High School Sports

West Meck football rejuvenated with first-year coach, swarming defense, high-scoring offense

West Mecklenburg junior receiver Dyami Brown, left, and quarterback Richard Latimer have been the big-play leaders of the Hawks’ explosive offense. West Mecklenburg (3-1), ranked this week in the Observer’s Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, will visit Ardrey Kell (2-2) in a SoMeck 4A conference opener Friday night.
West Mecklenburg junior receiver Dyami Brown, left, and quarterback Richard Latimer have been the big-play leaders of the Hawks’ explosive offense. West Mecklenburg (3-1), ranked this week in the Observer’s Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, will visit Ardrey Kell (2-2) in a SoMeck 4A conference opener Friday night. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

As defensive coordinator at West Mecklenburg last season, Jarvis Davis said he always believed the Hawks had more talent than their 5-7 record showed.

Davis said he believed with direction and dedication, West Mecklenburg could become a perennial regional power. And after coach Jeff Caldwell resigned in December after six seasons, Davis was promoted and given a chance to test his theory.

The results have been positive.

“We just tightened up the structure,” said Davis, 38, in his first season as a head coach. “We made weight room mandatory. We make sure they’re accountable for each rep. They love the weight room now and they see the change in their bodies and they’re able to walk on the field and compete with anyone they face.”

West Mecklenburg (3-1) had a two-touchdown lead on then-Observer Sweet 16 No. 13 Vance in the fourth quarter of its season opener before losing 41-34 in overtime. Since then, Vance has climbed to No. 1 in the rankings, and the Hawks have won three straight games -- outscoring opponents 146-21 -- and have vaulted into the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll for the first time in three years. West Meck, ranked 16th, plays at No. 15 Ardrey Kell Friday.

The Hawks call Davis a player’s coach. One of his favorite lines with his team is “family first.” In the summer, Davis practiced the Hawks in the mornings to keep their afternoons free, and gave them Fridays off. He also held “Parent’s Day” to give mothers and fathers an idea of their sons’ morning regimen. About 20 showed up, and actually ran and lifted weights with the players.

“They did a good job,” Davis said of the parents. “And that’s what we want over here, a true family atmosphere.”

Davis said he’s implementing what he’s learned from successful football programs. His cousin is former Carolina Panthers running back Stephen Davis, and like Stephen, Jarvis played at Spartanburg High. In Jarvis’ junior and senior years in 1994 and ‘95, Spartanburg was 30-0 and won back-to-back S.C. 4A state titles. In college, Jarvis Davis became an All-America free safety at Fayetteville State. And before coming to West Mecklenburg, he coached on staffs that won two S.C. 1A state titles at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High in Neeses, S.C., a small town about 21/2 hours from Charlotte.

After seven years at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, Davis was looking for a change. He accepted a job at West Mecklenburg, bringing with him a successful defensive scheme he calls “The Swarm.”

“You think of a beehive,” he said, “and you always see the bees together, and if they attack, you see them all attack. That’s what I want. ...I expect to see 11 (guys) to the ball.”

Davis hired three former Vance High coaches who helped Cougars head coach Aaron Brand turn that program around: tight ends coach Arthur Jacobs, receivers coach Trey Long and offensive line coach David Harrison. As they did at Vance, those coaches have added offensive pizzazz to go with that defensive swarm at West Meck.

The Hawks average 45 points, nearly 30 points better than the school’s all-time statistical average and six better than its previous high of 39 in 2013. Senior quarterback Richard Latimer has thrown for 1,000 yards, 13 touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 219 yards and five scores. Junior receiver Dyami Brown, whom ESPN ranks as the state’s No. 7 overall recruit in the class of 2018, has 12 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns. His brother, sophomore Khafre, has 13 receptions for 345 yards and six scores. Punter Juan Cota has just three attempts, as he’s rarely needed.

“They’ve always had tremendous athletes on the west side,” said Vance coach Brand. “It’s been a matter of somebody coming in and making it fun, and what makes it fun is those guys throwing it around a little bit. No one wants to come to practice every day and hit, hit, hit and run the ball, run the ball, run the ball.

“There’s not as many old-school players as there used to be. This new age wants to watch the ball being thrown around and West Meck is doing a good job of throwing the ball around.”

They’re also changing a culture.

From 1958-85, for example, the Hawks had five winning seasons. From 1986-92, coach Jim Hambacher produced five winning seasons in six years, including back-to-back school-record 10-win seasons in 1987 and ’88. Since Hambacher’s departure, West Meck has had nine winning seasons in 23 years.

This group’s goal is to make it 10.

“We knew we had it in us, coming from the summer with all the hard work we put in,” Latimer said. “We always had talent. We just needed that ‘it’ factor, that fire up under us, to bring it out. So now, we just keep working and keep listening to coaches and play within our system. We do what our coaches ask and we’ll get a positive result. It’s gonna be ‘shock the world’ over here this year.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

Inside West Meck Football

Record: 3-1

Results: Lost 41-34 to No. 1 Vance OT; d. West Charlotte 45-6; d. Garinger 42-8; d. Independence 52-14

Next game: Friday, at No. 15 Ardrey Kell

Team offensive leaders: QB Richard Latimer (56-86, 1,000 yards, 13 TDs; 44 carries, 219 yards, 5 TDs); RB Jared Jones (34 carries, 176 yards, 1 TD); WR Khafre Brown (13 catches, 345 yards, 6 TDs); WR Tyler Barnes (18 catches, 299 yards, 4 TDs)

Team defensive leaders: Trajan Stephens-McQueen (24 tackles, 1 INT); Marcus McCall (23 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Dyami Brown (10 tackles, 2 INT; 12 catches 172 yards, TDs as WR)

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