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PIGSKIN PREVIEW: West looking to take the next leap forward
West Forsyth will have plenty of difference makers to help get themselves back to the playoffs, including Dylan Fairchild, Blake Whitfield, Eli Orr and Jack Hughes. - photo by Ben Hendren

By Ian Frazer

For the Forsyth County News

When Shawn Cahill heard nothing, that’s when he knew.

The West Forsyth football team had been assigned a gym to get dressed and prepared for their second-round state playoff game at North Gwinnett last year, and when Cahill walks into those pregame situations, he’s usually greeted with a cacophony of excited noise.

But this time there was silence.

“Right then I thought to myself, ‘It’s in their head, that this is North Gwinnett right now,’” Cahill said.

There are some programs that just happen to carry the kind of weight and reputation that precedes whatever they’ve actually got on the gridiron, and North Gwinnett is one of them, which was further proved by the Bulldogs’ 41-7 win that night. West Forsyth, right now, is not.

But the Wolverines and Cahill, now in his third season leading the program, continue to press on towards that dream. They aren’t without significant holes and question marks due to graduation, but West also has the quantity of returning talent, especially on defense, to make them a threat to any region opponent this year.

On defense, the leadership and production will likely emanate from the linebacker spot. West returns its two leading tacklers from 2018 in Eli Orr and Jack Hughes, both seniors. Orr is the middle linebacker and the less spectacular player of the two, with just one tackle for loss last season, while Hughes had 12, including seven sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.

And while six graduated senior defensive linemen, including Lehigh signee Mikhari Sibblis, are out the door for the Wolverines, they do have one of the most intriguing unproven talents in Dylan Fairchild, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound junior who’s experienced more high-profile success as a heavyweight wrestler so far. Fairchild was a rare sight last year, playing in five games and recording 12 tackles, but he picked up an offer from South Carolina this offseason, a sign of his vast potential.

“This year is really his time to step up,” Orr said. “He’s going to be seeing a lot of snaps on defense and offense, and it’s pretty fun having him in front of me on the d-line. He takes up some space.”

The plan to have Fairchild on both offense and defense is part of a wider theme for how West uses its most talented players. The Wolverines did that last year with Sibblis, Stephon Bland, Abraham Camara and more, and they plan to do the same now with Fairchild, Orr, Hughes and advanced sophomores like Zach Webster and Oscar Delp.

The plan to be strategic about it, though, putting play counts on those players on either side of the ball early on to try to limit fatigue. That isn’t the only way in which Cahill plans to be a bit more cautious and conservative. It was during a win, against Peachtree Ridge, that one of his main miscalculations became clear.

“I don’t think I did a very good job last year of taking care of our kids in the early preseason,” Cahill said. “… Even though we won the game (against Peachtree Ridge), I felt like we were really tired, because we had gone through the summer knowing we were going to have this schedule in front of us and getting ready for Camden, getting ready for Hewitt and Roswell and everybody else … We were pushing hard with our kids to get them to try to get to this level of who we were going to play.”

So Cahill and his staff have taken a step back in practice intensity, and they’ll be working as much during the season as before it to keep their players fresher for when the region play – the games that really matter – start up.

And that relates back to the schedule, in a way. Part of the North Gwinnett loss was down to injuries and fatigue, which West is hoping to fix, but by continually sending the Wolverines against teams with cachet and history – Roswell, Camden County and the like – they hope to get to a point where doing so is academic.

“(That) is one of the reasons we put that schedule together: So we can say, ‘Look, you’ve played a team just as good as this or better, and you played them right to the end,’” Cahill said. “So the name on the jersey of who we’re playing does not matter.”