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New Falcons Shift into ‘Manuel’ Transmission

Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Mills River West Henderson Falcons reload following a heavily-graduated squad’s impressive second-place finish in the elite Western Mountain Athletic Conference.

They grow beans and running backs in the Mills River Valley. The Falcons replenish the backfield with more bushels of hard-nosed runners. The harvest is more apt to be more abundant next season, as they are more experienced and since realignment sends West back to the 2A Mountain Six Conference. The Falcons follow a magical 2019 season. The 9-3 mark was West’s best since going 9-2 many moons ago. “When you graduate 22 seniors, you’re an underdog” in the next season, Paul Whitaker reasons. He is in his 11th season as Falcon head coach.

West started 0-2 this spring but is bound to be much stronger by late in the season when facing the WMAC’s other run-oriented squads in Tuscola and North Buncombe.

Whitaker said it is time for “next man up. We’re young. We’re starting a sophomore quarterback and a freshman in the backfield who goes from middle school to Friday nights. They’ll get quality reps, get up to game speed, and gain confidence. They should be a great surprise to people.”

QB Lukas Cochilo (6-1, 170 so.) runs West’s Flexbone and Wing T offense. “Lukas brings a lot to the table,” Whitaker said. “He has accuracy throwing. He does a good job reading the defense.” He is quick when running the ball. Cochilo said he got over opening-game jitters and likes the challenge of varsity ball. Having “fun” is his underlining goal.

The freshman phenomenon, WB-QB Truitt Manuel (6-1, 185 fr.), is intense and versatile. He plays left wingback/slot receiver. He is also a three-sport star. “He’s going to be a Jim Dandy,” running and catching the ball, Whitaker said. “He’s quickly picking up on the contact of varsity football.” Manuel reeled off long gains in each of the first two games. Versus NHHS, he picked off a pass, gained 31 yards on a third-and-19 play in crunch time, and set up that drive with a 40-yard kickoff return. He also returns punts and punts well.

Coach Paul Whitaker.
Coach Paul Whitaker.

Last season, Manuel starred as QB of Hendersonville Middle School. He came into Falcon Nation as his father Luke Manuel became West’s principal. Luke Manuel was a swift option QB for West, in the early Nineties.

Coach Whitaker said the two new young Falcon starters “work hard, and are excellent students and leaders.” Mirroring their principal’s name, six of 33 varsity Falcons — 18 percent — have Lucas/Lukas/Luke as their first names.

They include right-wingback Lucas Kinsey (5-10, 175 sr.). Whitaker calls him the likely “bell cow” lead ball carrier, a “straight-line runner.” Kinsey ran for West’s sole TD Friday. He is among the two fastest football Falcons. Whitaker said the backfield has typical quickness for West, which last year was “above and beyond” in outright speed.

The Falcon fullback gets many carries up the gut, and is a decoy with a fullback trap for wide “buck sweeps.” West continues its succession of large, punishing runners as fullbacks with Treyvaughn “Trey” Gilliland (6-0, 215 sr.). He and Hunter Wallace (5-9, 165 sr.) share the role and vary in style. Gilliland was the backup to ‘20 grad Peyton Dimsdale last season, and all-WMAC at defensive end. “He’s a bulldozer. He looks for contact. He’ll run you over, not side-step you,” Whitaker said. “Hunter has more bend to him. He’ll make a couple more moves.” Wallace made big gains in the scoring drive Friday.

Wideout Andrew Schultz (6-0, 180 so.) has “great hands,” and is a solid route runner, Whitaker said. Schultz caught a TD pass in the opener, getting free in the corner of the end zone and making a diving catch. Tight end Trey Nash (6-3, 225 jr.) made a key 19-yard reception late Friday.

Returning up front are TE Nash, big center Jason Pittman (6-2, 265 sr.) and RG Ian Domansky (5-11, 205 sr.). Joining them are RT Gavin Henderson (6-1, 263 jr.), LT Will Parker (6-2, 210 sr.) and LG Lucas London (5-9, 228 sr.). “We have big tackles, and smaller pulling guards,” Whitaker said.

Defensive starters are linebackers Wallace, Michael Sidorovic (5-7, 177 sr.) and Lane Johnson (5-11, 195 jr.); DL Gilliland, Caleb Staton (6-1, 260 jr.) and Wesley Lamb (6-1, 215 sr.); with a secondary rotation of Manuel, Daveon Galloway (6-3, 178 sr.), Lucas Corn (5-10, 175 jr.), Kinsey and Schultz.

Coach Whitaker vows, “We’ll get better week to week.”

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