‘In Truitt We Trust’: Encore for West Stars - TribPapers

‘In Truitt We Trust’: Encore for West Stars

Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Mills River – The Falcons (12-1) stayed unbeaten for a school-record 12 games in a row. They tied the 1984 squad (also 12-1) for total wins. They were 6-0 in the Mountain Seven Conference (M7). Winning the M7 “gives our guys confidence” in 2023, head coach Paul Whitaker said. “It shows we can obtain our goals — through hard work and dedication.” West returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense.

West won its league in football, basketball, and baseball (en route to the 3A state title) for the first time in the same academic year. Three-sport senior star Truitt Manuel, the flame-throwing pitcher, said, “We have the ability to do it” again. “Winning in baseball does boost my confidence. We have guys ready to compete.”

Coach Paul Whitaker. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Coach Paul Whitaker. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

These “Mills River Maulers” averaged 41 points per game in ’22. They impressively blasted Tuscola 55-7 in a clash of unbeaten teams, to win the league. The Falcons averaged 50.5 points in winning two playoff games. They were plagued by flu when they lost in round three.

Soaring in 2023, the Falcons cruised 54-22 at Newton-Conover. They then notched a 44-0 shutout at cross-town arch-rival Hendersonville, after seizing a commanding 35-0 halftime lead. Many Falcons said beating HHS twice in a row feels gratifying.

Whitaker is in his 15th season as West’s head coach. He now calls offensive plays. This is West’s third campaign with a spread offense, but the first in a post-Lukas Kachilo era. Kachilo now plays for Gardner-Webb. “We graduated a great quarterback,” Whitaker said.

‘Manuel Overdrive’

Yet he returns the other half of WNC’s most prolific passing combo. Truitt Manuel (6-2, 200 sr.) was second-team all-state in ’22, and M7 player of the year. He is the top returning 3A receiver statistically statewide. He caught 27 of Kachilo’s 43 touchdown throws. Manuel had 1,291 of West’s 3,416 receiving yards and nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards. He caught 87 and 93 passes in the past two seasons.

In the season opener, Manuel gained 133 (16.6 YPC) yards on eight catches, including a dazzling 40-yard TD. He swiveled around to snatch a TD pass in week two. He also took a “jet sweep” pitch for 27 yards around end. He even took a pitch then threw a pass downfield on West’s first scrimmage play. “We get him as many touches as we can,” Whitaker said.

He calls the gritty, strong long strider a “leader” who runs crisp routes, “outworks opponents” to beat double coverage and get open, and who eludes defenders for many yards after catch (YAC). Manuel does not worry if a roving “spy” tries to follow him around at the snap. “I’m ready for whatever comes my way” tactically and physically.

Castro’s Revolution

Double teaming Manuel gives more room for quick, sure-handed Diego Castro (5-11, 175 sr.). He said he is quite grateful for that. He caught 51 passes for 722 yards (14.2 YPC) and eight scores in ’22. Castro had the game of his life last Friday at HHS. He scored three TDs — on a 58-yard punt return, an end zone catch, and a 38-yard bomb. He had 104 receiving yards (17.3 YPC). The last time that a Castro did so well was on New Year’s Day of 1959, when Fidel seized control of Cuba.

Castro said of teammates,” everyone executes” in their roles. When he caught the first TD, all four Falcon receivers got open.

Swift game-breaker Tayman Howell, a RB in ‘22, is now a receiver. Howell ran for seven TD passes and 653 yards (8.1 YPC). He was third in the state in the 110-meter hurdles as a freshman. Tall TE Tyler Nash (6-5, 215) is backed by Jackson Lynn (6-1, 190 sr.).

‘Hey, Jude’

Savvy senior Jude Lyda and promising Cade Young (5-11, 165 so.) both operate at quarterback in a game. “Cade’s more of a gunslinger, while Jude scrambles better,” Whitaker said. Both threw TD passes Friday while on a full run. “They both sprint out on the corner, to see the field better” without tall defenders in their way, Whitaker said. Young calmly completed all five of his passes in week one.

Fast, stocky Lyda starts. He tossed four TD passes in two games. “Jude’s a good dual threat, making reads” of the defense to decide whether to “extend plays to pass” or to “tuck it and run” if coverage is tight, Whitaker said. “Jude ‘bootlegs’ and ‘waggles.'”

Dimsdale Dims Foes

West’s rich rushing heritage continues. Gutsy, quick Carson Dimsdale (5-9, 165 sr.) ran for 1,087 yards (7.2 YPC) and six TDs in 2022. He is extra dangerous when running wide around end. He did that for gains of 11 and 12 yards on successive plays Friday, then pounded in for a TD. Dimsdale has rushed for six TDs (four in week one) and 118 then 101 yards. Strong Zane McCraw ran for two opening-game scores.

The solid offensive line returns huge tackles Robert Waters (6-5, 260 sr.) and Charlie Decker (6-4, 255 sr.). Center Mason Coren (6-1, 225 sr.), transferred from Erwin. Guards are Gabe Dunbar (5-9, 275 jr.) and sophomore Mason Carver.

New kicker Josh Sandoval made all six PAT tries Friday. Manuel punts, and returns kicks.

D: Eben ‘is the Mann’

The quick 3-4 base defense has its top four tacklers back. Third-year ILB Eben Mann (5-9, 190 sr.) had eight sacks and 109 tackles. Other starters are Lyda or Jackson Mills (6-0, 185 jr.) at ILB, senior OLBs Aiden Ostman and Lynn (3 sacks), NT McCraw, and DTs Waters and all-M7 Nash (90 tackles, 2 INT).

The secondary has an all-M7 duo of third-year safeties in Manuel (5 INTs, 60 tackles) and Castro (84 tackles, 4 INTs). They had three picks at HHS. Cornerbacks are Blake Phillips (3 INTs) and Neil Robinson.

West hosts Polk and Erwin, then opens M7 play Sept. 15 at North Henderson for county championship bragging rights. Coach Whitaker sees a “balanced” league and a “dogfight” for the title. Look for West to again prevail.