BENSON — Jimmy Williams hopes to change the culture around West Johnston football.
And the new head coach says he believes one step towards doing that is to change the system.
West had been an air show during the tenure of former head coach Randy Ragland, who left after last season to assume the reins at Fairmont.
But Williams, the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator for the past two seasons who had a highly successful 14-year run as head coach at East Wake, wants to keep the ball on the ground out of a multiple spread.
“I’ve kind of scratched everything from last year,” Williams said. “We’re going to be more of an option-oriented football team. And our philosophy is run first, second and third and throw fourth.
“We’ll set up passes with the run game. The philosophy was that we were going to outscore people. But we’re going to play great defense and run the football. This formula has been good for me and my staff. And our kids have bought into that.”
Williams said that without a lot of depth – he said as many as five starters may play iron-man football with a few short breaks – one main objective is to keep his defense off the field.
“We’re going to play the best players as long as they can go and rest them as need be,” Williams said. “When you’ve got the depth situation we’ve got, you’ve got to do that.
“I don’t think you can be physical if you throw 70 percent of the time, and we’re not going to try to run 100 plays. We’re going to have a package that we get good and fundamentally sound at. If you throw all the time and don’t get first downs, your defense is right back on the field. I’ll take a chain-moving possession as much as a quick strike.”
The Wildcats went 3-7 last season and have had only three winning seasons in the past six years. Going into its 11th year as a varsity program, West is still looking for its first playoff win.
West has about 100 players in the program including 42 on the varsity, and will suit up 15 seniors. The Wildcats will return six starters on offense and five on defense.
West has a battle at quarterback to replace multi-sport athlete Justin Carroll, who is now playing baseball at UNC-Wilmington.
Junior Cameron Williams, who also sometimes lines up at a running back spot and plays safety on the other side, is competing with quick sophomore Jarvin Holder (5-foot-8, 160 pounds).
“Williams is a good overall athlete,” Williams said. “And Holder is elusive. He just doesn’t take many direct hits.”
Junior Sam Campbell (6-5, 235), one of the state’s best wrestlers, will play offensive tackle and defensive end while senior Josh Banfalvy (6-5, 250) will go at tight end and defensive end.
“Banfalvy has probably got the best hands on the football team,” Williams said. “You don’t even hear the ball.”
Other two-way guys include senior center/nose guard Christian Collazo, senior wideout/safety Xavier Carter, junior offensive guard/inside linebacker Dylan Lawrence, junior two-way guard Nay Fuller and sophomore outside linebacker/tailback Jake Strickland.
Junior Tre Frederick returns at slotback, while senior Garrett Harris returns at inside linebacker in the multiple 4-3 defense.
Williams said his first goal this season is getting into the state 4A playoffs, with an eye toward eventually winning a state title.
And he wants everyone to know West wouldn’t have to win the Greater Neuse River Conference title right away to be a good playoff team.
“I know we’ve got to play with the Garners and the Southeast Raleighs,” he said. “When I was at East Wake we won the conference twice. Do we want to win the GNRC, absolutely? I still believe it’s the toughest league in our area.
“Garner is at the top until somebody proves otherwise. And it isn’t a team, it’s a program. You’ve got to climb through an athletic Southeast Raleigh team and now a really athletic Knightdale team too. But Garner is the benchmark.”
A more realistic goal than winning the GNRC in season one, he said, is being the best team in Johnston County. The Wildcats open at Smithfield-Selma, and then host South Johnston and Cleveland. The most important game of the season will probably be with GNRC and county rival Clayton on Nov. 1.
“The JoCo games are very important for our program,” he said. “In the larger scope of things we want to be in the state playoffs and win a state championship. However, we want to be the best football team in Johnston county year-in and year-out as soon as we can.”