Raiders, Rockets working together for future of Coffee County football
Westwood seventh-grade quarterback Jake Hollandsworth tosses the ball into the backfield during the team’s workouts at Central High School Thursday morning. (Staff photo by Josh Peterson)
Since arriving in Manchester over the winter, new Central High School head football coach Ryan Sulkowski has been faced with a tedious to-do list in an attempt to breathe life into a floundering high school football program.
As he has been checking things off of his list one by one, he has also rolled out a welcome mat to the team’s feeder programs – Westwood Middle School and Coffee County Middle School – in what is a move designed to integrate everyone who wants to see the program move past its meager recent history.
“Having our entire community and middle school programs all on the same page is so very important,” explained Sulkowski, who takes over a Red Raider team that went winless in 2013 and has won just five games over the past three seasons. “[Westwood football coach] Chad [Dyer] and [Coffee Middle School football coach] Brock [Freeze] have really bought in and it means so much when trying to build a program at the high school level.
“I love the fact that both programs are excited about the future.”
(Click to see a photo gallery of Westwood’s workout at CHS)
Westwood, fresh off a 9-0 finish in 2013 that culminated in a Duck River Valley Conference championship, spent time Thursday
Westwood Rocket wingback Byron Sullivan, an eighth-grader, gets a carry during the team’s workouts at Central High School Thursday morning. (Staff photo by Josh Peterson)
not only exploring the facilities at Central High School, but participating in team activities, as well.
“It is refreshing for the community to see that the high school and coach Sulkowski have opened up an invitation at any time for us to come over and be a part of the program,” explained Dyer, who is entering his 11th year as the head coach at Westwood.
Dyer added that recent years have left a palpable disconnect between the high school football program and his Rockets.
“It is something we have been missing for years,” explained Dyer. “He has given us that opportunity to come over and take advantage of this.”
Dyer said the ability for his players to see the facilities and meet coaches relieves certain intimidation factors that go along with students moving up to the high school level in ninth grade.
“It is good for our boys to see the facilities and see the coaches that way when they are ready to go over [to the high school] they won’t be intimidated,” said Dyer. “They have a good idea of the training they will have to go through.”
During Westwood’s visit, the Rockets jumped in and participated in team training activities with the Raiders and later watched the atmosphere in the weight room and ran offensive plays on the practice field.
“We jumped in with those guys and they cheered us on as if we were a part of their team,” said Dyer. “It is refreshing to see the county kids and city kids work as one and root each other on and hopefully we can continue that for weeks, months and years.”
Westwood finished 9-0 last season for the first time in the school’s storied football history. Westwood lost all of its starters, but the Rockets do return a respectable number of players with real-game experience.
“We have several players back with playing time,” said Dyer.
The annual Westwood Blue-White intra-squad game will be July 31 and the Rockets will continue preseason activities with a Jamboree Aug. 1 at Cascade.
The first regular season home game is Aug. 7 against DRVC opponent Moore County.
Meanwhile, the CHS Raiders open the season Aug. 22 at BGA. The Raiders host Rhea County at 7 p.m. Aug. 29.