With only eight starters returning from the 2012 squad, the prospects of another title run this season looked questionable at best.
Six games into the 2013 campaign, the Devil Dawgs have not only shown that they’ve overcame the challenges of the preseason, but also are in the familiar spot of chasing another ASFL championship.
West Jefferson enters Saturday’s game with the Alabama Storm with a perfect 6-0 mark, as well as new moniker — the No. 4 team in the East according to the Amateur Football Rankings at www.americanfootballnews.net.
According to Devil Dawg owner/coach Jesse Reed, the prestige of a top five ranking excites the members of his program going into the final stretch of games in the regular season.
“Our focus last season was on winning the ASFL championship — we had no idea until after the season was over that we finished ranked tenth in the polls,” Reed said.
“The success that we’ve had this year in going undefeated and rising from No. 47 to No. 4 in the polls shows our team that we’re getting a lot of recognition for the hard work we’re putting in on the practice field and on game days.”
One aspect of the team’s success that makes Reed proud is the contribution the newcomers to the team have made.
The Devil Dawgs’ crop of newcomers include team members from various communities throughout the Daily Mountain Eagle coverage area — with players gaining their experience as Walker, Cordova, Parrish, Sumiton Christian, Corner and Meek.
“There’s a lot more of what I call “area flavor” this year. We have guys who are from our local communities that are proud to represent our area,” Reed said.
“We’ve been bigger and faster, but never been the type of team that we are now. It's definitely the most fun team that I enjoyed being with thus far and they’re just a great group of guys.”
West Jefferson has shown its ability to produce well this season on offense, as well as making opponents miserable on defense.
The Devil Dawgs have averaged 312 yards per game on offense, with their offensive line leading a rushing attack that averages 5.9 yards per attempt.
Veteran quarterback and former Walker Viking D.J. Smith has shown his leadership as a viable threat on offense, accumulating over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdown this year.
Smith has thrown for 697 yards with eight touchdowns and only three interceptions.
He’s also shown to been a threat running the ball, rushing for 342 yards and three touchdowns and an 8.8 yard rushing average.
“On the field, D.J. is such a leader, essentially a coach on the field for us,” Reed said.
“He coaches a great deal in practice and calls a lot of our plays. He works extremely well with our head coach, Vince Heard, who has done an outstanding job with our team.”
West Jefferson’s top receiving threat is Ronnie Cockrell, who has hauled in 12 passes for 261 yards and five touchdowns for a 21.8 yard average per catch.
The loss of star defensive end and ASFL Player of the Year Ibidapo Ojo has been offset by the emergence of new defensive end Sean Madison.
Nicknamed the “Minister of Defense” for not only his ability on the field, but his background as a spiritual leader, the 6-6, 230 lbs. Madison has been a force for the team, leading the Devil Dawgs with 36 tackles, 6 sacks and two forced fumbles.
“Minister Sean has done a great job in taking over for Ojo - which has very big shoes to fill. His character is just as tremendous as his ability is,” Reed said.
“When I first met, I thought he was more suited for basketball, but once the pads were on, I quickly saw how hard he plays. He covers a huge area with his size and athleticism. I'm really glad we have him.”
West Jefferson’s defense has also received solid contribution from safety Andre Hughes, who has deflected three passes this season.
Walker’s Anton Tucker has made an impact with two interceptions.
Saturday’s game against the Storm will also mark two special events for the Devil Dawgs. The team will hold Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday, where spectators will be admitted to the game free of charge. With a victory, West Jefferson can also celebrate earning home-field advantage through the playoffs.
The game will be held at the West Jefferson High School football field at 6 p.m.
“Saturday is going to be a big day for our team and our community and we hope everyone will come out and enjoy the game,” Reed said. “It’s our pleasure to represent this area and we’d love to share the experience with our fans.”