LOUISA Alan Short all but shuddered, remembering the thought of potentially losing Lawrence County’s most important player to injury in an unnecessary practice collision.
As it turned out, Noah West knew what he was doing.
The Bulldogs’ football practice on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 6 was winding down when West, the senior quarterback, and offensive lineman Clayton Sullivan exchanged words and began to mix it up.
Four days earlier, West had carried the ball 45 times from scrimmage and scored 60 points in the Bulldogs’ scintillating 78-74 win over Western Hills in the first round of the playoffs. Three days after that, Lawrence County was to travel to meet heavy on-paper favorite Boyle County.
As is the team’s procedure when two players have beef, West and Sullivan lined up across from each other in three-point stances and Short leaned forward, hands on knees, whistle in mouth, to referee their best-of-three face-off as the rest of the Bulldogs gathered around.
Three times West and Sullivan fired off and collided. After the first one, when Sullivan put West on his posterior, West bounced up and loudly informed Sullivan he looked forward to that sort of effort on Friday night.
By the time it was over, Lawrence County’s leader had made his point.
“We weren’t gonna take any days of practice off because it was a big game,” West said. “I felt like the effort needed to be stepped up a little bit. I called him on it, and he called me, and then it went into a one-on-one. I’m not gonna lie, he got me on the first one. He’s a big ol’ boy.
“But I think that turned the effort up for the rest of practice and let everyone know how serious this game needed to be.”
Short, cracking up with the perspective afforded by eight months having elapsed since that moment, said when he realized who was about to step into the ring that day, he thought, “What are we doing here? Dear goodness gracious, please don’t let anything bad happen.”
It didn’t. It was simply an example of leadership from West, the 2018-19 Tony Curnutte Memorial Male Sportsman of the Year.
Short told the team after that practice that, although he didn’t love the fighting or the language used during the skirmish, he did appreciate the intensity it displayed. He reiterated that Friday.
“Through the last several years, I won’t say that we had a dread when we got to a certain round in the playoffs,” Lawrence County’s coach said with a meaningful pause, “but we were going down to Boyle County to win. And it was refreshing that we had someone step up and had enough aggression and enough guts about them to say, hey, let’s get this right and make sure we’re solid here.”
That leadership was surely lent gravitas by West’s production. He rushed for 4,474 yards and 66 touchdowns in three seasons as Lawrence County’s starting quarterback.
Short coordinated a high-flying Bulldogs offense in 2015 that featured Class 3A’s top two receivers in yards per game — brothers Robert and Tim Dalton — and gunslinger Grant Kiser, who was fourth in the state in passing yards per contest.
Kiser graduated after that campaign, and Short, who was promoted to head coach that offseason, had a decision to make. One candidate to fill the position was West, listed as a tight end and defensive lineman on the previous year’s roster who was probably best known as half of the Bulldogs’ state championship bass-fishing team in the spring of 2016.
“When I became the head coach, we didn’t have a clear-cut successor to Grant Kiser,” Short said. “So we decided we were gonna take our best athlete, our smartest kid, and knew that there would be some growing pains involved with it.”
Lawrence County returned to its roots as a ground-and-pound offense in 2016. West was picked to pilot it — a position he gained without even having to display his arm, he said.
“My tryout to be a quarterback, (Short) said, ‘Run a straight line as fast as you can,’” West recalled. “I think it was like 20 yards, and he said, ‘OK, I think we’re gonna make you the quarterback.’”
With West calling the signals and carrying the load, Lawrence County got back to the top of the state statistically. The Bulldogs led the commonwealth across all classes in rushing yards per game in 2017 with 347 and were tops in Class 3A in 2018 at 344 yards an outing.
“I never really viewed myself as a quarterback,” West said. “I enjoyed it and I enjoyed being in position to lead the team on the offense and always having the ball in my hands.”
The triple-option offense with belly-option elements that the Bulldogs run doesn’t have very many plays, but collectively, those plays have dozens of variations based on reads made both before and after the snap. Players in nearly every position must make split-second decisions based on what an opposing defense is showing.
West was responsible for orchestrating all that, and he handled it swimmingly.
“Last year, he probably checked maybe 40 percent of our plays,” Short said, using football parlance for changing the play at the line of scrimmage, “which makes you a whole lot better coach when you have a kid that can do that. The intellect side of it, he obviously passed that with flying colors.”
West combined that mastery of an intricate offense with a brute, take-no-prisoners running style for a formidable combination. Scott Grizzle can attest to that.
