WEST PORTSMOUTH — Balance — it’s what any coach hopes for in a football team.
For the 2020 Portsmouth West Senators, there is a strong balance in returning pieces which gained varsity experience a season ago and a 15-player freshman class which comprises the largest class on the Senators’ roster.
With 22 returning lettermen from last season’s 2-8 campaign, this West group — led by seventh-year head coach Ben Johnson — will need to rely on its leaders which gained that oh-so valuable game experience last year.
“We have a good core of veteran offensive and defensive linemen,” Johnson said. “They’ve put in so much work, certainly in the best shape of any set of linemen I’ve ever coached. We’re going to have to lean on those guys to be leaders. And we have a lot of young, athletic skill guys that even though they’re young, we’ve got a lot of returning experience with 22 returning lettermen.”
In dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and a two-week shutdown of off-season workouts prior to the official start of practice on Aug. 1, Johnson said this year’s Senators is likely one of the most well-conditioned groups he’s coached at West before the season’s start.
That, in large part, is due to the individual and team work the Senators have put in to help get themselves ready for a fall football season.
“This group that I have this year has really been amazing because they’ve come into camp in as good of shape as any team as I’ve ever coached, and they’ve had to do a lot of that on their own throughout the spring,” Johnson said. “They’ve come ready to go. Some of our numbers as far as guys getting themselves in shape are some of the best I’ve ever had, so really proud of them for that.”
Luke Bradford, an Honorable Mention all-state Division V defensive back who also finished his junior year at wide receiver on the offensive side, will be one of West’s key weapons on both sides of the ball.
Senior running back Hunter Brown will also see an increase in his production in West’s offense — after the graduation of William Journey, a first team all-Southeast District pick a year ago.
“Those guys played a lot last year and we’ll need them to step up and make some plays for us too.”
On Brown, Johnson said the senior running back is, “a kid that works really hard and who is ready to have a great senior year.”
Eli Tilley, one of three senior two-way linemen alongside teammates Trenton Fike and Luke Wroten, will be one of the key cogs in the Senators’ line play and ultimate success in 2020.
“Played both ways for us last year and he’s a great leader for this team,” Johnson said of Tilley.
Fullback and linebacker Carl Howard, another senior Senator, will also be an important piece in both the running game and run-stopping game this fall for West.
To start the season, West will move forward with sophomore quarterback Mitchell Irwin under center — after the then-freshman finished the back half of the year as the Senators’ starter.
“High football IQ, he’s a hard worker, going to keep getting better and better as he gets older,” Johnson said of Irwin.
Following the OHSAA Board of Directors’ vote to shorten the length of the 2020 regular season to six games, West will play its regular SOC II schedule weeks two thru six — while welcoming SOC I county foe Notre Dame to ‘The Rock’ for its week-one game on Aug. 28.
“SOC’s one of the best conferences in the state, so it never gets any easier for us,” Johnson said of West’s schedule.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved