Young Players Step Up to Launch West Rusk to Undefeated Record in Non-District
West Rusk entered 2016 coming off its best season in school history but with plenty of question marks after losing some of its biggest playmakers.
But the expectations remained the same. And so far this season, those expectations have been met.
"We expect a lot out of ourselves. Our kids expect to win and they know that people aren't taking them lightly," said coach John Frazier, whose team is 4-0 entering its bye week this week.
After averaging more than 34 points per game and reaching the state quarterfinals in 2015, the Raiders haven't shown signs of slowing down this season. West Rusk is averaging 47.8 points per game and is coming off a 72-point blowup last week against New Diana.
"At first we weren't sure how things were going to go because we knew we had an awfully young team. We had to find ourselves and see who could step up and play certain positions," Frazier said. "It took all four weeks to get to that point, and fortunately for us we have been successful with four wins. I feel pleased with where we're at."
Young playmakers are at the forefront of that success. Sophomore running back Jaylon Garland is fifth in East Texas in rushing with 38 carries for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns -- averaging a lights-out 17.5 yards per carry.
Sophomore LaJavius Harper had some big shoes to fill under center after West Rusk lost Dee Starling to graduation. But Harper has stepped up in a big way, throwing for 638 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception through four games.
"(Harper and Garland) both played for us as freshmen last year and seeing the strides they've made since then, they're playing like juniors right now," Frazier said. "We knew our younger kids were talented, but having talent without experience still leaves a big question mark. We still have work to do, but these guys have really stepped up and played well."
But the Raiders' defense might be the most surprising aspect of this year's team. They returned seven starters on defense this season, but lost almost all their experience on the defensive line. West Rusk is surrendering just over 15 points per game so far this season.
"We brought in a new defensive coordinator with a totally different defense. You mix that with an inexperienced group and that leaves a lot of questions," Frazier said. "The kids have picked it up very well so far this year. Our defense is getting the ball back to our offense quicker this year and that's giving us more opportunities to score."
After a week off, plenty of familiar names are on West Rusk's District 9-3A Division II schedule. The Raiders will again face Waskom, Troup and Elysian Fields in district, and now they'll also meet Arp, Beckville Harleton.
Two-time defending state champion Waskom beat West Rusk in district last year and eventually knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs in the state quarterfinals. Both Troup and Elysian Fields will look to avenge losses to the Raiders this season.
"It's what it always is in this district. We always have a team or multiple teams go deep in the playoffs every year. It's a district that you've got to bring it every game," Frazier said. "No ifs, ands or buts each week. That's the key in this district and any coach will tell you that."