a team thing; it’s not about individuals.”
Jones plans to take his senior season one game at a time, but his biggest goal is to bring a postseason experience back to the home stadium.
“We believe this team can be the one that brings the home playoff game back to West Point,” Jones said. “It’s been a while and we believe if we keep working like we have been, we can do that this season.”
After the way the offseason preparation has gone for his team, Farley is optimistic that this year’s Warriors have a chance to do special things.
“We’ve had a great summer. We had really good attendance, the kids have worked really hard and I’m excited to see what happens,” Farley said. “We’ve made the playoffs four straight years, so we’re excited to see what this bunch can do and how they can put their mark on the program.”
2018 West Point football schedule
Aug. 23 v. Fairview
Aug. 31 v. Arab
Sept. 7 v. Hamilton
Sept. 14 at Lawrence County
Sept.21 v. Russellville
Oct. 5 at Jasper
Oct. 12 v. Dora
Oct. 19 at Corner
Oct. 26 at Hayden
Nov. 2 v. Cordova
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