Trent West

Senior safety Trent West is a three-year starter for the Belton Tigers, who travel to Killeen tonight to take on Harker Heights.

BELTON — If it’s something that happens on a football field, chances are Trent West has seen it before. The Belton senior is only 17 years old, but he brings a wealth of knowledge far greater than most to the Tigers’ secondary.

Simply put, he’s wise beyond his years in football terms.

“He has a whole bunch of games under his belt,” Belton head coach Brett Sniffin said of West, a three-year starter in the Tigers’ defensive backfield. “He brings calmness to the defense. He doesn’t panic. He can come up and make tackles and he can also do well in coverage. He’s just steady back there.”

Calmness is a trait that comes up frequently when discussing West.

“He’s a calming factor. He’s been there, done that,” Belton defensive coordinator Christopher Harbin said. “He plays with emotion, but he doesn’t get emotional. He sees things that other kids may not see because he’s been there before.”

The trait also emanates from West himself, in his demeanor and in his measured tones and deliberate pace when speaking.

“I come out here every Friday and it’s just another game,” said West, also a basketball player for the Tigers, as well as a track and field and FFA competitor. “I don’t make it a big deal. I just have fun with it, so I don’t really put any pressure on myself. I just go out there and play the game.”

And he plays it well.

An all-district selection as a junior, West led Belton in interceptions in each of the last two seasons. While he’s still looking for his first pick this year, that’s not a reflection of his performance as much as a result of his steady, workman-like approach to his position, if anything.

“He doesn’t have much action with the ball in the air, but that’s a good thing because it means he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing,” Sniffin said.

Sure, the game may come naturally in many ways for West, but his success has come via hard work. There are plenty of reasons he’s comfortable between the white lines, too.

He’s outdoors. He’s spending time with longtime friends. He’s partaking in physical activity. Those are all factors that make football appealing to the 6-foot-3, 170-pound safety, who can also play cornerback, if needed.

“It’s the brotherhood that came with it,” West said of what drew him into the game. “Just having the player right next to you that’s always going to be there for you, and the bond that comes out of playing football — that’s a really big part of the game to me.”

West attributes those friendships between teammates as a big part of the reason Belton’s defense has excelled this season.

The Tigers (3-2, 2-0) lead District 12-6A in pass defense, giving up just 81 yards through the air in their first two league games. Belton forced nine turnovers in that span, one of which was a West fumble recovery — to go along with a season-high eight tackles — last week against Bryan, giving him 23 stops on the year.

“It’s the bond with all of us in the secondary and even the whole defense,” said West, who has a scholarship offer from Texas Southern, as well as from some smaller schools and plans to continue playing in college. “We’re really tight and we know each other like the back of our hand, so playing together, that just creates a good defense.”

West, a lifelong Belton resident, started playing football as an elementary student before moving on to North Belton Middle School, where he played with many of the same players who suit up next to him now, such as Aaron Bain, Seth Morgan and Jackson Engelke, among others.

The relationships they share have been forged through those years, and West said it’s almost surreal to think about that ride nearly being over.

With five games left in the regular season, the senior has at least that many left in his high school career, but hopefully more if the Tigers continue their current trajectory.

Belton meets Harker Heights at 7:30 tonight at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “Because I remember still being in middle school and stuff like that, so it’s crazy to think about how we’re all seniors now.”

West recalled a night just before his freshman season when he and some of his teammates had a sleepover.

“We were talking about how, ‘Dang, it’s here. We’ll be seniors before too long,’” he said. “It’s so real. It’s crazy to think about how it’s coming so fast.”

It wasn’t that long ago that West was just a fresh-faced sophomore, still green around the gills and getting ready to play his first varsity game against eventual state champion Austin Westlake.

The game wound up as a 48-0 loss for Belton, but West quickly proved he wasn’t in over his head against older competition, getting five tackles, three pass break-ups and an interception that was negated by a penalty.

His showing earned him Belton’s weekly defensive MVP award.

“I was scared, nervous, all of that,” West said of his pre-game emotions that day. “My stomach turned upside-down. It was terrible. But it went away right after that first play. Just getting that first play out of the way, all the people that are there and all that stuff, let that just go through your head and after all that happens, you’re good.”

West said he learned a lot that year from older players such as Jason Stephens, who showed him what it meant to be a veteran leader.

“He was a big one,” West said of Stephens. “He was safety and I was playing corner and we really just bounced stuff off each other. He was always there. I’m the football player I am now because of those guys, so I really appreciate them for that.”

Now West sees it as part of his duty to pass that same knowledge along.

“My sophomore year, having all those people being a leader towards me, I was like, ‘I’m going to have to be that one day. When I’m a senior, I’m going to have to be a leader to all those younger than me, and even those in my grade.’ So growing into that, that’s a big part.”

And luckily for the Tigers, West has plenty of experience to share.