Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
WEST PORTSMOUTH — You’d be hard-pressed to find athletes who are more competitive or proud of where they come from than those who participate in extracurricular activities at Portsmouth West.
And when looking for a gamer, there are very few around that match the overall intensity level of Josh Berry.
A two-sport student-athlete who represents the best qualities of the West Side in general, inside and outside of the classroom, Berry starred in all three phases of the game on the football field for the Senators and was a defensive stalwart on the basketball court.
Beyond that, his effort and pride for his school and hometown has embodied what Josh Berry is all about. It’s worked for him throughout his high school career in all facets.
“To me, it has meant giving all the effort you have in you and putting in all the hard work, not only to just win every game you play in with your brothers, but to make your community proud,” Berry said. “It gives the younger generations something to look up to, something to look forward to, and something to work hard for and be better than.”
Berry has proven his worth time and time again.
On the gridiron, he handled numerous duties en route to earning special mention all-Southeast District honors in his junior season and first-team honors as a senior, despite dealing with injuries — including a broken collarbone that forced Berry to miss the last four games of his junior year.
In addition, Berry also played at least seven different positions during his high school career including quarterback, running back, fullback, wide receiver, outside linebacker, safety, and kicker.
It was arguably Berry’s unselfishness, as well as his qualities as a leader, that were among the biggest individual sacrifices for West’s football program during a two-year span where the Senators went 16-7 overall — including a 10-2 mark in 2017 with a 10-6 playoff victory over Martins Ferry.
This past fall, West went 6-5 while clinching back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The Senators’ playoff victory over the Purple Riders last season served as the program’s first since 2008 — a far cry from 2016 where, West, injury-riddled, struggled to a 3-7 finish.
“Not a lot of teams have [won a playoff game] at West,” Berry said. “I believe we were the ninth West team to go to the playoffs and the third to win a home playoff game. So I think we had a pretty good last two years, even though we still lost some games and not everything went how we wanted it to go. I hope the younger players want to be better than we were and do things that we didn’t do.”
Catching 59 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, rushing for 535 yards and nine touchdowns on 108 carries, and throwing for 173 yards in emergency relief during contests when regular quarterback Dylan Bradford was out — all while making 120 tackles, notching four sacks, and picking off three passes on the defensive side of the football — will certainly aid any program.
It’s the latter side of the game, however, where Berry hopes that he made the biggest of impacts.
“I enjoyed them both a lot for sure,” Berry said. “Making plays on the offensive side of the football is always a great feeling. But the defensive side, in my opinion, is the backbone of a team and it wins championships. So I would say I liked defense slightly more because it wins games. Being able to hit a runner or a receiver with your full force was my favorite part of the game, and on defense, that’s something you tend to do more often. Defense challenges your mental strength when things are not going your way. You get a very satisfying feeling when you overcome adversities and win the game with defense.”
Playing with guys around you who are as determined as you are, however, certainly helps.
Bradford, who came within 37 yards of throwing for 3,000 in his high school career, while running for 767 more and notching 39 total touchdowns, was an effective player full of magic at the signal-calling position.
Garrett Hurd, a bruising running back who shouldered much of the load, ran for 2,366 yards and 22 touchdowns while Cole Staggs and Cody Staggs each proved to be one of the more underrated impact duos around during their high school careers.
Trevor Staggs and Isaiah Norman, much like Berry, were players who embraced playing at numerous positions, while Kane Lewis, Jacob Hall, Caleb Deaver, Gabe Skaggs, and Joe Igaz were more than effective linemen who are either playing at collegiate programs, in the case of the former trio, or have the opportunity to do so with future improvements, in the case of the latter pair.
“It was something that you can’t really explain exactly and make someone understand fully, unless you have played with guys like them,” Berry said of Bradford and Hurd. “They are your brothers just as much as your biological brothers. They’ll do anything for you, never quit on you, and always have your back. It was just special to play with them because of their athletic abilities and all the plays we were able to make together because of it. So having them in the backfield made me have the most fun I could have playing football.”
A run-oriented offense under Ben Johnson, the Senators have become known as a program who wins many of their contests by controlling the game clock through physical play.
Berry, Bradford, and Hurd, along with the aforementioned linemen, became the face of a team that brought an entire community together on Friday nights.
“It was a very fun experience, especially since we ran the ball a lot,” Berry said. “Lining up play after play, rushing the ball up the field with the line and the blocking backs, blowing people off the ball … it was great, especially when you reach the goal of getting to the end zone because it wasn’t just one man that scored, but all 11 of you.”
While basketball didn’t bring the same amount of team success, optimism has been created over the past two seasons. Guys like LT Maynard and Jordan Frasure, West’s top two scorers and outgoing seniors last winter, gave way to Berry, Bradford, Norman, and Jesse Johnson this year. That quartet, all multi-year contributors in the main rotation, embraced what they could bring to the unit.
“It was always fun, because no matter the outcome, you knew those guys wouldn’t quit on you no matter the disadvantages you are facing,” Berry said. “And we knew our roles pretty well and could give our all to contribute to the team in the best we could by playing those roles, such as defense in my case.”
Two laid-back coaches in Johnson and Bill Hafer — who match Berry’s personality to a certain degree — have helped, especially with their trust.
“It was a great experience to have them as coaches,” Berry said. “They always pushed you, day-by-day, to get better than you were the day before. So we could reach the goals that we set. They both have always believed in me from the first time I played for them and my team. From those things, I had a lot of fun playing for both [Ben] Johnson on the football field and [Bill] Hafer on the court throughout my high school career and made a lot of good memories.”
Lifelong memories that he’ll never forget are what Josh Berry will get to take away from his experiences as a Senator.
“My fondest thought or memory about playing at West would be playing my entire career from kindergarten up, with the same group of tough guys that are all like my own brothers,” Berry said. “Especially on the football field together, we never quit on each other, no matter how bad we were hurting or whatever the circumstances may have been. All of the big plays we made on the football field together, and all of the memories we made together, from offseason to preseason practices, to playing in the mud at The Rock and winning games, were memories that not only made our community proud, but memories that will last a lifetime.”