On one hand, Westfield‘s football team knows it has a lot to be proud of from the last two seasons. A 24-2 record punctuated by two championships in the tough Concorde District is no small thing, marking a run that most teams in the state would envy.
But for Bulldogs Coach Kyle Simmons and his players, it’s tough to shake the manner in which the past two years have ended — both with a loss in the Virginia AAA Division 6 Northern Region championship, both to teams that they had defeated earlier in the season.
“As a staff, we have to look at why we’ve underachieved the last two years in a row,” Simmons said. “Getting to the final is something worth celebrating and last year, I think we overachieved somewhat with all we had lost from the year before, but we have to do better in taking care of the ball, not being predictable and putting the initial win during the season behind us and treating [the playoff game] like a new game.”
As was the case in 2012, the group charged with executing these things will look different than the previous year. Gone are Westfield’s two top offensive producers in running back Dalaun Richardson (1,749 yards, 18 touchdowns) and quarterback Chris Mullins (1,609 passing yards, 28 total touchdowns).
Carrying the rushing load will be Tyler Thrasher-Walker, who recorded 892 yards and 11 scores with his bruising yet explosive style of running. The senior’s height at 6-1 and athleticism along with the complementing skills of capable rushers Brian Garland and Evan Gray and also make Thrasher-Walker an option to line up receiver.
Thrasher-Walker, who has offers from Delaware and James Madison, said he had an offseason talk with Richardson that inspired him to step up even more as a leader and be a necessary strong link for the Bulldogs.
“My mind-set is always even-keeled; I’m not too excited or too down, but after last year’s loss, I felt sad, especially for the seniors,” Thrasher-Walker said. “I worked a lot on foot drills, getting stronger and watching film this summer because this year, I don’t want anyone to be let down.”
Expected to help his cause is a defensive unit that possesses depth, speed and experience. Connor McNulty leads the linebacking corps along with defensive linemen Tim Curry and Tyler Sevener.
Simmons said the unit’s strength has been a good test for his offense in practice, especially as the Bulldogs develop their new starter at quarterback. Junior Mason Scoville, a baseball standout, is expected to take most snaps under center this season. So far, he’s shown dedication in building his skills and knowledge, spending 45-minute periods voluntarily studying film after workouts.
Scoville’s main target will be Devon Burns, who racked up 848 yards and 10 touchdowns at receiver last season. Between Thrasher-Walker’s rushing ability, Burns’s experience and the defense’s strong potential, Simmons hopes it will help Scoville and the Bulldogs build the confidence necessary to learn from the joys and pains of the last two seasons.
“We have a lot we can build on with the players returning from last year and some of the guys we have coming up,” Simmons said. “A lot will depend on how some areas of our team progress, but these guys know what’s at stake and where we want to be at the end of the season.”