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January 7, 2010
West notebook: Baxter in the wildcat?
MORE: Army Bowl starters announced | Army All-American Bowl coverage
SAN ANTONIO -San Diego (Calif.) Mission Bay standout Dillon Baxter is one of the better all-around athletes on the West roster.
Besides playing running back, Baxter has seen some time out of the backfield in the Wildcat formation, but will the West coaching staff elect to break that package out during Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
"We really haven't done much of that with (Baxter)," West offensive coordinator and Mission Viejo (Calif.) head coach Bob Johnson said. "We messed around with him a little bit in that today.
"We've got three quarterbacks already, so I wouldn't think it would be very extensive if we used him in that role. He's certainly a talented kid and you never know in all-star games where you might use somebody."
Baxter participated in the Passing Accuracy Skills Challenge on Wednesday and displayed a strong arm with surprisingly decent accuracy, and he has been the best running back on the West roster this week at making defenders miss.
It adds up to a potentially dangerous weapon if the West wants to run some "Wildcat". Whether or not they actually do remains to be seen.
Weather shows no mercy
Thursday was supposed to be the final two-a-day practice session for the West squad, but the blustery weather conditions that have hit most of the country caused the team limit its work.
Instead of holding two practices over the course of five hours, the West was limited to a one hour practice outside before calling it quits. They held their second workout indoors at the Blossom Athletic Center.
Weather conditions were in the low 30s when practice started, with wind gusts picking up into the 40 mile-per-hour range and wind chill readings in the 20s.
"We kind of worked through it," West head coach Jim Streety said. "Actually we went to lunch in the student center down there, which is pretty big. We were able to have our second practice indoors. I'm a guy that likes to be out on the field, I'm not a guy that likes to work indoors, but we actually got a little something done I think.
"We got done what we had planned to do outside with the exception of actually kicking. We were able to get through all of our special teams stuff. We need another day, so we'll see how tomorrow goes."
Johnson wishes his offense could have had another day to work outside, but he still is optimistic about where his unit is compared to where it started the week.
"I feel very good about where we are on offense and how we've advanced throughout the week," Johnson said. "The defense has played really well, so we'll wait and see how the game goes. We certainly again need to come out here tomorrow and have a good day though."
Fifth visit for Henderson?
Despite speculation that St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson set up his fifth and final visit to Miami, the nation's No. 1 ranked player denied those reports on Thursday.
"Not yet," Henderson said when asked if he had set the date with Miami. "It's between Miami and Oklahoma. I haven't set anything up yet."
Texas tough guy
As the West took the practice field on Thursday, all but one player was wearing long sleeves. The only player that braved the elements in short sleeves was Missouri City (Texas) Elkins offensive lineman Jake Matthews.
The Texas A&M commit is the son of former NFL offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and the nephew of former NFL linebacker Clay Matthews.
"I forgot my long sleeves, but I probably wouldn't have worn them any way," Matthews said. "If I learned anything from my dad, o-linemen don't wear long sleeves. I just don't like them that much."
Matthews joked that he also earned some bonus points from West offensive line coach and former Kansas City Chief Tim Grunhard for the toughness he showed.
"Coach Grunhard described me as an old school offensive lineman without the sleeves on," Matthews said. "He loved it."
On the flipside, Honolulu (Hawaii) Farrington linebacker V.J. Fehoko didn't know what to do with himself when he walked on the practice field on Thursday.
Fehoko said he's never even experienced weather in the 60s, let alone the 30s.
"This weather was crazy," Fehoko said. "It's ridiculous. I don't know how these players out here do it. It was a good experience though. Seeing weather like this on TV and not really getting to experiencing this, I mean that Hawaii sun is not even here right now. Hawaii doesn't even get in the 50s. The 70s is probably the lowest it will go."
Star-studded coaching staff
Maybe one of the most impressive parts of this West team is the coaching staff assembled for this year's Army Bowl.
With names like Johnson, Streety, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly's Rual Lara and Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst's Tony Severino to name a few, this is arguably one of the best coaching staffs ever put together in the game's 10-year history.
"This game was on my bucket list to do, and this is my third time down here as I've been here before supporting my guys like Mark Sanchez," Johnson said. "It's been fun being down here and I always wanted to coach it. I was unavailable last year and I couldn't make it. This year I made it work to get down here. It's been a great time.
"They just do a fantastic job. They really do. It's just tremendous. People don't understand it. This is 'the all-star game' of all-time. There are going to be around 40,000 people here and everything they do for these kids is first class. They also send the right message to these kids all the time, they don't just talk, they really have it everywhere. I just wouldn't want to be involved with anything else."
"Defensively the kid that's jumped off the chart to me is Powell," Johnson said. "He's really something."
"There are a lot of guys here that have never played special teams before," Streety said. "It's been a challenge getting them all lined up, but it's a very important part of the game."