COLLINSVILLE — It’s Eli Bryan’s time at West Lauderdale.
The senior quarterback/linebacker has been suiting up as a Knight since the seventh grade, and he was set to take over at quarterback last fall.
After backing up Turbo McKee in 2017, Bryan was expected to take over for McKee at quarterback in 2018. But West Lauderdale baseball standout Austin Davidson decided to play football his senior season last fall, and Davidson ended up winning the starting job, which meant Bryan saw the majority of his playing time at running back and linebacker.
Bryan never complained the past several years, West Lauderdale football coach Brock Clay said. This summer, Bryan has stepped up as a leader during the Knights’ summer workouts.
“Eli has been a kid who, in more ways than most people can comprehend, has paid his dues so to speak,” Clay said. “He’s worked his tail off ever since he was in junior high. Last year, we had Austin come out right as the season was starting, and he ended up being the (Class) 4A quarterback of the year. Eli accepted whatever role came his way and has been humble and hard-working, and he’s never had any negatives whatsoever — and that’s caused him to come out as a senior and really step into that role.”
Despite not being the starting quarterback prior to this year, Bryan said it never bothered him playing backup, as he was still getting playing time at other positions.
“I just like playing football,” Bryan said. “As long as I’m playing, I’m fine. (McKee and Davidson) were better players at that time, and now it’s my time.”
Clay said Bryan’s style is to lead by example, which he’s shown during the team’s summer conditioning program.
“He’s an extremely hard worker who’s been busting his tail,” Clay said. “He’s the kid everyone wants to coach. Now, when you start talking about a bell cow, that’s not really Eli’s demeanor. He’s more of a this-is-what-I’m-doing-and-I-want-you-to-do-it-with-me kind of guy, and that’s very impressive for a kid.”
The Knights will need Bryan’s leadership this fall, as the senior class is approximately half the size it was a year ago.
“There are a lot of new faces,” Clay said. “We graduated 25 kids last year, and our numbers just aren’t what they’ve been because of the number of kids in each class. We don’t have 25 seniors now.”
Bryan said he feels good about the returning seniors even if the quantity isn’t what Knights fans are used to seeing.
“I’d like to have more, but the guys we have are good guys,” Bryan said. “Most of us have been playing together since the seventh grade, so have a good bond.”
While the numbers may be smaller, Clay said the approach the team is taking to the season hasn’t changed.
“As far as the senior group goes, I think the mindset and philosophy is still the same amongst the kids, it’s just that there aren’t as many of them doing it,” Clay explained.
This weekend, the Knights depart for East Mississippi Community College to take part in the Lions’ annual football camp, which Bryan said will provide a good opportunity for the players to grow closer.
“We’ll be able to grow as a team and spend a lot of time together,” Bryan said. “Camp is the most important part of the year because it gives us a chance to practice all at once right before the season, so you can put everything in.”
West Lauderdale opens the season Aug. 23 at Nanih Waiya.