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West Meck ready to roll

Wilson, Smith have rushed for more than 1,000 yards each in helping the Hawks go 9-3

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

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What West Mecklenburg football coach Jeff Caldwell likes most about his running backs is how well they complement each other.

Junior Shaun Wilson and sophomore Van Smith have each rushed for more than 1,000 yards in helping lead the Hawks to their best season since 1988. Last week, West Meck (9-3) won its first playoff game since 1989.

Friday, the Hawks will play a second-round game at Olympic. They will try to advance to the playoffs’ third round for the first time since 1987, and if they do, Caldwell figures his two running backs will be a big reason why.

“They’ve really managed each others’ carries,” said Caldwell, who was a receiver at Myers Park in the mid-’80s when a future NBA player named Haywoode Workman was the Mustangs’ quarterback. “Every game, it always comes down to them being one or two carries apart. That goes to the unselfishness of these young men.

“They come out of the game and point to the other one. They say, ‘It’s your turn.’ They always have good things to say to each other or offer advice.”

Wilson, 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, has 146 carries for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. He carries a 3.4 grade-point average, taking honors classes, Caldwell said. Last week, Wilson ran for 267 yards on 20 carries in a 45-10 win at Hough. It was the second-best, single-game rushing performance in school history.

Smith, 6-1 and 185 pounds, has rushed 150 times for 1,109 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last month against East Gaston, he rushed for a school-record 282 yards.

Where Wilson is more of speed back who changes directions frequently and hits top speed fast, Smith likes to run right at you.

Both styles have worked.

“Shaun’s a speed guy,” Caldwell said, “but he’ll mix it up, though. He’ll come out and give you the quick feet, but he’ll try to run over you, too. He puts in work in the weight room. He’s strong. He’s a versatile guy.”

Caldwell said Appalachian State and N.C. State have visited Wilson on campus, and South Carolina, N.C. A&T and N.C. Central are also recruiting him.

Caldwell said he’s confident Smith will play in college, too, but he thinks he might be a defensive back.

Caldwell said Smith, who also plays linebacker, and junior linebacker Dante Wallace are his team’s best defensive players.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Caldwell said, “Van’s best position is anywhere on defense. That joker hits. He’s aggressive, and when he runs the ball it’s like a defensive player.

“There are times when he can juke people, but he won’t juke them. Van is the kid that when we need to get a first down, he gets it. I don’t know how many times on film where we look and he’s getting that extra yard. He’s played the last four weeks with a messed up shoulder, but he keeps playing.”

Right now, though, the two running backs are making a big impression on offense.

Despite losing 14-0 in their first game against Rocky River, the Hawks average 36.8 points per game. In their past four games, all wins, West Meck is averaging 56.25 points as the running backs have had a succession of big games.

“They’re awesome,” said South Mecklenburg coach Rocky White, who formerly coached at West Meck. “I think both of those kids have done a great job. They absolutely got plenty of yards on us (in a 48-7 win on Aug. 30). …

“Both of them not only run hard but they complement each other well and block for each other, and it looks like they’re having fun and that’s what you want to see out of your backs. After they got beat by Rocky River, Caldwell made a great adjustment and realized he needed to get into the Power I (formation) and let those kids run. It’s worked out and it’s been a wonderful season for them.”

Caldwell said he’s been fortunate to have this collection of talent in his third season. In his first two, West Meck was 6-16.

Wilson, who lives in the West Meck district, attended Harding his first two seasons, having enrolled in a magnet program there. This year, Wilson and his family moved back to the home school. Wilson played in middle school with Hawks junior quarterback Jalan McClendon, who is getting major-college recruiting attention for his size (6-4, 195) and his strong throwing arm.

Smith moved to Charlotte from Pittsburgh during his eighth-grade year.

Now, Caldwell has them all for however long this season lasts, and next year, too. He said he hopes for big things.

“We’ve changed our mindset,” Caldwell said. “If you want to be good, you have to be prepared all the time. You have to be mentally fresh. We had to become more focused. We went back to doing all the little things. So we do little things right and we feel like everything else works out to be OK.”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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