What does it mean to hit the refresh button in high school football? You can acquire a new head coach. You can put in a new offense. You can replace almost all of your starters on offense and defense. But when most of those things don’t happen by choice, it creates a whole lot of questions.
West Forsyth’s offseason has placed the program in a position filled with ambiguity. Former head coach Adam Clack left for the same position at a new high school, and they brought in Lanier High School offensive coordinator Shawn Cahill to replace him. They lost big talent all over the field, including Kansas State signee Eli Huggins and Joey Congrove on the defensive end and Kiernen Hamilton on the offensive end.
In 2016, the Wolverines had high expectations. They entered the year as favorites to win the region, but losses to rivals Lambert and South Forsyth set them back to a road playoff game that they eventually lost.
West had some bright moments. They smacked around the rest of the region, went 3-1 outside of region play and were three points shy of winning that road playoff game. Entering the 2017 season, some of those bright spots are returning, including Ben Bresnahan.
It was no secret that Bresnahan was going to have all types of colleges knocking at his door. After the season ended, his Twitter seemed to be a nonstop display of scholarship offers from big Division-I schools around the country. He accrued offers from the likes of Ole Miss, Tennessee and Minnesota. Bresnahan ultimately decided on Vanderbilt.
“It was a hard choice, but Vandy is such a great place with great academics, a great city and great people,” Bresnahan said. “I wanted to be committed before the season started so I could just focus on the team.”
With only two returning defensive starters and three offensive starters, it is imperative for experienced talent like Bresnahan and defensive back Cade Vela to lead the young team.
With two-year starter Kiernen Hamilton gone, West’s offense turns to Zach Burns. Burns, a receiver in the past, looks to implement Coach Cahill’s new style of offense.
“We’re going to use the quarterback a little bit more to run,” Cahill said, “and I think that helps Burns to be able to step in and not have to replace Kiernen because it is a different system and we’re going to use him differently.”
Cahill’s system looks to utilize the run more heavily than in year’s past. West became notorious for a fast-paced, spread offense that threw the ball on a majority of plays. Cahill plans to keep the offense high-tempo but in doing so getting the ground game involved.
“At Lanier last year, we averaged snapping the ball in 11 seconds throughout the entire season,” Cahill said. “I have wanted to get back into not worrying about running 70 or 80 plays, but instead having the ball longer than the opposing team can.”
There will be multiple guys receiving carries, but getting the starting duties is Saxby Waxer. Blake Snee, a returning running back, will be a part of the backfield as well as Cade Vela.
The biggest weapon for West will be tight end Bresnahan. He looks to have a big season in the new offensive scheme that features more tight end sets.
West’s defense was brimming with talent last season, including Huggins and Congrove, but they only have two returning starters this season. With the defense being so fresh-faced in a region filled with high-flying offenses, there is some concern.
Returning this season is defensive coordinator David Rooney. Rooney will keep the same 3-4 scheme that has been run in the past but more importantly represents stability to a young defense.
“For me, it is a lot more comforting having him there,” Vela said. “Him just being able to have trust in us and us trust in him is a very comforting feeling.”
Some of the new faces that are poised to make an impact include outside linebacker Ryan Wnek and cornerback Mark Claiborne.
First varsity season: 2008
Playoff appearances: 6 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)
Region titles: 1 (2012)
State titles: none
At West: 0-0, first season.
Overall: 0-0, first season.
All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 18 vs. Woodstock
Aug. 25 at Pace Academy
Sept. 8 at Hillgrove
Sept. 15 vs. Dacula
Sept. 22 at Newnan
Oct. 6 vs. Milton*
Oct. 13 vs. Forsyth Central*
Oct. 20 at Lambert*
Oct. 27 at North Forsyth*
Nov. 3 vs. South Forsyth*
* Region 5-7A game