After coming agonizingly close through the years, the Westfield Hornets grabbed their first state football title in 2013.
The defense of that championship will begin in a GISA that has seen its roster of local teams dwindle since the Hornets raised the trophy in November. Familiar foes like Tattnall Square, Mount de Sales and Stratford have all departed for the GHSA since the end of the season and took their rivalries with the Hornets along with them.
Westfield played four games against those three programs last year.
“We’ve been playing with the Macon schools for years, and we’ve built a lot of rivalries, so we’ll miss that competition with them,” Westfield head coach Ronnie Jones said.
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Still, Jones doesn’t see the schedule as a cake walk. He insists plenty of worthy challengers still remain.
“I think our schedule is just as tough as it was last year,” Jones said. “We’ve picked up some schools like John Milledge, who lost one or two games last year. We picked up Valwood, who lost one game last year, and we open up with Southland, who played us right to the very end in the semifinals.”
Fourteen starters return, including seven on offense and seven on defense. Westfield boasted one of the deepest rosters in GISA last season with 19 different starters.
Limiting the amount of players who have to play on both sides of the football is something that Westfield hopes to accomplish before the opening game.
“Just like everybody else, we need to develop some depth and not play so many both ways,” Jones said. “We’ve got a good nucleus to build around from last season, but at the same time, we’ve got some key positions that we lost last year where somebody needs to step up.”
The loss of his two starting wingbacks could be offset by the continuing development of junior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom Jones said improved dramatically during his sophomore campaign.
Fullback Josh Jenkins also returns. Jenkins scored a pair of touchdowns against Stratford in the title tilt, but Jones has insisted that his team put 2013 in the past.
“Whatever we did last year doesn’t have a thing to do with this year,” Jones said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to express to the kids. There’s nothing we can do about what happened last year. We’ve got to move on.”
Just like their old Macon rivals.
WESTFIELD IN 2014
Head coach: Ronnie Jones (322-123 in 38 seasons overall; 193-65-3 in 21 seasons at Westfield).
2013 record: 12-1.
2014 region: GISA 4-AAA.
Returning starters: 7 on offense; 7 on defense.
Players to watch: Wade Walker (5-11, 175, Sr., ILB); Giles Amos (6-3, 210, Jr., WR/FS); Ryan Fitzpatrick (6-1, 190, Jr., QB); Walker Davison (6-0, 225, Sr., DT); Khory Holliday (5-11, 240, Sr., G/DE).
Aug. 22 Southland
Aug. 29 Valwood
Sept. 5 at Trinity Christian-Sharpsburg
Sept. 12 at Deerfield-Windsor
Sept. 26 Bulloch
Oct. 3 at Westminster
Oct. 10 Gatewood
Oct. 17 at John Milledge
Oct. 24 at Flint River
Oct. 31 Augusta Prep