High Time for Hawks

West Meck football team looks to keep momentum going

by C. Jemal Horton

With the passing of each Friday night, the 2010 season becomes more and more special for the West Mecklenburg High School football team.

West Meck football coach Jeff Caldwell, who was defensive coordinator on last year’s squad, has helped the Hawks double their 2009 win total.

With a new head coach and a renewed sense of confidence, the Hawks have become one of the county’s biggest surprises. The most recent evidence of that change came on Oct. 8, when West Meck sprinted past Waddell High, 27-0.

The victory was the Hawks’ second of the season, which, with four regular-season games remaining, already has doubled last year’s win total. The dominating performance also was West Meck’s first shutout win since Sept. 21, 2007, when the Hawks blanked Garinger, 47-0.

After last week’s win, Covenant United Methodist Church on Tuckaseegee Road hosted a Fifth Quarter event for the Hawks, providing the team with pizza, games, a devotional service and a wide-screen television to watch area high school football highlight shows.

“It was great,” West Meck coach Jeff Caldwell said. “The parents were there participating with the kids. It was a special time for our team.”

But the Hawks didn’t have a long time to celebrate. This week, West Meck (2-5, 1-1 in the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference) was hard at work again, preparing for a Friday, Oct. 15, home game against another upstart team, Garinger (4-3, 1-1).

And with all the progress his team has made this season, Caldwell believes the Hawks can ride a massive wave of momentum into the Garinger game. He just doesn’t want his players to wipe out because of overconfidence.

“Our kids are feeling really good about themselves because they’re proving themselves on and off the field,” Caldwell said. “We had a nice win against Waddell, but we have a big game against Garinger this week, and we have to maintain our focus.

“(The Wildcats) feel like they can win. That’s going to be the mentality of all our opponents these last four games, based on how West Meck was in the past. I’ve told my players, ‘Until you prove yourselves, that’s the way it’s going to be. People are going to take you for granted. If you don’t like being seen that way, you’ve got to show (doubters) otherwise.”

West Meck has reason to feel good entering this week’s game. For starters, they have some of the conference’s most talented players, starting with junior wide receiver Jakareen Smith. In the win over Waddell, Smith had 112 yards receiving with a touchdown. He also made key plays as a cornerback, even though it was his first game playing the position.

“You’ve got to get your best athletes on the field,” Caldwell said, “and (Smith) is one of our best.”

Smith’s touchdown reception was a 47-yarder from freshman quarterback Jalen McClendon, who’s played on the JV squad for most of the season. After a solid performance last week, however, McClendon’s now a dedicated member of the varsity.

“Jalen’s going to stay up there,” Caldwell said of the 5-foot-11, 160-pounder.

“He’s progressing, and that’s because he’s eager to learn. He’s got a great arm, but he’s really humbled himself. We’re really proud of him.”

Two more underclassmen are making a case for playing time. Freshman tight end Devonte Wallace caught three passes for 42 yards last week. And Caldwell said sophomore running back Willie Miller, who’s averaging 100 yards per game on the JV squad, could soon become a varsity call-up.

Caldwell also was pleased to see Corey Nesmith return a punt for a touchdown – and not just because the play increased the Hawks’ lead.

“Corey’s really been dealing with some nagging injuries,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been waiting for him to come out, and he did it in a big way last week.”

Junior safety Prince Mayela might’ve had the best week of any Hawk, however. For one thing, he had eight tackles against Waddell, including a touchdown-saving stop that Caldwell called “an old-school rundown from the other side of the field.” Mayela also had an interception, his fourth of the season, which ranks just ahead of teammates Jalyn Crenshaw and Brian Hampton, who both have three.

Prince Mayela (second from left)

But Mayela’s greatest achievement came off the field.

This week, Mayela learned that he had been honored with the Do the Right Thing Award, which is presented by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Charlotte Fire Department and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The award is given to county youths who exhibit great character and integrity.

Do the Right Thing winners must be nominated by teachers, firemen and policemen. Mayela was nominated by West Meck resource officer Ray Hughes.

Caldwell said Mayela recently observed a classmate attempting to leave a restaurant without paying for his meal. Mayela, who’s also West Meck’s junior class president, stopped the boy and calmly informed him that he was making a poor decision, the coach said.

“We’re all very proud of Prince for the decisions he’s made,” Caldwell said. “Prince is a really good kid, and we’re proud to have him on our football team.”

Mayela is scheduled to receive his award on Tuesday, Oct. 19, during a ceremony at Bank of America Stadium.

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