About 25 Southampton High School football players walked out of their preseason football practice on August 30 to attend the Southampton Board of Education meeting that evening, a show of support for their assistant coach, who they believe was unfairly suspended.
Speaking on behalf of his teammates, senior Jack O’Brien told the School Board that evening, “The member of the coaching staff that is in question has touched all of our lives. He has helped us through thick and thin. Never has he had ill will for any of us.”
The assistant coach, Eddie West, was suspended for two weeks after failing to report to school officials an incident involving marijuana. According to several people familiar with the incident, the guardian of a team member found that the player had the drug in his possession. The adult brought the marijuana to the school and gave it to Mr. West, who confronted the player with it. After denying at first that the marijuana was his, the teenager finally owned up to it.
Mr. West then gave him an ultimatum: Choose between football and marijuana. He chose football and flushed the drugs down a school toilet.
Because he failed to report the incident involving an illegal drug to district officials, he faced a suspension. Before his return on Tuesday this week, Mr. West spoke last week about his passion—and not just for football.
“I’m trying to turn these young men into successful young men,” he said. “I do not want to see them go down the road I went down. It’s a long road to travel.
“Some of them might make it, some of them might not.”
Mr. West has been in the same position that many of his players find themselves in now: He was a high school football player faced with the many trials of adolescence, including alcohol and drugs.
His journey began in Southampton, where he was born and raised. Mr. West, now 43, grew up on a farm where a Buzz Chew car dealership now sits along County Road 39. Back then, he said, it was wide open, and he and his friends would ride dirt bikes up and down the fields.
On the football team, he played in a variety of positions: tailback, outside linebacker and even punter. His prowess on the field earned him a spot on the all-county team.
He was the epitome of a high school star athlete. Not only did he excel at football, he was all-county in track and all-conference in basketball.
At the time, he said, all he really cared about was sports. He admitted that academics were not his strong suit, and that, other than football, all he wanted to do was drink and hang out with his friends.
He graduated from high school in 1992, but with very poor grades. The next year, he attended Bridgton Academy, an all-boys preparatory school in Maine. It was there where he met five of his best friends—and they all made a pact that they would go to college. And they did.
He was accepted to Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he played football, but his tenure there was short-lived. He said he drank his way out of the college and wound up back in Southampton.
Back home, he said he felt that he had let down his younger brother, Shaun West, now 40, and sister, Tunica West, now 38. Instead of being there for his siblings, Mr. West was out drinking and hanging out with his friends.
It wasn’t until he reached the age of 28 that he decided to make a change in his life and get sober. Today, he has a better relationship with his siblings. “It’s a good thing because they saw the other side of me,” Mr. West said. “Now they see everything different.”
With the help of East End Clambakes owner Phil Gay, who at the time ran an Alcoholics Anonymous group, Mr. West found that there was a bit of good in himself.
“He got me to the program,” Mr. West said of Mr. Gay. “He’s a very, very, very special person in my life. He taught me how to be a human being again—no longer being a menace to the community—and how to be a role model.”
Though he drank and partied, he said, he didn’t enjoy it—he did it because everyone else was doing it. “I didn’t need to fit in … I was popular already,” he said. “Alcohol and drugs ruined half of my life, and I decided to change it. I wasn’t arrested. A judge didn’t make me get sober. I got sober on my own.”
Today, 15 years later, Mr. West has remained sober and drug free, and helps run the AA meeting at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside with Mr. Gay.
“I helped him through some stuff,” Mr. Gay acknowledged. “He needed someone to trust him.”
As a part-time job in the summer, Mr. West works at East End Clambakes, and Mr. Gay said he is probably the best worker he has ever had. It’s to the point that Mr. Gay trusts him with his money, home, business and equipment.
“They say if you can count the friends you have on one hand when you die, you’re lucky,” Mr. Gay said. “Eddie’s one of those friends who has been with me. He’s worked with me at East End Clambakes for 14 years. I’ve helped him out in a lot of ways and he’s helped me.”
But that’s just one of Mr. West’s jobs.
In a typical week, he works more than 90 hours between all of his jobs. His primary job is with Southampton Village as a groundskeeper. In the summer, he works at Mr. Gay’s catering business, and once school starts, he coaches multiple sports teams at the high school and wrestling at the Southampton Youth Association.
For the past two years, Mr. West was the head coach for the seventh and eighth grade football team, but this year he is helping out as the assistant coach of the varsity team.
He decided to help out with the varsity team after his best friend, Andre Johnson, whom he went to high school with, asked him to coach his son Avory. “I moved back up to help my best friend’s son and basically try to get these guys into the playoffs,” Mr. West said. “They need to know what winning is like in Southampton football, and I think I can help them do that.”
As an alumnus and a positive role model to the players, Mr. West said they need someone they can trust.
“With all of this that went down, I think they really have my trust with what they did for me and the way they backed me up,” he said of his players attending the School Board meeting. “I really respect that. They’re great young men.
“They skipped an hour and a half of practice to come up and support me. What more can I ask for?” he added.
Throughout the years, Mr. West has realized that he needs to be a role model to his “kids,” as he refers to his players. He also wants to make sure the kids know they are important.
Some of them don’t have enough money to get sneakers and, as a collector of Nike Air Jordans, Mr. West invites the players over to his house to “buy” shoes. But he said he does not charge the kids for the shoes—he gives them away.
“I don’t have to do that,” he said. “I do it because I care. I know how it was not to have certain things. I work hard, and I care about a lot of people—especially these kids. I’d be heartbroken if anything happened to one of my kids.”