By: Cooper Hughes
The past couple years have been rough for West Henderson’s football team, so students did not know what to expect coming into this season. The student body was excited to see how this year’s team would play, they were quickly shown. The Falcons have become a feared team across Western North Carolina, leaving many fans wondering where their success came from.
The saying has always gone “Defense wins Championships,” and the Falcons have proven that true this season. West Henderson has allowed an average of 14.7 points per game through 7 games this season, which is a 13 point improvement compared to last year’s average of 27.7 points per game. The Falcons defense lost two key players from the class of 2022, Lane Johnson and Tye Galloway, but many underclassmen took a step up to fill the shoes of these graduated players. The Falcons linebacker core has been taking over this year. They are highlighted by Junior, Eben Mann leading the team with 57 total tackles, including 8 tackles for loss. Senior Andrew Schultz, Junior Aidan Ostman, and Sophomore Tyler Nash have also played a huge part in the linebacker core’s success. Schultz started the season off with 51 total tackles, followed by Ostman with 38, and Nash with 35. “We’ve gotten a lot better at reading offenses over the past year,” Mann said. “That, as well as working harder in the weight room has helped us grow a lot as a defense.” The falcons ability to pressure the quarterback has been huge to their defensive success, and has taken a lot of weight off of the secondary’s shoulders. The Falcons average 3.6 sacks per game compared to the national average of 1.2. Junior, Finley Sullivan leads the team with 6 sacks and has been effective in many critical moments for the Falcons defense. Pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks has helped West Henderson force a lot of turnovers, with the falcons averaging 2.1 interceptions per game. The Falcons secondary has begun to go by the nickname of “Air Traffic Control,” because teams have struggled to pass against them. “Controlling the air is what we do,” senior defensive back Caleb Collany said. “It is our job to control each part of the passing game and we make sure to have each other’s back if one of us gets beat.” Collany is currently leading the team with 5 interceptions, followed by Junior Truitt Manuel with 4, Junior Diego Castro with 2, and Junior Blake Philips with 1.
Although Falcon defense has excelled during the 2022 season, West Henderson has really shined on the offensive side of the ball. The falcons have put up an average of 41.7 points per game and have only had to punt the ball 10 times to start the year off. West Henderson saw a glimpse of an explosive offense in a few games last season, but improvement of every part of the offense has turned West Henderson into the team they are today. A large part of this improvement is due to the offensive line. Offensive line was unknown for the Falcons coming into the year, as it was built of a few rising Juniors, some with little varsity football experience. The core group of Seniors, Braycen Pruitt, Josh Cole, and Luke Mccmin have been playing together for four years, but they believe they’ve taken a huge step as a team this season. “The offensive line has really come together as a team this year,” Pruitt said. “The main difference has been all the offseason work that we have put in together. Our team chemistry and communication is the best it has ever been and has given a great boost to the team. Last year we were seen as the reason for most of our losses, this year we wanted to be a reason for our wins.” The offensive line’s improvement has played a huge role in the team’s ability to shine in both the pass and run. With the addition of former professional quarterback Jonathan Crompton to the coaching staff, West Henderson has quickly turned into one of the most lethal passing attacks in the state. Behind Senior Quarterback, Lukas Kachilo, the Falcons have passed for 260 yards and 3 touchdowns per game. Kachilo recently committed to Gardner Webb to continue his football career, and was looking to have a big senior season to prepare him for the next level. “Having coach Crompton around every day has really helped me grow as a Quarterback,” Kachilo stated. “We have a very talented receiving core and the fact that I am able to trust them has made me much better and much more prepared for the next level.” Coming off a broken collarbone, Junior Diego Castro was asked to take on a new role in the offense this year as a slot receiver. Castro has started the season off with 30 receptions for 447 yards and 5 touchdowns. Castro’s route running and ability to find the holes in the defense has quickly turned him into one of Lukas Kachilo’s preferred targets. “It was a lot to learn and adjust to,” Castro said. “But by studying film, working on my routes, and learning how to run routes based on leverage, I was able to adjust very quickly.” Senior tight end Cameron Banks has also had a solid start to the season with 28 receptions, 313 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Kachilo’s favorite target, Junior Truitt Manuel, has quickly become one of the top receivers in the state, leading him to attract double teams by many opponents hoping to slow the Falcons offense down. “The double teams have actually helped us out a lot by getting other people open,” Manuel said. “As long as we are winning, I could care less about my stats.” Manuel has been the top offensive threat in the conference this year, with 52 receptions for 680 yards and 16 total touchdowns. But as many people know, in order to have a successful passing attack, you must have a respectable run game to go with it. The Falcons have just that in Junior, Carson Dimsdale and Sophomore, Tayman Howell. This duo has rushed for over 900 combined yards as well as a total of 6 touchdowns. The Falcons running back committee have done a great job of opening up the pass, as well as keeping the chains moving late in games.
Despite the great start to the season, the Falcons biggest battle is still ahead of them. West Henderson is currently tied for first place in the Mountain Seven conference with Tuscola. The Falcons face Tuscola on October 28th, 2022 after a two game road trip where they face Owen and Franklin. “We have strong Senior leadership and talented athletes at multiple positions,” head coach Paul Whitaker said when asked about the team’s strengths. “We need to continue to cut down on penalties and make better decisions late in the game.” Whitaker and the falcons look to come out of this three game stretch undefeated and take the falcons on their first state playoff run since 2015.
Photo by: Victoria Knight