Long before Charcandrick West stepped on an NFL practice field, long before he envisioned himself eluding tacklers as a running back, he toiled in the Louisiana sun, snagging passes in hopes of being the next Randy Moss.
“Man, I wanted to catch everything,” said West, a second-year back who is fighting for a roster spot with the Chiefs. “So me and my stepdad used to get out there every day. … He’d throw 100 balls at me, and every one I dropped, I had to do 10 push-ups.”
That ritual with his stepfather, Toccara Ford, started at age 12, he said, and it’s a habit that West, now 24, continues to this day whenever he returns to his hometown of Springhill, La.
“Like, if I go home now,” West said, “we still go out there and throw the ball.”
All of that hard work is starting to pay off for West, whose catching ability out of the backfield has been one of the nicest surprises of the Chiefs’ training camp.
As a pass receiver, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound West has flashed the ability to run good routes and pluck the ball out of the air on multiple occasions out of the backfield as the team’s No. 3 back.
And that, when paired with his quickness as a runner, has helped him make a positive impression on Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“Charcandrick, he can do everything,” Reid said. “He’s working hard on the pass protection part of it right now. Not as far as knowing who to pick up, (but) he’s a smaller guy so he’s just working on his fundamentals and his techniques. His pass game, the actual routes and the run game, he’s doing a phenomenal job.”
West flashed that all-round ability as a senior at Abilene Christian in 2013, when he rushed 145 times for 906 yards (an average of 6.2 per carry) and 14 touchdowns. He also finished fourth on the team with 37 catches for 443 yards and two touchdowns.
West didn’t get drafted, but he was signed as a free agent by the Chiefs. And while they have a reputation for churning through the bottom of the roster, the Chiefs have stuck with West, who spent part of last season on the practice squad, which is an indication they see something they like.
“You see Jamaal (Charles) catching passes as a receiver, and they line me up out there,” West said. “In this offense, you’ve got to be able to do it all. You’ve got to know every position. You can’t just know running back.
“(Running backs) coach E.B. (Eric Bieniemy) tells you all the time: The more value you bring to the team, the more you get to play. I mean, I know we’ve got Jamaal, he’s great. I’ve got to show I can do everything to get a chance to play.”
That extends to special teams, where West chipped in to appear in six games once the team’s previous No. 3 back, Cyrus Gray, suffered an ACL injury against Buffalo in November.
“The good thing is he played last year,” special-teams coach Dave Toub said of West. “He got a lot of playing time. He’s an experienced guy that knows our system.”
Toub also likes West’s toughness, which belies his size.
“He’s tough — tough as nails,” Toub said. “He will stick his face in there on any sized guy. He’s an ankle biter and a tackler. He’s a real good solid blocker as a personal protector, and he is smart and knows our stuff.”
The Chiefs’ personal protector for now, Toub said, is safety Daniel Sorensen. But West has also gotten looks on the top return and coverage teams.
“I’ve never had a great special-teams coach like coach Toub,” West said. “I wasn’t the best special-teams player, but he’s teaching technique. Like last year, I would just go run fast.”
Since the Chiefs’ surprisingly decided to release Gray at the outset of training camp, most of his offensive reps in camp have gone to West.
Through it all, West has tried to emulate Charles, whom West calls one of his best friends on the team.
“For me, being able to be in the meeting room with him, hang out with him and learn from him is a blessing,” West said. “I try to do what he does — I try to do it better.
“His vision and cuts … I feel like I’m a shifty back too, so some of the cuts he makes, I try to make those same cuts (and) some of the reads he makes. I can catch, too.”
West, who is often teased by his teammates for his lack of size, approaches every practice with the desire to prove himself.
“They call me ‘Tidget’ — they say I’m a tall midget,” West said with a hearty laugh. “They call me little, they say I’m always out here trying to fight somebody or something.
“(But) that’s that little man syndrome. I can’t let them pick on me.”
Through it all, it’s clear West is having a blast. He knows many Division II players don’t get the same type of shot in the NFL he’s had, and he knows nothing is guaranteed, especially in light of the recent death of one of his best friends, Dante Coleman, who West says died unexpectedly at age 35.
So yes, he’s determined to make the most of it. The journey that began when he was 12 years old, shagging passes and doing push-ups in the sun, will continue Saturday, when the Chiefs face the Arizona Cardinals in their first preseason game.
“If I go out and have fun and do what I’m supposed to do,” West said, “everything’s going to fall in place.”