Borderites coach Jay Dodd noticed an impressive quality about Josiah Westbrook while watching one of Blaine's tri-district tournament basketball games last winter. He already knew of his wide receiver's rare athleticism. Instead, it was an innate quality Westbrook gained from growing up with four brothers that became obvious to the Blaine football coach.
"What really stands out to me is his competiveness," Dodd said in a phone interview. "He is a great competitor, and a lot of times in high school that's something you have to instill in a lot of athletes, that competitive fire."
Not Westbrook. The 6-foot-1 lightning-quick sophomore receiver has always scoffed at losing. He can't stand the thought of taking a loss. It started when he was a young kid, and his desire to win has grown with his age.
"My brother rivalry," Westbrook said. "I have four brothers - two little and two older - and we always try to beat each other out. I just always want to win. Losing, it leaves a bad taste."
Westbrook is hoping he can avoid that sour feeling and help the Borderites (4-5, 3-2 NWC 1A) advance to state when they host Port Townsend (7-2, 2-2 Nisqually) during the Class 1A Tri-District Tournament at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
Westbrook grew up trying to emulate his older brothers. He said he found himself in a constant battle to top their accomplishments.
His work ethic and desire to win has been displayed throughout his first varsity season with Blaine football. Westbrook, who predominantly ran the ball but also caught passes at Blaine Middle School, battled a foot injury last year and never got on the field.
But Westbrook has left an imprint all over Blaine's success this fall.
The versatile wide out leads the Northwest Conference in receiving yards (694), TDs (12) and average yards per catch (20.4). He's compiled the statistics in a myriad of ways.
"He's meant a great deal to our football team," Dodd said. "He can get open on short routes, and you can throw it to him right away. He's big and strong enough to break a tackle. If they cover him with no one on top, he's fast enough to run by (the corner), and he does a great job of playing the ball when it's in the air."
Dodd has called plays for Westbrook, specifically in the fourth quarter, because of the confidence he has in his sophomore's ability to capture the big moment.
"There have a been a couple of closer games where he's stepped up his play in the fourth quarter," Dodd said. "He's made a lot of plays for our team and been a part of a lot of good comebacks. You can see that look in his eye, and he wants to be a part of the fourth-quarter plan."
Westbrook's success and understanding of how to effectively get open and catch passes is even more impressive given his lack of experience at the position.
Even though Westbrook said he hasn't found the move to predominantly full-time receiver an overwhelming transition, he's exceeding Dodd's and his own expectations.
"When we started in June, his routes weren't very clean," Dodd admitted. "But he has worked a lot with Nathan Kramme and Marcus Potts."
That work has paid major dividends, and it didn't take long before Westbrook flashed his abilities. Following a 100-yard, two-touchdown performance during Blaine's season opener against Ferndale, he accounted for all five of the Borderites' scores against Lord Tweedsmuir. He scored on catches of 7, 30, 20, 15 and 32 yards, totaling nine catches for 138 yards.
It was in that game, Westbrook said, he knew he had arrived, particularly after he caught what most thought would be the game-tying touchdown with 17 seconds left to play.
Combined, Westbrook has put together four 100-yard games. He recorded 144 yards and two TDs against Lynden Christian and caught five balls for 112 yards and a touchdown against Nooksack Valley last week.
Westbrook's will to win extends to his confidence. He never doubted his success, but he admitted his stats have been better than anticipated. There's only one cornerback in the Northwest Conference he felt could match up with him one-on-one. That would be Meridian game-breaker Letrez Jones.
And only one word enters his mind if secondaries do decide to line a cornerback on him in a Cover 0 look with no help over the top. "Score," he said.
Westbrook credited much of the chemistry he's struck with Kramme to offseason work running routes. It helped the two gain a sense of comfort with each other, allowing them to build strong rapport. Even when Potts replaced Kramme after his injury, Westbrook, who caught passes from Potts in middle school, still had chemistry with his quarterback.
Besides Westbrook's play-making ability, his sheer presence lined up wide forces defenses to alter their game plans.
"You're going to get single coverage out there a lot in high school and that's happened," Dodd said. "Teams will put their best defensive back on him and follow him wherever he is in the formation. Sometimes he's drawn double coverage. If they have a corner and a safety over him, we have 10 guys and they have nine does. It does a lot for us."
There's no confirmation Westbrook will be split out his entire career. Dodd said mainly they moved him to receiver because the backfield was so deep this season. But Dodd believes Westbrook's ceiling isn't even close to being reached yet.
"I think the sky is the limit," Dodd said. "He is a tremendous athlete. We have Nathan Kramme coming back and Marcus is getting more reps. We'll be very strong in the quarterback position the next two years."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.