Vinny Careswell has been around Lee’s Summit West football since day one, but there’s still something different about being the head coach. With one season now under his belt, he feels more at ease in his once-new role.
“It’s a little more comfortable,” Careswell said. “It’s nice to have most of our staff back and a few veterans back.”
There aren’t many veterans back from last year’s 9-3 Class 6 state quarterfinalists, but that isn’t diminishing Careswell’s comfort level. There may be only three returning starters on offense and four on defense, but those are special players, and Careswell is confident the Titans’ overall athleticism will make up for their inexperience.
“We’re a young group, but we’re fast on both sides of the ball,” Careswell said. “So that’s what I’m really putting my hat on. We’re a fast Titan offense and a very fast Titan defense.”
Mario Goodrich is the speediest of them all, and he resides on both sides of the line. Goodrich, a senior wide receiver/cornerback, made himself one of the most sought-after recruits in Missouri when he made 15 catches for 282 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 181 yards and two more TDs. On defense, Goodrich had seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, and made 46 tackles, 7 ½ of them for a loss.
Those numbers made Goodrich a four-star prospect on several scouting sites. Last May, he made a verbal commitment to Nebraska.
“He might be the best in Missouri,” Careswell said.
West will have another speedy offensive weapon in running back Phillip Brooks, a senior who rushed for 1,041 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Opening holes for him on the line will be the other two returning offensive starters: Caleb Lee, a senior left tackle who started every game last year, and Brian Barnes a senior right guard.
That line will also provide protection for Ben Kobel, who won a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job. Kobel, a junior, beat out junior Cade Clemons and Sammy Cooper in what Careswell said was a close competition to replace the graduated Cole Taylor.
“Both Sammy Cooper and Cade Clemons are incredible athletes,” Careswell said. “They’re going to play a lot on offense.”
Kobel had the edge in experience after getting some mop-up duty behind Taylor last season. But the deciding factor may have been the second half of last season’s game at Park Hill, when Kobel came in after Taylor was knocked out with the Titans down 12 points and led them to a 36-29 overtime victory.
“He played the whole second half of that Park Hill game and that was a factor for us,” Careswell said. “That was a pressure game that he came into against some Division-I players on defense.”
Besides Goodrich, West’s defense also has standout returning starters in senior inside linebacker Joey Fredrickson and junior defensive back Jake Grauberger. Fredrickson recorded more than 160 tackles last season.
Vonzell Kelly, a junior and state-qualifying hurdler on the Titans’ track team, will man the other cornerback position opposite Goodrich, giving West what Careswell hopes will be a solid secondary.
“He wasn’t a starter but he got a lot of time playing opposite of Mario,” Careswell said. “People who aren’t throwing to Mario’s side they’ve got to throw to Vonzell and he’s 6-2 and can jump and run like no other.”
After taking part in a jamboree Friday at Raytown South, West begins its season with a rugged three-game stretch, starting with the season opener Aug. 18 at Blue Springs South. Next up will be the home opener against Class 6 runner-up Blue Springs, followed by a trip to always-rugged Raymore-Peculiar.
“”That first three games is always the gantlet and very tough for us,” Careswell said. “And we’ve got to get out of the gate swinging.”
Careswell is confident they will, if for other reason than the Titans’ winning tradition. In 13 seasons of football, West has never had a losing season. And Careswell expects that string to remain intact.
“Titan football has that tradition,” Careswell said. “That does a lot to spark that interest in football and get the kids going. Our culture is something that we really work on and our kids just want to win.”