Football 2014: Maize Eagles
When Maize defensive back Elijah West suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the final regular-season game in 2013, the Eagles instantly lost a player the coaching staff could rely on for not only his athletic ability but his football knowledge.
“He’s the guy who will come off the field and tell you exactly what’s going on,” Maize coach Gary Guzman said. “If you need feedback — ‘Coach, this is what they’re doing’ — then you can talk to your players about adjustments. He understands the game well, and he loves the game and he plays fast.
“… I believe if we had had him against Manhattan (in the first round of the playoffs), it would have been a different result.”
West, who showcases his speed on the punt and kickoff return teams, had a punt return for a touchdown in 2013, as well as an interception returned and a forced fumble and touchdown return.
Missing the playoff game, which was Maize’s first playoff berth since 2007, was difficult for West, who had to sit and watch the Eagles lose a fourth-quarter lead and then lose in five overtimes.
“It was very hard to watch that Manhattan game,” West said. “… I couldn’t play with them, and the worst part about it was seeing the five-overtime loss. And I wanted to help.”
West, who calls the defensive coverage, is a vocal leader. His intensity is likely to increase this season because he has put so much work into rehabilitating his left knee.
Battling through rehab was tougher than he expected.
“Getting pushed, having to do workouts every day, strengthening it back up because you lose the majority of the muscle in your leg — it was tough,” West said. “I had to keep fighting through and know the rehab was something I had to do.”
His current focus is squarely on another outstanding Maize season, on another playoff berth, this time in Class 5A, and on proving what he can do on the field.
“I want to show everybody and prove to everybody that an ACL injury, it’s a long process, but you can come back and still perform as good or better,” he said.
When West is playing well, Guzman said corralling him isn’t easy.
“He’s quick,” Guzman said. “He’s one of those kids who will break to the ball. He’ll come downhill on running plays. He’ll hit you. He’s a sure tackler, and when the ball is thrown, he’s going to be in the area.”
A LOOK AT MAIZE
Coach: Gary Guzman, fourth season, 15-13
League: AV-CTL Division I
Last season: 7-3, lost in first round of 6A playoffs
Last five seasons: 22-25
Projected 2014 playoff team? Yes
TOP SKILL PLAYERS
|Manhattan||L,60-59 (5 OT)|
|Sept. 12||at Garden City|
|Sept. 19||at Salina Central|
|Sept. 26||at Campus|
|Oct. 10||at Newton|
|Oct. 24||Valley Center|
|Oct. 31||at Maize South|
Connor Lungwitz on his team
What Maize does well: “Chemistry. We love being around each other. The past two years, we’ve got a lot of guys who are fun to be around and they get excited about football. We have a good offense, had a pretty good defense last year, so I’d say chemistry.”
What has to improve: “I’d say right now everything. Based on last year, though, finishing games. Against Hutchinson and Manhattan (we struggled). We finish games and we win those two, we’re in the second round of the playoffs.”