Growing up in the shadow of Southeast High in Bradenton, Rashad West always had role models. From Peter Warrick to Adrian McPherson, Ukee Dozier and Todd Williams, there were always athletes to follow and appreciate.
But of all the prospects that filtered through this pipeline, the person that West has always admired the most is veteran coach Paul Maechtle. For more than 30 years, this coach has been a father to some and a role model to others.
As a top-flight quarterback out of the program in the late 1990s, West took all the great things passed down by his coach and started to apply them. First as a collegiate player and for the past four years, as Western’s coach.
What West has done with the Wildcats is nothing short of amazing. With no solid feeder program, and always battling schools such as American Heritage, St. Thomas Aquinas and University School for athletes, he has gone against the grain and built this program into one that is now demanding respect.
Playing against Cypress Bay, Flanagan and Miramar has exposed Western to some of the top competition. That’s why over the past three years, West’s team rarely stays in South Florida during the summer, opting to compete in places such as Tampa, Orlando and New Smyrna Beach.
“What I have always been taught is that you run from nobody and embrace competition,” West said. “The only way you get better is playing teams who have already gotten to the level where you want to be. Where I grew up, that was the only way you improved.”
Through the past few years, the Wildcats have had some talent, but never enough to lineup with some of those powers, but that has all changed.
This year’s squad has the team concept that West grew up with. While you do have some stars — junior quarterback Wade Freebeck and junior defensive back Juwan Dowels — the roster has many athletes who are difference-makers.
As Freebeck found out last year, as a sophomore, things can happen fast in West’s system. Freebeck started the last five games of the season when the starter went down, and he was thrust into the statewide spotlight as a prospect to keep an eye on. The University of Florida offered the 6-3, 200-pounder in the offseason.
While Freebeck and the explosive Dowels are players who have started to make their impact, the Wildcats have others who are starting to follow.
Other players who have helped put Western on the map include: senior receivers Jimmy Gonzalez, Tarik Cummings and Ethan Lewis, defensive back Mark James, linebacker Billy Ellison and tight end Mario Elliott.
While there are a number of key juniors and seniors who have shown leadership and experience, there are a group of young players who have given this program a building block for the future.
Linebacker Robert Foy, receivers Johnathan Atwell, running backs Jerrel Rickets and Brayon Parrish, kicker Blake Horn and one of the top-flight future players in linebacker Adrienne Talon, who has already started getting noticed by colleges.
“It has always been about being a part of family, here,” West pointed out. From the entire football team to the coaches and those who support us. That is how you build a program and not just a one or two year team.”
Local stat leaders
Everyone across the country knows that when it comes to producing top-flight football talent, Miami-Dade and Broward counties are among the best.
The top two rated quarterbacks in the nation are from South Florida — Rakeem Cato (Central) from Marshall and Geno Smith (Miramar) of West Virginia.
And former Columbus receiver Erik Lora (Eastern Illinois) leads all FCS receivers with 83 receptions for 1,124 yards.
We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. All you have to do is send a DVD and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein, P.O. Box 3181, Hallandale Beach, Fl. 33009.
Have a comment? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Larry on Twitter at twitter.com/larryblustein.