While optimism runs high at every high school this time of year, Westside coaches and players are buying in with a simple mantra: Believe.
After missing the playoffs the past six seasons, the Patriots think they have what it takes this year to make postseason play. And after going from 1-9 in his first season to 4-6 in 2011, third-year coach Steve Hibbitts is pumping his players up with positivity.
“I want them to believe going into every game that they can win,” he said. “I don’t think they thought that last year. I want them to have that confidence.”
Westside is hopeful a drop down to Class AA will help them become more competitive. Last season, the Patriots suffered a pair of blowout losses to eventual Class AAA state champion Burke County and Thomson, a pair of region foes. This season, Westside is in the seven-team 3-AA region with perennial state power Dublin, Screven County and Richmond County rivals Josey and Laney.
“We’re still going to face teams just as good,” Hibbits said. “They won’t be as deep as some of those teams we were playing. The competition will be just as stiff and as athletic, but I think we’ll play better.”
With its Wing-T offense led by junior quarterback Jalen Lampkin, Westside will look to move the ball and control the clock. Though the Patriots lost a scrimmage against much larger Greenbrier, Westside moved the ball up and down the field and left the game encouraged.
“If we don’t make the playoffs, everybody’s going to think the season is a big failure,” Lampkin said. “It’s time for us to step up big this year.”
Westside has just five seniors on its team, including linebacker Brandon Hugee. But Hibbitts said the Patriots have a large sophomore class and the team keeps adding players. The roster number has swelled to between 65 and 70.
With the large roster and the summer workout commitment – about 40 players lifted weights and ran every day – players believe this is the year they’ll finally be competitive.
“It feels like this year we can play with anybody we step on the field with,” Hugee said. “I just feel like this year we’re better on both sides of the ball. We play harder. We’re in better shape. We’re more aggressive. And this year, we have more confidence.”