CHESAPEAKE, VA (WTKR)- It wasn't that long ago when Western Branch football was struggling. The Bruins finished 0-10 back in 2018, but it did not take new head coach Rashad Cook long to turn things around.
Cook's first year on the job saw him coach a sophomore wide receiver with a world of work ethic and talent. Now a senior, that player has built himself into one of the best wide receivers in the state of Virginia.
"I'm just a dog, I'm not going to lie," Bruin senior Paul Billups laughed. "I love the work, don't stop working. I've been working since I was 10."
Confidence is not lacking for the wide receiver, but hard work has gotten him to where he is as a senior. When the dust settles on the 2022 season, Billups hopes he's etched himself into Western Branch history.
"I want to go out and achieve," he said. "I want to break the school record for the most receiving yards, most touchdowns this year. Just try to break some records before I leave so I can set my name in history."
While Billups chips in plenty between the lines, some of his contributions to the team cannot be measured in numbers. Leadership seems to be in his blood as much as the game of football is. Monday's practice saw him run out to jog beside a teammate at the end of a running drill, something he says he's always done when he sees a fellow player struggling. It's all part of what makes the receiver a total package.
"He's a guy that wants to see other kids get better," Cook said. "He's one of those natural leaders when it comes to development and preparation and things of that nature."
"It means a lot for the young guys to look up to me and show them what they need to do and how they can learn and progress through their high school career," added Billups.
Billups is not only one of the best receivers in the commonwealth, he's ranked among the top 100 players at his position in the country by ESPN. Later this month, he'll make his college choice between Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Michigan State, continuing his athletic and academic career at the Power 5 level.
"My freshman year, I didn't really think I was going to get offers, but then they started flowing in my sophomore year," he recalled. "It's really been exciting."
Before he moves onto the next chapter, however, he has some unfinished business to handle with his teammates at Western Branch. The Bruins finished 10-3 in 2021 and advanced to the Region 6A championship game. Now the squad is eyeing the next step.
"We've got a good feeling that we could get back," Cook said, also noting that the way to get there is not to look too far into the future. "We have a loaded senior class, we're very pleased where they are and we're just in a good alignment right now."
"We want to go out with a bang, get that ring," smiled Billups. "We're just going to lock in and get that ring for our senior year."
The Bruins open their 2022 slate on August 26 when they visit Churchland.