The Westmoreland High football program has consistently been in the playoffs in recent seasons.
However, the Eagles weren’t quite able to achieve their goals in last year’s sub-.500 campaign.
Living up to those expectations was a tall task, as Westmoreland was coming off three consecutive nine-win seasons that included a playoff victory in each campaign.
“Our goal every year is to be in the playoffs,” Eagle fifth-year head coach Steve Harris said. “That’s obviously one of our goals.
“We feel like we can be as good as they want to be … it’s (a matter of) how hard they want to work. If we can stay relatively free of injury, we feel like we can have a successful season.”
Westmoreland was 5-5 during the regular season – placing third in Region 4-2A – but suffered a 42-0 loss at eventual state runner-up Marion County in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs. It was the Eagles’ fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
Westmoreland lost 14 seniors from last season.
Ten seniors will attempt to lead the Eagles during the upcoming campaign as they attempt to remain near the top of the region standings.
Westmoreland suffered its greatest loss in the offensive line, as senior center Ryan York is the lone returning starter.
“(York) had a good year for us last year,” Harris said. “He’s had a good fall camp. He’s our lone returning starter, so he’ll have to lead the offensive line.”
Junior Drew Gregory and sophomore Chris Birchfield are expected to start at the guard spots.
Seniors Logan Carter and Zach Taylor, junior Drake Neal, sophomore Alex James and freshman Garrett Crouch are all options at tackle.
Senior John Wright will serve as the tight end, though sophomore Chris Wix should also see action there.
Westmoreland’s run-oriented wing-T offense is hoping to experience greater productivity with its passing game after throwing for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons combined.
Senior Blake Carter is the frontrunner to start at quarterback, with junior Blake Eakle likely serving as the backup.
“We put a lot of time into trying to develop our passing game,” Harris said. “It’s still not where we want it to be. We’re going to continue to work on it and hope to get better in that area so that we can keep people from crowding the box.”
Carter will be joined in the backfield by junior fullback Ryin Raney, sophomore tailback Tate Sloan and senior wingback Lucas James.
“(Sloan) runs the ball extremely hard,” Harris said. “He knows something about getting pad level down. Football is real important to him, and he has a good head for the game.”
Senior Corey Gardner will also see action at tailback, and senior Hunter Crowson will play at various positions after averaging 9.1 yards per carry last season.
“We feel like we have a good, solid group at running back,” Harris said. “Any depth we have, that’s where it is. A lot of those guys are interchangeable. We’re excited about our running backs.”
Junior Chris McLennan will be at split end.
Junior Michael Graves will serve as the placekicker, and Sloan will punt and will also return kickoffs. Sloan averaged 32.7 yards per punt last season.
Crowson will serve as the long snapper, and Gardner is expected to return punts.
The three down linemen in the Eagles’ 50 defense – consisting of a 5-2 front – are a battle between Raney, York, Drew Gregory and Tiyler Watson. Watson is a returning starter, having compiled 53 tackles and four quarterback sacks last season.
“He’s probably our strongest player,” Harris said of Watson. “He’s going to have to do a better job of being in shape, especially early in the year. We need him to lead us in the defensive line.”
Carter and Crowson are expected to start at defensive end, with juniors Mason Gregory and Robert Hall providing depth there. Crowson had 60 tackles, four quarterback sacks and three fumble recoveries as a junior, and Carter made 43 tackles and had two sacks.
The linebackers – James and Sloan – are returning starters, though Sloan is moving there from defensive end. James made a team-high 107 tackles last season, while Sloan recorded 77 tackles.
“Those two can be as good of a pair as we’ve had here,” Harris said. “(Sloan) had a big year for us last year as a freshman, and he’s had a really good fall camp.”
Garnder and junior Cody Eakle are expected to start at cornerback, with juniors Blake Eakle and Daniel Mizrahi at safety. Carter, McLennan and Wright will also play in the secondary.
Gardner is a returning starter who had 49 tackles and two interceptions last season.
“We have a young secondary, and I’m concerned with depth along the defensive line,” Harris said. “We have to stay healthy. We just don’t have much depth at all. We have a couple of positions where we’re very thin. We can’t afford injuries that will keep people out for any length of time.”
The Eagles suffered league losses to region champion Forrest and second-place Watertown last season, and behind senior quarterback Seth Price, Watertown could be the team to beat in 4-2A this fall. Price was the 4-2A Co-Offensive Player of the Year last fall.
“Watertown has a lot of people coming back,” Harris said. “Forrest does a great job of coaching the people they have. Eagleville was really young last year. I look for them to make a big jump this year.
“I think the region from top to bottom is going to be a lot stronger than it was last season.”
Westmoreland’s three non-region foes – Trousdale County, Macon County and White House Heritage – had a combined record of 21-13 last season, with White House Heritage reaching the Class 3A quarterfinals.
The Eagles open the season by facing Trousdale County, Macon County and Forrest.
“I don’t know if it gets any tougher than starting the season going to Trousdale,” Harris said. “They have almost all of their football team returning from last season. Then, we go to Macon, and they expect to have one of the best teams they’ve had in a long time. They have an outstanding quarterback (Seth Carlisle). Then, we play one of the top teams in our region.
“The first three ballgames are going to be a big test for us.”
Follow Craig Harris on Twitter @CHTennessean.
7…vs. Trousdale County…13
15…vs. Macon County…33
48…at East Robertson…19
35…vs. Jackson County…7
0…at White House Heritage…37
Class 2A Playoffs
0…at Marion County…42
Aug. 19 @ Trousdale County – 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 @ Macon County – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 2 Forrest – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 9 @ Community – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 16 East Robertson – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 23 @ Jackson County – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 30 Eagleville – 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 White House Heritage – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 21 @ Cascade – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 28 Watertown – 7 p.m.
* – denotes Region 4-2A game