Westwood Gazes Towards Playoffs Again
By Will Johnson
WESTWOOD – The Westwood Panthers are seeking to return to the playoffs in 2016 and under the guidance of AD/Head Coach Kevin Hayes, it appears in all probability they will do just that.
With 15 returners from an 8-3 squad last year, the Panthers are poised to build on the success of the 2015 season and may even challenge for the district championship in 2016. They have speed on both sides of the ball and have the size to make opponents bend to their will.
Under center, the panthers will use a combination of Darius Turner and Riley Cernoch. Joining them in the backfield according to Coach Hayes will be “… JD Clewis, Red Horse Warren and Jamar Clewis. That’s who we’re looking at right now.”
The offense will continue to use the tight end as a major part of the offense and Dustin Hutchens along with Brunya Davis are expected to be key contributors. The offensive line will be a major strength of the Westwood offense, according to Coach Hayes, and will be led by Peyton Bentley, Danny Burns, Keeland Jones, Jeremijah Williams and Christian Montes.
On the outside, the coach said, “We only play one wide-out. Right now, I’m looking at Jaylon Owens, Colton Bentley and Maurice Calhoun. We’re mainly a tight end, wing split and sometimes we go with two tight ends.”
“Defensively, two of the three linemen we have are returning so, we’re strong up there. Both of our linebackers are returning but we’ve had one that’s been out. He’ll be back so we feel really good there.”
Among the players to watch on the defensive side of the ball are Dalton Fisher and Nolan Lumbreraz from their linebacker positions, while Malik Benson and Danny Burns will clog things up in the middle.
“In the secondary, we have two who kids are returning and overall, the secondary has looked pretty good so far his year,” Hayes said.
“Our biggest strengths heading into the season are our kids up front. We have a lot of kids returning and they are bigger and stronger than they were last year,” the coach said.
“We have a new QB and a new fullback. Those are two areas we’re working on. Besides Jamar working at fullback, we have Jeremiah Edwards and Jacob Smith working there. We have to get one of them to step up and become a good, solid fullback for us,” he said.
“We want to start the season off on the right foot so we’re really gearing up for Frankston right now. Probably our toughest game before district will be Kirbyville. Right now, we’re zeroing in on week one,” he said.
“In district, Malakoff and Teague are going to be like they were last year. They’re both very talented teams. They’ve been at the top of our district the last two years. You have to beat them to move up. I would say Malakoff has the most returning kids, as far as talent. Our game against Elkhart will be a good one. They come to play every time. They’re a good football team and they’re well coached, plus it’s our opening district game,” Hayes explained.
HOW I SEE IT: With eight returning starters on offense and five on defense, look for the Malakoff Tigers to reign supreme. Teague will finish second in district play and both teams will make a deep playoff run. The Westwood Panthers continue to improve and will build on last year’s playoff appearance to make a return trip to the postseason. Look for Elkhart to regain their postseason swagger in 2016.
If the Panthers are to advance in the playoffs they will need to stay healthy. More than likely they will come out of the three or four hole and will have a tough matchup in round one. However, if they survive and move into the area round, look for Westwood to make a bit of noise and upset a team or two. Given their tough non-district and district schedules, the Panthers should be ready to take on anyone who comes their way in November.