Hawks rise from pretenders to contenders under Caldwell

by Aaron Burns

CHARLOTTE – Jeff Caldwell took the reins of West Mecklenburg High’s football program when it was at its lowest point. The Hawks went 1-10 in 2009.

West Mecklenburg High running back Shaun Wilson keyed the Hawks’ 45-10 win over Hough High in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Wilson caught two touchdown passes and rushed for two scores in the victory. (Aaron Burns/MI Monitor photos)

Three years later, they’ve become a force to be reckoned with. But success didn’t come quickly.

Under Caldwell, West Mecklenburg finished 2-9 in 2010 and 4-7 in 2011, before the Hawks recorded a 9-4 mark this year.

West Mecklenburg won its last three regular season games over Garinger, Ashbrook and East Gaston by a combined 180-39.

The Hawks faced another blossoming team, Hough High, on Nov. 2 in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. The Huskies – whose program began the same year Caldwell took over at West Mecklenburg – were favored and playing at home.

No matter.

West Mecklenburg running back Shaun Wilson and quarterback Jalan McClendon teamed up to deliver Caldwell his first playoff victory, a 45-10 win over Hough.

The last time West Mecklenburg won a playoff game before the Hough victory was in 1989, before any of Caldwell’s players were born.

Wilson left Hough defenders in his wake on his way to two rushing and two receiving touchdowns in the win. Wilson’s performance impressed Hough coach Bobby Collins enough for Collins to call Smith the best running back in the area.

“He proved it (in the playoffs),” Collins said.

“We had a pretty good run defense the whole year, but he had a gear we just weren’t ready for.”

Wilson wasn’t the only Hawk to make headlines in the win. McClendon was thought to have been ejected from the game for an unsportsmanlike celebration, a ruling Hawks athletics director John Yewcic said the team would appeal.

But McClendon – whose performance at quarterback has earned him scholarship offers from North Carolina, Wake Forest, Charlotte and South Carolina State – wouldn’t be denied a chance to continue the Hawks’ season.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association ruled McClendon eligible, because he was disqualified from the game and not ejected, which would have carried a two-game suspension.

McClendon was cleared for the second-round game, but neither McClendon nor Wilson proved to be enough to knock off Olympic High on Nov. 9. The Trojans won 28-20.

McClendon passed for 1,469 yards in 2012, his junior season.

Despite being bounced from the playoffs, the season was successful. It was the first time West Mecklenburg won at least nine games in a season since 1988.

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply