Jul 12, 2014
It takes a special coach to turn around a team that didn't win a game in its previous season. That's why the Westover High football program found a guy who has done it before.
First-year Westover coach Stephen Roberson is beginning the process of turning things around again. In 2012, the South Robeson Mustangs were coming off an 0-10 year when Roberson entered and won three games in his first year. Last season, he coached the Mustangs to the third round of the 1-A state playoffs.
To work similar magic at Westover, which finished 2013 with an 0-11 record, Roberson says he has to start by generating interest and enthusiasm.
"The first thing you have to do is try to get the kids to buy in and understand what you’re trying to accomplish," Roberson said. "You have to put them first and they sort of take care of the program.
"The first thing I think, being a player and loving football my entire life, is that kids generally love to play the game. You have to remember to try to make it fun."
Roberson has a few pieces of his young roster in place already, including senior leadership from returning quarterback Dequan Crankfield and linebacker Andre Donaldson. Roberson says he envisions both players making good things happen in the difficult 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference that includes tough foes in Douglas Byrd, Lee County, Terry Sanford and Grays Creek.
Roberson will also have the hurdle of classification to jump as he anticipates changes coming with a move from 1-A to 3-A football. His experience coaching linebackers at Purnell Swett High School prior to his South Roberson stint should help with that.
"My major concern right now is that when you’re taking over an 0-11 team, participation is a little down," he said. "I thought coming from 1-A, I’d have a lot more bodies. At the interest meeting I had a lot of bodies, but translating from a meeting to the field you find out that when you’re losing, kids don’t want to be part of a loser. The most important thing is to get a couple wins, and then you’ll see the enthusiasm of the kids pick back up."
In terms of coaching philosophy, Roberson says he hopes to be balanced and not have any distinct weakness, though he admits he loves to pound the ball and maintain possession with hard running like he did with the Mustangs a year ago.
Still, the Westover Wolverine roster is young after losing 18 seniors from a 2013 squad that scored just 83 points and allowed 430.
While future success and a few wins in 2014 may stir the pot of interest and bring more players to the Westover field, Roberson is concerning himself with what he can control in the present: helping each and every current player reach their potential.
"Kids weed themselves out," Roberson said. "A lot of them stop showing up because we work hard. The first thing I tell them is that this is a hard sport to play. It starts really, really hot and it ends really, really cold. You go from one season to the next and it’s a long year. The ones that stick it out—you give them all you got. In return, they’ll give you what they have."
Westover begins its next chapter under Roberson Aug. 22, at home against Seventy-First.
Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT
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