DUBLIN — After an 0-11 season in 2012, West Bladen surprised a few teams in 2013 and put together its most successful season in several years, finishing 3-4 in the split Class 1-A/2-A Four County Conference and 5-7 overall. It also qualified for its first state playoff berth in several seasons.
But second-year head coach Russell Dove knows the surprise factor is gone now, and his Knights will be challenged hard every week.
“I think last year’s success is showing now in the form of more confidence,” Dove said. “There seems to be just a little bit of swagger, but we understand that it’s a new season and we still have to earn anything we get.”
The Knights will enter the 2014 season with 40 players on its roster, including 13 seniors and 23 juniors, giving Dove plenty of depth. But it’s the core players — especially on offense — that gives Dove some degree of excitement.
That nucleus includes senior quarterback Colby Lewis, senior running back/receiver Malcolm Vaught, senior running back Trevor Lesane, junior running back Da’quan Lennon, junior running back Malique McDowell and senior running back Kesean Sutton.
“We are a lot further along now than we were last year on offense, mostly because this is the second straight year we’ve had the same offense in place,” Dove said. “We haven’t had to spend a lot of time on the basic fundamentals, so we’ve been able to work a lot more on other things.”
Over on defense, West Bladen lost some key players — such as lineman Semmorick Jessup, linebacker Parker Allen and linebacker Ed Owens — and will install a new scheme for this season.
“We’ve been working hard on this, trying to utilize the players we have in the best possible formations,” Dove said. “Once we get our assignments down, we’ll be faster and tougher than we were last year.”
Dove said the Knights can’t rest on the laurels of last season’s success, because every week will bring a new challenge.
“We’ve never really had a problem with things like speed and physicality,” he said. “It was always what seemed to be a mental thing. Confidence was lacking. But I’m seeing that change now.
“We’re still working on some of the little things, but as hard as the kids are working they will come around,” Dove added.
As for the challenge of the Four County Conference this season, Dove said he doesn’t see much of shift from what it was like last year.
“I think the conference looks about the same as last year,” he said. “I think the top three teams to beat will be Wallace-Rose Hill, Clinton and my friend coach Priest at East Bladen.
“I see us being in the middle of the pack, but we’re going to have to play hard and focused every week to accomplish that,” he added. “There won’t be any pushovers on this schedule.”