COLLINSVILLE — Heading into Week 4, West Lauderdale head football coach Brock Clay is pleased with the progress his team has made, though there’s always room to improve.
The Knights (2-1) opened the season with a 16-0 win against defending MHSAA Class 1A state champion Nanih Waiya before dropping a 29-21 contest to Philadelphia. West Lauderdale rebounded last week in a big way as it pounded South Jones 57-14.
“We’re playing good football,” Clay said. “As far as the games we’ve played, we made a lot of costly mistakes in Week 2 with Philadelphia. We had a fumble returned for a touchdown and a kickoff return (for a touchdown), and we had an injured punter where the ball came off the side of his foot, and they returned it for a touchdown. Other than really bad breaks in that one game, as far as our actual play, I’m very happy with where we are.”
Defensive end Jacob Feist is one of just 11 seniors listed on the Knights’ roster on MaxPreps.com, and Feist said the smaller senior class means a lot of freshmen and sophomores are having to fill in the gaps.
“We let the young guys know that we’re depending on them much more this year and that they would have to step up in certain situations,” Feist said.
Eli Bryan has taken the reins at quarterback this fall for West Lauderdale, and he’s throwing to a group of mostly younger athletes. Senior Braden Luke is the lone receiver with significant playing time a year ago, and all of them have stepped up and have helped lead the offense.
“Eli is throwing the ball really well and playing really high-caliber football for us right now,” Clay said. “(Ja’karius) Grant has really stepped up — he rushed for over 100 yards last week — and was able to run the ball well behind our offensive line. We have two freshmen and a sophomore at receiver along with Braden, and I’d have to say the young guys — Brett Busbea, Jackson Parker and (sophomore) Wyatt Castle — have made big plays. They’re all right there performing at a very high level for us.”
From watching the offense on the sideline, Feist said he’s come away impressed with Bryan and the receiving corps.
“Eli really stands out because he’s a great leader on that side of the ball, and he usually puts it in the right spot for our young receivers, and those receivers have really shown out the past two games,” Feist said.
With a roster of just 55 players, the Knights don’t have quite the depth they’ve had the past few seasons, but Feist said the quality hasn’t dropped off as much as the quantity, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“This team is really young, but the guys who need to step up have been stepping up,” Feist said. “I think we compare well to last year’s defense.”
Clay also said he’s been pleased with the defense’s mentality.
“We’re very stingy, game in and game out,” Brock said. “They’re becoming what West Lauderdale’s defense is supposed to be about. I hope we continue to play the way we’ve played the last few weeks on the defensive side of the ball as far. Eleven men are getting to the football, and we’re form tackling and gang tackling and taking pride in getting there. I’m not going to say we’ve got the individual performances we’ve had on the defensive side in the past, but we’re definitely performing better as a unit, and that’s going to be big as we get into district play.”
First, though, the Knights will have to contend with a Neshoba Central team Friday that Clay called the best 0-3 team in the state. The Rockets have dropped contests to Grenada, Germantown and Tupelo, who are all 2-1 on the year.
“If you can find me a better 0-3 team in the state of Mississippi than Neshoba Central, then I would fear to see them,” Clay said. “They’re solid everywhere and are well-coached with a ton of (coaching) experience. They have several head coaches that are on that sideline, so they’re very fundamentally sound, and they’ve played three really good football teams. I think they’re still just as good as everyone thought they would be at the start of the year.”
Feist said none of the players are buying into the idea that Neshoba Central’s record is indicative of the Rockets’ skill level.
“Their record doesn’t mean anything,” Feist said. “The three teams they’ve played are very good. It’s too soon to tell anything about anyone as far as their record goes. You have to look at their players and their team as a whole.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Neshoba Central.