The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

High School Sports

August 29, 2013

Westside promising despite early loss of Cogar

— 2012 IN REVIEW: Westside was 5-5 last season under coach Darren Thomas, coming off a string of 9-1, 6-3-1 and 9-1 seasons.

Thomas resigned after the season to spend more time with his family. Former assistant Larry Cook (all-state player at Oceana and starting lineman at WVU) has taken over the reins of the team.

“We were rebuilding last year. We had a lot of sophomores playing, and they had little experience,” Cook said. “It was tough, but 5-5 wasn’t a bad record, considering we played pretty good teams like Bluefield, Scott and Mingo Central. We didn’t lose to any slouches.”

Eleven seniors were lost to graduation, including veteran linemen John Thornsbury, James Adkins and Dakota Osborne.

WHO’S BACK? Westside was expecting a great season from junior quarterback Justin Cogar (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), but he went down with a fractured ankle in the first scrimmage. It wasn’t a bad fracture, but he’ll be on the shelf for at least six to eight weeks.

“That’s a big loss for us. Justin is one of those rare kids who is the total package. He can run or throw, and he’s a calming influence on the team,” Cook said. “With his ability, and Mike Mullins being so quick, it would have made it hard for teams to defend us.”

Mullins (6-0, 185), a junior tailback and defensive back, gained over 1,100 yards last season despite missing two games with an injury.

“Mike has real good quickness and speed, and he’s not easy to hit,” Cook said. “He added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and he’s come back a lot stronger. He’s played since he was seven years old, so he has lots of experience. We just need to give him some creases to run in and let him use his speed.”

Matt Harless (6-2, 245), a four-year starter at middle linebacker, also hit the weight room hard and went to some camps this summer. A hard worker, he has high expectations for himself.

“Matt likes to hit and punish people. He finds a way to get to the ball,” Cook said. He has a lot of experience, and has learned the tricks of the trade. And he will lay a lick on you.”

Harless will also play offensive tackle and fullback.

Senior nose guard Phillip Browning (6-0, 235), a three-year starter, can cause a lot of havoc in the trenches. “Having Phillip at nose guard and Matt behind him at middle linebacker gives us a pretty good tandem in the middle,” Cook said.

HIDDEN GEMS: Sophomore Larry Cook Jr. (6-1, 185) will replace Cogar at quarterback — something he’s done before.

“Little Larry has played quarterback behind Justin since he was eight years old,” Larry Sr. said. “Whenever Justin would move up (whether midget league or middle school), Larry would be the quarterback.

“He’s kind of a gunslinger. He throws the ball well. But what he does well is think. He makes all the right reads in the option and passing games.

“He’s going to get a trial by fire real quick.”

Dalton McComas (6-0, 190) hasn’t received as much recognition on the line as last year’s seniors, but he’s set to have a banner senior campaign.

“Dalton is a steady offensive lineman and inside linebacker we can count on. He doesn’t want to fail at anything he does,” Cook said. “He’s undersized, but quick, and since we pull our tackles he fits our scheme.”

Wide receiver Justin Kenneda, a  5-10, 160, junior, saw limited varsity action last year, but has come back stronger and improved. He runs a 4.8 40 and has great hands and runs good patterns.

“Justin has the potential to be a really good receiver,” Cook said.

PUTTING POINTS ON THE BOARD: Westside will run the flexbone, a read-option offense built around Cogar and Mullins and an athletic line and receivers. There is rarely a fullback.

“Our offense is balanced. We like to run and pass, throw screens and run a lot of option,” Cook Sr. said. “That won’t change (with Cook Jr. in the lineup).

Bryce Robinson, a 5-11, 167-pound junior, is the other wingback. He played mostly JV last season. Harless and sophomore Trevor Anderson will occasionally give Mullins a rest.

The split ends are senior Zach Bailey (6-0, 180)  and junior basketball standout Corey Bowles (6-3, 177). Bailey played on the JV team last year. Bowles, who never played football before last season, shows potential of becoming a really good player.

The linemen include Browning and senior Chase Stafford (6-5, 260) at the guards, Thomas Aliff (6-0, 215) at center and Harless and McComas at the tackles.

Neither Browning nor Stafford started last season. Aliff had moved up from the JV, but broke his leg.

Harless will do kickoffs and extra points. Bowles will do the punting.

MAKING STOPS: The Renegades’ 5-3 defense is strong at linebacker with Harless, Bailey and McComas, but has some inexperience elsewhere.

Browning is the nose guard, while returnee Stafford and Doug Lester (6-0, 230), moving up from linebacker, are at the tackles. Juniors A.J. Cook (6-1, 176) and Ryan Blankenship (5-10, 140) will play the ends.

Kenneda and Robinson will get their first starts on defense at the cornerbacks. Cogar was the safety, but Mullins will now man the spot. Bowles will also see time in the secondary.

STANDING IN THE WAY: Like many coaches, Cook considers the “next” game to be the most important, and for the Renegades that’s a home game with Liberty, their traditional season-opening foe.

“It’s been an important game since Westside opened,” he said. “When we beat Liberty, it always leads to a playoff berth. Plus, we want to show our team will be OK without Justin.”

County rival Wyoming East will be the Week 2 opponent.

“Gary (Poindexter) is much improved, and when it’s a rivalry game, it’s hard fought and you can throw the records out the window.”

Tug Valley dropped Westside. James Monroe is on the schedule now, along with Mingo Central, Man, Scott, Independence, Bluefield, Mount View and River View.

That’s a pretty good Class AA schedule,” Cook said. “If we make the playoffs, it’s definitely because we deserve it.”

WHAT’S IN STORE? Westside had an upbeat summer camp but became “a little winded with injuries.”

Cook said. “We’re trying to get back the momentum we had going.

“I believe, with all my heart, this team can be as good as it wants to be. It has all the right tools — physical players, smart players and speed.

“The key thing is they have to want to be good.”

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