2011 Wildcats Football Preview
Hazelwood West High School's varsity football team went 1-9 last season, but new coach Duane Hawthorne believes program can make a comeback.
After researching last year’s 1-9 team and watching film of all 10 games, new Hazelwood West High head football coach Duane Hawthorne was more than a little concerned that maybe the Wildcats’ problem was they just didn’t have enough talent to compete.
Not only did Hazelwood West High School finish last in the Suburban North Conference standings last year, the Wildcats had one of the least productive offenses in the entire area, scoring just 81 points all season, and averaging just 8.1 points a game.
“They weren’t getting a whole lot done,” Hawthorne said. “Watching the film, I’m not sure what they were trying to do on offense, but whatever it was, it wasn’t getting done. It’s hard to win that way.”
So heading into summer workouts this year, Hawthorne wasn’t quite sure what he had gotten himself into in taking over the West High program.
But somewhere during all those hot summer days of lifting weights and conditioning drills, Hawthorne realized his 2011 Wildcats weren’t going to be as bad as he thought.
“I gotta say, I’m pleasantly surprised with how well everything is going,” Hawthorne, the former coach at University City High, and a former NFL player with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, said. “After watching these kids work, I knew we had more to work with that I previously thought. I feel pretty good about the kids we have out here.
Hawthorne said he calls it ‘The Process.’
"It’s not gonna happen overnight, and we’ve got a ton of work to do," he said. "But we’ve being going hard all summer, and the kids have taken a huge step in the right direction."
Because of the uncertainty of exactly where the Wildcats stand talent- and commitment-wise, Hawthorne made the bold move to completely take away all starting jobs, and make his preseason training camp an open audition for every position on the team.
Neither seniors nor returning starters from last year are guaranteed starting spots. Some might not even be kept on the team.
“There’s some guys out here now that I know won’t be here when the season starts,” Hawthorne said. “Some of them don’t want to work, and some of them think just because they’re a senior that they’re guaranteed playing time this year."
Hawthorne added that with a new coach comes new process, and the athletes have to earn a starting spot.
“I’m not opposed to playing anybody," he said. "I’ll play a sophomore on varsity. I’ll play freshmen. It’s the guys that want to work, that don’t miss practice, that don’t make mistakes, that are going to get to play on this team.”
Wildcat team members have heard that message loud and clear as they head into their second week of preseason practice.
All 22 starting jobs are open, and the competition for each of them has been stiff.
One of the most intriguing summer battles has been for the starting quarterback job, where sophomore Chase Palermo and freshman Aaron Davis have emerged as the Wildcats top two candidates.
Neither has played on varsity before, but Hawthorne said he felt confident that either player could handle the job if given the opportunity.
And the reason for that is Hawthorne plans to be a “ground and pound” kind of team, that will rely heavily on its run game.
The two players who will likely see the most carries for West High this year are senior Justin Moss and junior DeMarco Taylor.
Moss led West High in rushing last season, and Hawthorne called Taylor “fairly dynamic” and said he was one of the more gifted athletes on the team.
Opening the holes for those two will be a beefy frontline led by senior Corey Brown and sophomore Tre Vaughn.
“Corey’s one of our team leaders,” Hawthorne said. “He’s been here working hard everyday.”
Defensively, West High’s top returning player is senior linebacker Joey McCune.
Last season, McCune was second on the team with 50 total tackles, and figures to probably double that amount in a scheme that will require him to be around the ball a lot if West High will have any success this year.
Also expected to contribute on defense are versatile talents Esteban Manuel and Anthony Ball. Taylor and Brown will also likely see some time on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that it seems like just didn’t get a chance in the past,” Hawthorne said. “I’m not real sure why, but when I see them now, I (wonder) why wasn’t that guy playing before. We’ve got some really solid high school football players here.”
West High will open its 2011 season with a home game on Saturday, August 27, when the Wildcats will host Belleville East High, at Wildcat Stadium, at 1 p.m.