West Forsyth’s football team didn’t need a ton of adjustment time to get on the same page with new head coach Shawn Cahill.
In his first season at the helm, and with a new run-oriented offense, the Wolverines continued their history of regular season success by claiming their third straight 7-4 record. The season ended in the first round with a loss to Class 7A powerhouse Mill Creek, a game where the Wolverines were down just 10-0 at halftime.
“The kids probably played better than they were coached last year, from that learning curve itself,” Cahill said. “They maybe picked up the slack a little bit, but we were 7-4, and that’s what we earned last year.”
West loses some impact starters on both sides of the ball from last season, but could easily make another run to the playoffs with a good amount of returning talent, particularly on the defensive side.
Over the offseason, the Wolverines brought in Bill Ballard to replace David Rooney at defensive coordinator. On the personnel side, a few have made the move to new positions. Inspired by watching him play basketball, Cahill moved Mikhari Sibblis (77 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT last season) to linebacker from defensive end. Jake Weldy (88 tackles, 4 TFL) will move to a role on the defensive line. It’s all a part of an effort to get quicker.
“We took kids that can run,” Cahill said. “We weren’t so concerned about being big, just being faster.”
Elsewhere on the defense, senior Abraham Camara returns at defensive back, coming off a first team all-county junior season with 94 tackles, five pass break-ups and two interceptions.
“Even though I’m an offensive coach, I’m going to put my hat on defense,” Cahill said. “We’re going to be a strong defensive team and we’re going to run the football.”
Leading that rushing attack this year will be a couple of other returning players in new positions. Senior Stephon Bland will be the primary ball carrier, moving to that spot from wide receiver. Derek Hughes will play fullback, transitioning from offensive guard after losing 20 pounds in the offseason. Hughes has been pleased to see how both sides of the ball have played off each other in practice.
“I definitely think our defense has prepared our offense more this season,” Hughes said. “With all the people that (Ballard) is bringing, we can go anywhere from three to eight people. It helps our offense adjust well, and it’s going to help us during the regular season.”
With the departure of Zach Burns, the Wolverines, like most other schools in the county, had to replace their starting quarterback from a year ago. After a lengthy competition, junior Blake Whitfield earned the right to the starting job on opening night. However, at the 2018 Forsyth Sports Media day, Cahill pointed out that his position was not set in stone like Burns’ was, with junior Casey Cowart also being a strong option for the Wolverines.
While the passing game is not necessarily where the Wolverines place their focus offensively, they’ll be looking to some young starters at wideout to help keep defenses honest. KC Flanigan comes over to West after being the quarterback at King’s Ridge last season. Freshman Oscar Delp is another weapon that the coaching staff has taken a liking to.
A main issue the offense will have to contend with is the loss of Ben Bresnahan, who has moved on to Vanderbilt after being one of the country’s top tight ends last year. Army commit and senior tight end Garrett Woodall figures to make up for a lot of that lost production, but the Wolverines don’t see Bresnahan’s void as something one man can fill himself.
“You don’t replace Ben,” Cahill said. “I wish I could. Garrett’s going to kind of fit in at the tight end spot a little bit more than Ben did last year, but we’re still going to split him out. We’re still going to put him at H because that’s what Garrett did really well last year.”