Hard road to glory

Talented West Meck football team battling early-season struggles

by C. Jemal Horton

The West Meck football team believes it can recover from its 0-2 start, especially with talented players such as (seated, from left) Corey Nesmith, Bryan Hampton and (standing) Shaquille Hart and Jakareen Smith.

The 2011 high school football season didn’t get off to the electric start that the West Mecklenburg Hawks had hoped.
The Hawks lost their first two games – second-year Rocky River earned its first victory in school history against West Meck, and longstanding rival West Charlotte spoiled the Hawks’ home opener. To complicate matters, the Hawks fell to 0-2 while scoring an average of just 8.5 points per game.
Hardly what was expected for a squad many people believe has some of the best talent in the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference.
But for anyone expecting to find lowered heads inside the West Meck locker room … well, that won’t happen, Hawks coach Jeff Caldwell said.
He doesn’t harp on the fact that several starters, including many along the offensive line, have missed action with injuries during the young season. He doesn’t even make a big deal out of the fact that the Hawks don’t have a trainer to help with the injuries or do things such as tape players’ ankles before they take the field.
It’s about results, Caldwell said. And he believes they will come as long as his team remains focused.
“The fact that we lost our first two games is kind of surprising,” Caldwell said before the Hawks took on South Mecklenburg on Sept. 2. “But we don’t make excuses. We’ve got to getter better.
“We’ve got a couple players who are good athletes, and we’ve got a lot of young players who have never been in a position to be successful. But we have to play consistently to be successful. We have to be fundamentally sound. We tell them, ‘It’s a good thing that you’re an athlete; it’s great that God gave you those gifts. But now, you have to use what He gave you upstairs to play fundamentally sound.’”
The Hawks struggled from the outset, when they traveled to Rocky River for the Aug. 19 season-opener. With sophomore quarterback Jalon McClendon making his first start, he completed just nine of 33 passes with two interceptions, and the Hawks never reached the end zone in a 15-3 defeat. But Caldwell shoulders the blame.
“That was my fault,” Caldwell said. “I should have prepared Jalon better for what he was going to see, as far as reading his keys – at times, it looked like there were more linebackers there than there really were. (Rocky River’s coaches) did a good job of disguising it, and Jalon was just confused.
“Being as young as he is, it’s tough. I should’ve prepared him better. It’s on me.”
But although the Hawks lost their second game of the season, a 31-14 decision to West Charlotte, McClendon clearly was better the next time he took the field. He was 12-for-23 passing and made several impressive throws.
Despite the overall struggles in the first few games, several other Hawks have made good impressions. Against Rocky River, for example, senior wide receiver Jakareen Smith had seven catches for 120 yards, while kicker Dylan Griffith booted a 35-yard field goal. Linebacker Randy Moffett, who transferred from Myers Park this year, has been one of the team’s leading tacklers, along with Tashion Singleton and Prince Mayela.
“We’ve had some people do some great things, but we’ve just had too many mistakes,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been averaging three turnovers a game, and we can’t do that with an inexperienced team.”
But again, Caldwell points to his own mistakes. Some, he said, came in the opener at Rocky River, when the Hawks made several trips inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line. Instead of allowing Griffith to attempt field goals, West Meck often went for it on fourth down.
It’s a decision the coach regrets.
“Dylan’s been great,” Caldwell said. “He’s missed one (extra-point attempt) this year. He’s done a good job, and I should’ve kicked more in that (Rocky River) game. But I was so focused on trying to work with Jalon to try to get him comfortable.
“I called Dylan the next day and apologized to him. I congratulated him first for hitting the 35-yard kick, but then I apologized to him because I should’ve given him more opportunities to help us.”
Heading into the Sept. 2 game against South Meck, which starting offensive lineman William Houston was expected to miss with an ankle injury, the Hawks desperately needed to get healthy. Offensive tackle Christian Holmes (ankle) missed the first game of the season and played sparingly against West Charlotte. Left guard Ronald Houston (ankle) hasn’t been able to take the field this season. Senior running back Corey Nesmith hoped to play against South Meck after getting injured in the first half of the Rocky River loss.
It’s all been a humbling experience for the Hawks.
“Going into (the Rocky River game), I think the kids were looking at the success we had in some of the scrimmages with Hough and Myers Park this summer, and they were resting on that,” Caldwell said. “But they learned that you have to play, no matter the circumstances.
“We know we have talent, we know we can win. But first, we’ve got to learn to handle adversity.”

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