For the first time in school history, West Ashley High School enters the season ranked in the top 10 in the Lower State. But preseason rankings are just that. They’re really little more than a prediction, an expectation. And expectations are high at West Ashley High School this year — not only among pollsters, fans, and alumni — but among Wildcat players and coaches. “Hopefully it’s a motivator that what we’re doing here, people are starting to take notice of,” says WAHS head coach Bobby Marion, taking a break from watching game film last week.
Last season was a big step in that direction. After coming off a 1-10 season in 2012, the Wildcats finished with a winning record of 6-5 last season, barely missing the playoffs. And according to Marion, the team was two plays away from being 8-3. “We lost two games by one play. We lost to Fort Dorchester by a play and Wando by a play,” says Marion. “And we’re just as talented this year, if not more talented.”
Marion, who is beginning his eighth season at WAHS, jokes that he has a lot more gray hair now than when he took over a fledgling program that needed a change of attitude. “Hopefully getting that number 9 ranking in the Lower State will motivate our kids that we can do it and that the losing attitude we had around here is gone,” he says. “We’ve got to make those plays in pressure situations because it’s not always going to be comfortable. We try to stress to them that it’s the same thing in life. It’s not always going to be comfortable in life. You’re going to have to handle stress in life.”
Marion says the team’s goal for the 2014 season is simple. “Our goal is to make the playoffs and to have a home playoff game, the first one we ever had here,” he says. But the veteran coach knows that is never an easy task in a conference that features rivals Wando and James Island and perennial powerhouses Goose Creek and Stratford. Marion’s younger brother Joe is the new head coach at Stratford, which will make their Oct. 24 showdown that much more intriguing. “It will be a little different,” admits Marion, who was an assistant at Stratford before taking over at WAHS. “But once it starts it will just be West Ashley versus Stratford.”
Sertoma Football Classic
The Wildcats got a small taste of the kind of competition they’ll be facing this season last Thursday night when they squared off in a scrimmage with Goose Creek in the 44th annual Sertoma Football Classic at The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Gators put up four scores in just two quarters, handing the Wildcats a humbling 27-8 defeat.
While not too much can be taken away from two quarters of preseason football, Marion did find a few bright spots in his team’s performance. “We had plays. We had people open in the passing game,” says Marion. “We have to use this as a learning experience and we have to get better from this.”
Marion also felt the loss was good for his team in the sense that it helped hush the preseason hype surrounding the Wildcats and allowed them to focus and realize that this is the kind of competition they will be up against every week. WAHS will face Goose Creak for real in the second to last game of the season.
In the offseason a lot was made of WAHS’s former quarterback Pedro Manigault transferring to Goose Creek for his senior year. Manigault accounted for more than 1,700 yards of total offense and 17 total touchdowns for the Wildcats in 2013. His leaving the team his senior year to play for a conference rival came as a shock to many and WAHS filed a grievance with the High School League. But the Wildcats will never have the chance to face Manigault on the field. The duel-threat quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice a couple weeks ago, tearing both his ACL and MCL.
Wildcats’ Offensive Outlook
West Ashley has as transfer student of their own at quarterback this season in Justin Berry, who comes to West Ashley from Chicago. Despite being new to the offense this season, Marion says Berry will have the Wildcats’ entire extensive offensive playbook at his fingertips. “(Our offensive scheme) is very, very multiple. We’ll do anything. We can be in one-back, two-back, no backs,” says Marion, who is expecting big things from Berry this season and next.
Other weapons on the offensive side of the ball are the one-two punch of senior running backs Marquize Jenkins and Juwan Wise. The receiving core should also be strong for the Wildcats, according to Marion, who says the so-called skill positions of quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers are probably the best he’s had in his eight seasons at WAHS.
However, Marion admits there are some concerns on the offensive line. Anchored by senior center Buster Griffin, who Marion calls “a very good leader,” there still looks to be some shuffling on the offensive front, particularly at tackle, where the Wildcats are especially thin this year. WAHS is playing without senior Alex Byrd, who suffered a devastating knee injury wrestling for the Wildcats last season and will not play football in 2014.

Wildcats’ Defensive Outlook

While they may not have shown it last week at the Sertoma Classic, Marion says the Wildcats’ defense should be good this year, with perhaps the best secondary he’s fielded at WAHS. Seniors Jamel Coardes and Tyreek Campbell are returning in the defensive backfield for the Wildcats and are poised to make it tough on opposing quarterbacks looking to pass the ball this year.
Based out of a four-man front, Marion says the defensive line should be able to plug holes up front in the running game while keeping blockers off of senior linebacker Malik Thompkins, who is the sole returning member of a linebacker core that featured Bobby Ruff, who now plays for Charleston Southern and Lee Russell who now plays for Limestone College.
Ruff and Russell were among a record-breaking college recruiting class at WAHS last year. “We’ve got some prospects this year,” says Marion. “We’ll have just as many kids signed this year as we did last year.”
Along with being ranked in the top 10 in the preseason, having players competing at the collegiate level are positives that help build the program at WAHS and will hopefully avoid situations where potential players choose to play at other schools. “We now have kids coming back to us from Garrett, Academic Magnet, James Island,” says Marion. “We want to try to make this a community school. We want to try and get that community feel here. And get those kids who are supposed to be here to be here.”
West Ashley High School officially opens the season this Friday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. when they travel to Daniel Island to face Bishop England, who was the 2011 and 2012 AA State champions. 

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