Grizzle took a 3-1 Greenup County team to Louisa to meet the Bulldogs on Sept. 14. West rushed for 291 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-6 Lawrence County victory.
“He was an absolute man amongst boys when we played those guys,” Grizzle said. “He had really just a special ability to put that team on his back. For a quarterback to do some of the stuff he does is really special. Obviously he’s a really big kid, but you don’t see a lot of quarterbacks that are that physical when they run the ball. In my lifetime, I haven’t seen a quarterback in this area that could run the ball that physical.”
All that makes West a great football player, but it only begins to describe the all-encompassing nature of sportsmanship.
“It’s a little bit bigger than sports, a little bit bigger than performance,” West said, reflecting on components of that quality. “It’s about having high character on the field, being a formidable opponent and being an opponent that’s respected, not only because you perform well but because you do well in the classroom, in the community, and you’re respectful to other players and the game.”
To speak to those around him, West displays those other attributes. A 3.85 grade-point average and a 24 on the ACT confirm classroom bona fides. Away from school, West filled his time with mission trips and community service projects with the First Baptist Church of Louisa’s youth group and did volunteer work with the Beta Club.
West also gave his time to operate the scoreboard at Bulldogs baseball games and was one of a handful of male athletes recruited by Lawrence County athletic director and assistant girls basketball coach Travis Feltner to scrimmage against the Lady Bulldogs, with the intent of giving them experience practicing against greater physicality.
Feltner recognized the extra effort West put in, “all while absolutely having the most dominant high school football season I’ve witnessed a guy have,” he said.
Short added dedication to that list — West didn’t miss a practice or workout in four years, the coach said — and humility.
“Noah’s a great representation of our football program, what we want to be, and he’s done a great job being the face of our program for the last three years,” Short said. “He scored 66 touchdowns in his high school career, and I don’t think he ever beat his chest or spiked the ball. He would always run and hand it back to the official and go celebrate with his teammates.
“He never made it about himself. It was always about the team, and he remained humble throughout all the awards.”
To that end, West deflected credit for being the team’s leader, saying it was a shared effort by the team’s senior class, and even credited luck for his and Eric Price’s state fishing title.
“To compete and be good at (fishing) day in and day out is skill, but to win’s a little bit of luck,” West said. “We were lucky enough to find the fish to win.”
West has graduated and is thus no longer bound to the Bulldogs’ future success, but he coordinated one final act for the betterment of Lawrence County and its athletics.
West was given a summer workout program by East Tennessee State to be ready when he reports to Johnson City, Tennessee, today to further his football career as a tight end.
Until the KHSAA dead period that mandates, in part, that no current student-athletes use school facilities, West invited a group of Bulldogs baseball players he befriended while running the scoreboard this past spring to lift and run with him at 8 a.m. sessions four days a week.
“We were just talking about what we were gonna do over the summer, and I was looking at my program, and everything that I had to do, and I said, ‘Why don’t you all just match them and we’ll do this together and see how strong we can get and how fast we can run?’” West said. “It’s just good company to have. Everybody’s got the same mindset, that they want to be as successful as they can be.”
Call it one last example of leadership and extra effort.
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Past Tony Curnutte Memorial Sportsmen of the Year
Year Honoree (School)
2017-18 (male) Blake Gamble (J. Central)
2017-18 (female) Montana Fouts (East Carter)
2016-17 (male) Geordon Blanton (J. Central)
2016-17 (female) Sara Hieneman (Russell)
2015-16 (male) Braden Brown (West Carter)
2015-16 (female) Destiny Goins (Boyd Co.)
2014-15 (male) Connor Messer (Raceland)
2014-15 (female) Megan Hensley (Ashland)
2013-14 Taylor Wheeler (Boyd Co.)
2012-13 Logan Salow (Ashland)
2011-12 J.J. Jude (J. Central)
2010-11 Chandler Shepherd (Lawrence Co.)
2009-10 Stephen Metcalf (Ashland)
2008-09 Tyler Boyles (Raceland)
2007-08 Randy Keeton (Lawrence Co.)
2006-07 Jeremy Sheffey (Boyd Co.)
2005-06 Julie Ditty (Russell)
2004-05 Ivan McGlone (Russell)
2003-04 Brandon Webb (Ashland)
2002-03 Megen Gearhart (West Carter)
2001-02 Arliss Beach (Ashland)
2000-01 John “Hop” Brown (West Carter)