DUBLIN — West Bladen has weathered its share of flux, and this season will be no different as the Knights face the start of the 2017 season with not only the prospect of a new conference, but its third head coach in as many seasons.
Kris Williams, who coached the West Bladen jayvee during the past three seasons, has taken over the main clipboard for the Knights. He follows one season with Todd Pait as head coach and the end of the Russell Dove era on the sidelines.
After four years playing out of the Four Rivers Conference against such state powers as Clinton in Class 2-A and Wallace-Rose Hill in Class 1-A, West Bladen will move into familiar territory as a member of the new Three Rivers Conference — a conference that features 10 teams.
“It (the new conference) feels like home,” Williams said. “We’re used to see most of those teams and have kept a few of them — like St. Pauls and Whiteville) on the non-conference schedule.”
Things have started out slowly for Williams and the Knights, as the numbers of players has been low for the first two weeks of practice. But Williams said he expects those numbers to improve — at least for the varsity.
“I’m not sure we’ll have a jayvee right now, but the varsity will be alright,” he said.
West Bladen lost a good group of seniors to graduation from last season’s squad — including DE/TE Trent West, linebacker Hunter Pait, quarterback Weston Pidgeon, wide receiver Jonathan Ashworth, running-back James Moore, linebacker Traquan Smith, lineman Chris Council and lineman Hunter Jackson. They will also be without rising senior Scott Bowen, who was called on last season to fill in at quarterback when Pidgeon was hurt, but has decided to concentrate on basketball and baseball this school year.
Still, Williams thinks there is a good core of returning players, along with a few from the jayvee, to make the Knights competitive.
Among the returning players are senior lineman Jonathan Robinson, senior fullback/linebacker B.J. Drake and senior defensive end Zion Barrett.
“Jonathan is a vocal leader for us; B.J. will be busy, getting a bulk of the carries; and Zion has big potential,” Williams said.
Up from the jayvee will be the Knights’ starting quarterback, Tyre Boykin, whom Williams says “has one of the best arms I’ve seen as a sophomore with really good instincts, footwork and mobility — he just needs some experience and confidence.”
West Bladen will also get a good look at junior running-back/defensive back Kerron Washington.
Williams said the Knights will operate its offense out of a Wing-T base, but utilize numerous variations. Its defense will line up in a 4-4 with adjustments depending on the opponent.
Overall, Williams said he’s happy with what he sees, but there are areas that need work.
“I’m impressed with the senior leadership we have,” he said. “But we still need to get better numbers out, as well as work hard on our conditioning.”
The new conference
Williams said West Bladen is looking forward to returning to a familiar conference. The new Three Rivers Conference will include the Knights along with East Bladen, Whiteville, South Columbus, East Columbus, West Columbus, Fairmont, St. Pauls, Red Springs and South Robeson.
“There’s a lot of familiar areas there,” Williams said. “And the travel will be a lot better without trips to places like Teachey and Dunn.
“And I think this conference will create some excitement for the players and fans,” he added.
As for the favorites, in Williams’ mind the top two teams are East Bladen and South Columbus.
“Both are always very competitive,” he said. “We know Robby Priest will have his team ready, and Russell Dove is a buddy of ours who will get that team going quickly.”
But Williams added that nobody will be overlooking the likes of Whiteville, which “has a tradition that can carry a team a long way.”
West Bladen, after an open date on Aug. 18, will open the season Aug. 25 at South Brunswick.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at email@example.com.