2018 Gridiron: Winchester West Central Cougars
Colors: Black, silver and white
Total Returning Lettermen: 11
2017 Overall Record: 1-8
Head Coach: Adam Brockhouse
Years at School: 3
Record at School: 1-8
Overall Record: 1-8
WE OWN THE NIGHT: COUGARS RELISH SECOND CHANCE TO MAKE A BETTER FIRST IMPRESSION
IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: Adam Brockhouse’s first season helming West Central Football was not to his satisfaction. Granted, the man could have invoked a host of legitimate reasons for his team’s one win 2017 campaign; not the least of them being his late hire/lack of a true off-season to develop his kids. But rather than dwell on the past, the Second Year Cougar Skipper opted simply to turn the page on last season as emphatically as possible and didn’t waste a single second in doing so. West Central was the very first team in the State of Illinois to open the books on the 2018 campaign with a Midnight Madness practice kickoff session. The ultimate pigskin palate cleanser and a signal to his kids that their narrative starts now, independent of whatever else came before. For a team that might just be the youngest varsity squad in West Central history (and one looking to affect a tougher, more cohesive vibe overall) these are the kind of team building ploys that often have more resonance than you think. By all accounts, this particular group of Cougars, despite its youth, comes to the table with the reputation for intelligence and coachability. So why not set the right tone, with the right kids in place, from second one of the season?
YOUNG MONEY: Eleven returning Lettermen. Just two Seniors among them. That seems a daunting proposition on premise. To his credit, however, Adam Brockhouse has totally embraced this notion of the rebuild and the whole “future benefits” approach to getting his team’s growing pains out of the way as expediently as possible. To wit, five Freshmen made Varsity starts in Weeks Seven through Nine of last season. So while it’s true that West Central will employ an inordinate number of Juniors and Sophomores in its 2018 two-deep, don’t sleep on the notion that those same kids are now relatively speaking, veteran talents. Obviously, this tact of playing young will lead to some unavoidable ups and downs at times this season. Football’s immutable lesson is that consistency is largely born in the game of maturity and experience. By the same token, the three year prognosis for West Central has brightened considerably via this youth movement approach. And will continue to do so with every evolution these same kids make this Fall. Coach Brockhouse talks openly about the high end ceiling of this young core and just how special they have a chance to be if they continue to do things the right way and pay the price. This is what doubling down on that belief looks like.
WINGING IT: Offensively, the Cougars will look to better invigorate a Wing-T Rushing Attack that struggled to just 14 total points and 200 ground yards a game last Fall largely on the strength of greater user familiarity/execution. The half dozen returning starters on this Offense have now lived and breathed Adam Brockhouse’s system for a full year. That should elicit both smoother flow and crisper individual assignment play. As those puzzle pieces fall into place, so too does the overall cohesiveness of the run game. Offensive Line play will be a critical component and the West Central staff will bank on Senior Blake Clayton (6’1” 185lbs) to be, quite literally, the center piece on which they build. Junior Tackle Carson Smith (6’ 235lbs) brings a little bit of West Central’s traditional size into the mix here at Tackle. Guard Eli Crews is one of those Sophomores this staff is so very high on. The Cougars will be on the hunt for candidates at the other Guard and Tackle spots through Summer Camp, but having Hunter Drake (6’3” 180lbs) in the mix at Tight End should provide a little value-added blocking strength to the Line Building process.
After making spot starts as a Ninth Grader, Wes Hughes (5’10” 160lbs) is poised to orchestrate the Offense at Quarterback. He is a great athletic fit for the job and moreover, is one of those incredibly perceptive kids who can already play the game well above his experience level. Fellow Soph Andrew Kaufmann cuts an imposing figure at Fullback with his 6’3” 200 pound frame. He’s a tough customer who brings the exact right mindset to the all-important job of setting the tone between the tackles for the entire run game. Senior Gage Myer is the Dean of the Offensive Backfield. And a repurposed Hunter Coultas should help add to the versatility of the West Central run game. This mix of assets/profiles these kids project certainly fit nicely into the Wing-T template. Now it’s just a case of how quickly they mesh.
CONNECTING THE DEFENSIVE DOTS: Put diplomatically, West Central has ample room for considerable defensive improvement in 2018. Last year, the Cougars struggled mightily to slow down their opponents, surrendering more than 300 ground yards a game. In the Wing-T intensive WIVC, if you let opponents get downhill on you with regularity, you aren’t going to win many football games. Coordinator Grant DeWitt knows a little something about snuffing out running lanes from his Brown County days. He’s charged with sharpening the teeth on a unit that allowed 35 points per game on average a year ago. And echoing the Offensive marching orders here, DeWitt plans to remedy those issues with savvier, faster, more physical play as a collective. And he believe he has the tools to do just that.
The Cougars return four starters here; one each from the Line and Secondary and a pair of interior Linebackers. Blake Clayton isn’t overly big at Middle Linebacker but he has a nice hobby of leaving bodies on the ground in his wake. He’s an aggressive kid that is willing and able to run all over the field in quest for contact. He will set a nice tone here next to Eli Crews, Andrew Kauffman has the size and range to be a star on the outside and utility both as a Linebacker in the 4-4 scheme or as a Stand Up Rush End when West Central employs the 5-3.
Senior Gage Myer returns to headline the Secondary at Safety. The Cougars will go with Hunter Coultas and Wes Hughes at Cornerback.
Defensive Line play is largely a work in progress here. Carson Smith returns to the mix here. Hunter Drake will likely be asked to expand his value beyond just his Tight End contributions and help stabilize the D-Front. There are a host of younger prospects as well who could emerge to tie up the loose ends in the trenches on both sides of the ball as well.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: The inclination here is obviously to paint Winchester West Central as the proverbial team “a year away” from climbing back up the WIVC power structure. Here’s the thing, though. While the top end of the Conference appears to be absolutely loaded (as usual) I tend to think things get a little squishier than usual in the middle and lower classes of the WIVC this season. There’s some wiggle room and opportunity here. And I’d argue West Central has both the talent and youthful audacity to exploit it. Moreover, if the Cougars somehow come out of the gate and surprise Brown County on opening night (a team that I hear a lot of folks in WIVC circles suggesting to be vulnerable) it suddenly becomes easier to envision this squad as a team that could fight for four, maybe even five wins if the cards fall right. North Greene, Routt and Pleasant Hill/Western are all teams that these Cougars pair well with if they limit mistakes, make tackles and play within themselves. To say the future here is bright is kind of a cop-out. I’ll go further here and say the immediate hold great intrigue with this West Central crew too. Fair warning, if they start to turn the corner “ahead of schedule” this Fall, there may be no bringing them back to the pack when all is said and done here. This youth movement may be an elegant gamble on Adam Brockhouse’s part but it is one I warm to more and more.