High school football coaches will often tell you they prefer to have more seniors on the roster when they are trying to field a team, experience being a key ingredient in building a winner.
But as the Westover team of Ernest King arrives at the open date on its schedule, he’s beating the odds by so far compiling a 3-0 record.
The surprise for King is he has pulled it off with 25 sophomores playing significant roles in the Wolverine lineup.
He started getting a sense that things were going to fall into place a couple of weeks ago when his team fell behind St. Pauls 9-0 and rallied in the second half to escape with a 12-9 victory.
The Wolverines went on to add wins over Smithfield-Selma and Fairmont, and in all three games, Westover held the opposition to less than 10 points.
The key to Westover’s defensive success is linebacker play, something King focuses on every season.
He searches for the most physical players on his team to man the linebacker position.
“That’s what we teach,” he said. “I feel that’s the Cumberland County way. We try to play fast as a unit.”
This year’s Westover team is not as big as it was the last two years, but King feels they compensate for that by being quick and aggressive.
“There is no way our linebackers should not lead us in tackles,” he said.
Good linebackers are nothing new to King. When he was coaching at E.E. Smith, one of his players was Aaron Curry, who went on to star at Wake Forest and play in the NFL. He’s now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While admitting Curry played at a higher level than most, he said today’s players can be the next great one if they buy into the system. “
“Our guys have obviously bought into it,” he said.
Among those that King is counting on this season is another sophomore, Jaylin Jessup. A former student at Terry Sanford, Jessup has been playing linebacker since his seventh-grade year at Douglas Byrd Middle School.
“I like to be physical,” Jessup said.
He feels linebacker is the best position for him if he hopes to advance to compete with a team at the college level.
In last week’s win over Fairmont, Jessup had 10 tackles, five of them for a loss, three sacks and three forced fumbles. He also recovered a fumble and blocked a punt.
The Wolverine defense recorded double digit sacks and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns.
King said many of his defensive players also play on special teams.
“It’s a great attribute when you’ve got guys who buy into every level of the game,” he said. “They are willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
King counts Jessup among that number.
“When he came here, he bought into the linebacker position,” King said. “He’s been flying around the ball, willing to do everything we asked him to do.”
Jessup feels the Wolverines still have work to do and need to maintain focus during the open week as they prepare for next Friday’s game at Pine Forest.
The Trojans are off to a rough start, going 0-3, but Jessup is convinced the Trojans are better than their record, having played a difficult opening schedule.
King noted the Trojans lost their first two games last season, then reeled off a 10-game winning streak that didn’t end until the third round of the state playoffs.
“I know Bill (Sochovka) is going to have them prepared,” King said. “He does a great job.”
King said his main concern is that his team players don’t let the 3-0 start go to their heads and take Pine Forest seriously.
“When you’re 0-3, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get that first win,” King said, referring to Pine Forest. “We have to prepare for everything.”