Westwood High will take the field Friday night with a region championship at stake. It will do so as the only remaining unbeaten in Class 4A and with the state’s No. 4 ranking.
“You couldn’t ask for a better Halloween night scenario,” coach Rodney Summers said. “I just told our kids to stay focused, give us their best effort and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Redhawks are eager to prove they are not masquerading in costume as a contender. That they are, in fact, a legitimate threat in Region 4-4A and are ready to make good on their season-long goals.
Standing in their way is Dutch Fork, the team everyone expected to be here. But the same cannot be said of Westwood, which will cap a three-year process that began with more failure than success and a team still navigating its way as an infant program.
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“Who’d have thought,” Summers posed, laughing, “that we’d be 9-0 right now going into 4A?”
To be sure, few people likely envisioned this kind of start for the Redhawks. After all, it was just a few years ago that Westwood finished its inaugural season in Class 3A with an inauspicious 1-9 record. Or 2-8 with a Lower Richland forfeit, Summers joked.
“Two years ago, we were just everywhere,” senior wide receiver Adonus Lee said. “We didn’t know what to do. We were jumping offsides, everything. Now we’re organized, listening, and we’re sharp.”
Little has changed for Westwood in terms of preparation, style of play or attitude. Only age and experience has altered the trajectory of the Redhawks’ program, which saw a youthful team comprised largely of sophomores remain dedicated to the plan.
“It’s been pretty dramatic,” cornerback Whitney McLeod said. “I pretty much expected it because we always work hard in practice. We never gave up and got negative or anything like that.”
McLeod and Lee, along with fellow seniors Anthony Douglas and Stephen Timmons, form the nucleus of this year’s group. The tandem has helped guide Westwood’s transformation from afterthought to contender, thanks to the experience they gained from the growing pains of that first year.
“If they came to us, they were not starting at their school,” Summers said of that initial class. “Otherwise, they would have stayed.”
They did, however, stay with Summers’ plan. They maintained the course – a foundation of hard work both on the practice field and in the weight room – that their coach mapped out for them and applied lessons learned from blowout losses at the hands of larger schools to the next week’s game.
The results steadily took shape. The Redhawks went 7-5 a year ago and won the program’s first playoff game before leaping to this season’s surprise 9-0 mark in their first 4A campaign.
“Hard work ethic has paid off,” Summers said. “The kids are believing in what we’re doing. The weight room has been a huge thing for us. … Our kids have just bought into what we’re doing. I think that’s helped us get to where we are now.”
The defense has formed the backbone of the Redhawks this year, as the Westwood unit has allowed an average of 7.3 points per game. Timmons, Douglas and McLeod highlight the unit, as the trio has combined for almost 400 tackles, 17 pass breakups and 12 tackles for loss. Lee has added in a vertical presence, hauling in 445 receiving yards and five touchdowns in a predominantly run-oriented offense.
Each will need their best if they have hopes of claiming a region title against last season’s state champions. With Spring Valley coming off an undefeated regular season and Blythewood also expecting to challenge, few envisioned Westwood being the final team in the Silver Foxes’ way.
“It was a hope and dream that we would, but to be honest, I didn’t think so,” McLeod said. “It means a lot. We set these goals before the season started. It would mean a great deal to us to win this game.”
Summers talks fondly about how far he and his program have come. The longtime Richland Northeast assistant coach has learned on the job as much as his players, applying more patience to his thought process while continuing to learn the minute details that are a part of a head coach’s responsibilities.
“Starting a new program, that was a lot of stuff I had to learn,” he said. “There were a lot of things that were unknown.”
His team was unknown, too. And yet now, as he runs his errands in Blythewood, more people notice him and stop to talk up Redhawks football. Fans and opponents recognize the Redhawks logo as well, McLeod added.
From unknown and unappreciated to possible region champions. The transformation continues for Westwood.