During West Forsyth’s first round playoff matchup against Newton last week, Abe Camara didn’t let being on the positive end of a blowout diminish his enthusiasm.
He had already racked up over 100 yards through the air with two touchdowns, but the senior was eager to stick to what was working so well.
“We're up 35-3 the other night and he comes over and he's like, ‘Throw the ball to me, coach! Give it to me!’” West head coach Shawn Cahill said. "The kid wants the ball — he wants to play all the time.”
The Wolverines have fulfilled that wish this season, with Camara going from being a very good defensive player last year, one who had just two touches on offense, to someone who can do almost everything during his senior season.
In addition to his duties as a safety, Camara has morphed into one of the most effective receivers in the county, with 733 yards and 10 touchdowns over 11 games. The only avenue by which he hasn’t gained yards this season, including special teams, is by pass. How Camara performs usually translates to how West as a whole fares, and in the second round of the playoffs this week, that will be no exception.
When Cahill came to West before last year, he was learning about all the players he had at his disposal, and current Vanderbilt tight end Ben Bresnahan quickly stepped up as a prime offensive weapon. After his departure, however, Cahill and his staff had to look elsewhere, and Camara asked the coaching staff to put him on the offensive side of the ball to help fill team needs. After watching Camara play well against talented opponents in 7-on-7 workouts over the summer, West’s staff was intrigued.
“(Offensive coordinator Chad) Davenport and I looked at each other one time and were like, ‘He's pretty good. Let's remember that,’” Cahill said. “There was more than one play where he stood out.”
Camara working on offense, while technically a new concept for West, was not new to Camara. In the past, he’d played at running back, and although he had never lined up at receiver, he had ambitions of doing just that.
“Outside of football season, I've always been working on my routes, because receiver is probably my first love position-wise,” Camara said. “I saw stuff on social media about people doing receiver routes in the NFL and I was just like, ‘Man, I want to try that.’ I just tried to do it.”
No. 2 West Forsyth at No. 1 North Gwinnett
When, where: Friday, 7:30 p.m. in Suwanee.
Records, rankings: West is 6-5 and unranked in Class 7A; North Gwinnett is 9-2 and ranked No. 5 in Class 7A.
Series history: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.
Last meeting: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.
What to know: The Wolverines’ hot streak that carried them through the region schedule didn’t dissipate in their first-round playoff matchup against Newton, as West’s offense pounded past the Rams on the ground and the defense stifled most of what Newton could offer. But while the bracket may have given West a favorable matchup to start, the Wolverines’ second round game is certainly not that.
North Gwinnett is the defending state champion, and the Bulldogs don’t seem to have lost much steam from that run. They lost twice in non-region play, but both came to excellent opponents, and the Bulldogs steamrolled through a good region, scoring 250 points while allowing just 27. In their 49-0 blowout of Central Gwinnett in the first round, North Gwinnett was missing Iowa-committed running back Tyler Goodson for most of the game, but that hardly hamstrung them, with junior Devin Crosby racking up 241 yards and three score on 22 carries.
Despite the coaches’ eagerness to have him on both sides of the ball as quickly as possible, Cahill and the rest of the coaches decided to take it slowly early on, with Camara still learning new defensive coordinator Bill Ballard’s system. But as Camara’s breakout season has progressed, they can’t help but wonder what could have been earlier in the season, when the Wolverines started 1-5.
“We didn't rush him knowing that we had some time with him,” Cahill said. “But now that we look back on it, we think, ‘Maybe we should have rushed him over the summer to get him there earlier.’”
The adjustments were still underway for Camara when West traveled to play its season opener against Camden County in scorching condititions. Camara caught five passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in that game, but playing both ways exhausted him — Cahill says he’d never seen a player so drained and tired. As the season has gone on, Camara has worked to rectify that shortcoming so he can help his team in every way possible.
“It's an adjustment,” Camara said. “They keep us right during the season with workouts. With training, I've just adjusted to it, where now I can finally just play through the game. I can really play the whole game and just be comfortable.”
As he’s become more comfortable with his workload, the offense has begun to revolve around him. Camara can strike on deep passes, and in some cases, his athleticism can take a short gain and turn it into something greater.
“He's got the speed to run by people but he's also one of the strongest kids we've got,” Cahill said. “If we throw a hitch to him, the corner had better wrap him up. Just the other night, he spun off, broke the tackle and scored. He's done that a bunch this year.”
To go along with his 793 total yards as a receiver and sometimes as a running back, Camara leads West in solo tackles with 63. With his strength and speed, he’s also reprised his role as a standout kick returner. Combining all his efforts, he currently has 1,245 all-purpose yards, which is second behind Stephon Bland’s 1,273.
The challenge will be tough against North Gwinnett on Friday night, and West will be looking for a huge upset. Knowing that he holds most of the keys to his team’s fortunes, he’ll be ready to be the senior leader for his teammates regardless of the outcome.
“I want them to be happy,” Camara said. “That's the most important thing. If we lose, I want the loss to be on me. I want to be the leader and help them win.”