West Point fans will see familiar names scattered across the field in 2020, comprising what Warriors coach Don Farley considers his most experienced squad in quite some time.
West Point returns 17 seniors this season, 10 starters on offense and a strong defensive nucleus. The offensive trio of quarterback Will Cochran, receiver Kobe Bowers and tailback Kelton Washington are among those offensive returners.
Farley and the Warriors expect their veteran leadership and talent to yield profitable results as the team seeks to snap a brief two-year hiatus from the Class 5A postseason. Before that, West Point made four straight playoff appearances (2014-17) under Farley.
“This is our most experienced team since 2014 across the board, and that’s exciting. It can carry you a long way,” Farley said. “Our seniors were freshmen the last time we made the playoffs, looking up to the seniors and juniors who got us to that point. They’re now the leaders, and freshmen this season are counting on them to lead. Things haven’t transpired the way we’ve wanted the past two years, and this group is hungry and ready to change that. We’ll face a tough road but hope to be in contention until the end.”
West Point remains in Region 7, but is the lone holdover. Newcomers are Fairview, Boaz, Crossville, Sardis, Douglas and Guntersville. Take Fairview out of the equation, and the Warriors have played their new region foes a combined 12 times in program history.
Cochran is back under center to engineer West Point's offense. The three-sport star has worked diligently in the offseason to improve his precision and quick reads.
“Will’s accuracy is better, and he’s focused a lot this summer on becoming a better decision-maker," Farley said. "No one can deny his arm strength. That’s the first thing that jumps out. Will has embraced a huge leadership role, and that’s an added benefit for the team.”
The Warriors' receiving unit is littered with seniors, including Bowers, the team’s leading pass-catcher and Cochran’s favorite target last season.
Seniors Jacob Dye, Carter Thornton, Branson Smith and Logan Selby are also back to haul in passes for West Point.
Washington, a junior, is a steady presence in the backfield and a great complement to Cochran.
One of the main reasons Farley compares this season’s roster to 2014's is because of the skill and familiarity returning on the offensive line, including seniors Ethan Helms, Jayden Williams and Chase Sibley.
“You can’t ask for more than to return 10 starters, and the 11th man started three games last year," Farley said. "Because we do have that experience, we’ve changed some things up offensively, and our guys have been receptive. We’re building on some concepts we’ve already installed. With our personnel, it’s the perfect time to do it.”
No matter the scheme or tweaks, West Point’s offense should be balanced, and that could help improve on last season’s average of 17.9 points per game.
While the defense doesn’t return as many starters as the offense, the cupboard isn’t bare.
Seniors Braeden Patterson, Gaige Roberson and Keynan Baker should provide a significant lift and push on the line, and Keaton Chappell will anchor the linebackers.
Poncho Perez spearheads the secondary — one unit that doesn’t feature considerable game experience. Logan Selby should play a significant role in the defensive backfield as well, making up for the departures of Levi Farley and Will Brown.
The Warriors also have to replace linebacker Brody Rusk, their most productive defensive player in 2019.
“Our defense is up to the challenge," Farley said. "We suffered early injuries last season, so some of our starters this year earned valuable minutes because of that."
Logan Selby will handle kicking and punting duties, and West Point will rely on a host of players in the return game.
Farley enters his eighth season as head coach and 23rd overall on the sideline.
After falling just shy last season, the Warriors have a solid chance to return to the 5A postseason – an expectation Farley has established during his tenure.
“We believe every game is going to be a fourth-quarter game," he said. "I don’t think there’s a team in our region writing down an automatic win or loss on their schedule right now. Every Friday night during region play is going to be a coin flip to see who is gaining ground for one of the four playoff spots. Every team is going to be scratching and clawing. Everyone in this region is competitive."
West Point opens at Good Hope on Aug. 28, followed by four consecutive home games.
Despite the COVID-19 uncertainties hanging in the balance, Farley wants the Warriors to embrace their playoff aspirations and new-look schedule.
“We’re not taking any day for granted. It seems like things change daily around us, so we’re prepared to play as safely as we can and follow the proper protocols. We’ll control what we can control,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what this senior class can accomplish. We can give our community and fans something to be proud of and provide normalcy.”