The Man Behind the Smile: The Story of Chiefs RB Charcandrick West |


The Man
the Smile

The Story of Chiefs RB Charcandrick West

By BJ Kissel

Chiefs Reporter

Through years of hot summers, cold winters and all the rainy nights in between - not to mention an explicit attempt to cover it up - the yellow foundation still remains visible.

Nothing, not time, nor weather, could adversely change what is ineradicable in this small Louisiana town, and the meaning of it stretches far beyond the multi-colored concrete, metal and wood of this high school football stadium.

The remnants can be seen in every corner, underneath all of the steps and scattered throughout Baucum-Farrar Stadium. The uneven black brush strokes are nothing more than an invitation to look past what is now, to see what has always been and why it's all a reflection of the people that make up this community of less than 5,000 people.

This is where Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West first made a name for himself, both because of what he was able to do on the field and also because of everything he went through to find his way back under those indelible Friday night lights.

It's the epitome of a true underdog story, and the way in which West has carried himself through a myriad of ups and downs gives us insight into the man behind that million-dollar smile.

Back in 2011, a year after West had graduated from Springhill High School, this small Louisiana community that's located about 50 miles north of Shreveport in the northwest part of the state, went through a major and much-needed change.

They combined four of the local high schools into one.

West, who grew up in Cullen, which sits just to the south of Springhill and has a population of about a thousand people, was a member of the last class that would ever graduate from Springhill High School.

The new school, which is called North Webster, is located in the old Springhill building and uses all of the same facilities as the school that preceded it, including the football stadium. The colors of the school are no longer yellow and black representing the Springhill Lumberjacks, but rather purple and black for the North Webster Knights.

The football stadium, which had been primarily painted yellow, was repainted black when the schools combined.

It was changed in an attempt to move forward, but much like those who live here, the foundation will forever be the same.

The water tower, which stands only a few hundred feet from the north end zone, is one of the last remaining untouched symbols of Springhill High School.

Six black beams hold up the fainted yellow circular tower that shows a grizzly Lumberjack with crossing axes behind him and the words "Springhill Lumberjacks" outlining the display.

It's one of just a handful of reminders that are left, although it wasn't the first major change to this community.

He's still Moosey when he comes home. He's not Mr. NFL or anything here. He's still just Moosey."

Longtime family friend, Lonnie O'Neal

Four decades earlier, the International Paper Mill Company, which had about a thousand local employees, closed.

The effects were devastating.

The town lost more than 30 percent of its population just a couple of years after the mill closed, and to this day, it still hasn't fully recovered. Most of the buildings near the old mill are empty and abandoned, casting a light on just how quickly things can change in a small town.

One of the businesses that does remain is Zach's Barber Shop, which sits directly across the street from the old mill. Zach's is where West had his first haircut as a kid and where he still goes to this day.

While the football stadium, locker room, school and businesses near the school, such as the donut shop across the street where kids will still try and sneak off to in order to grab a snack in between classes, remain structurally the same, there's a different look to them.

But for those who grew up here, it will always feel the same.

West, who calls this small community home, is affectionately known around town as "Moosey," a nickname given to him by his maternal grandmother, or 'Nana,' as he calls her, because "he was big, like a moose." For "Moosey," this place is always going to be the same, and that's why it's special to him.

"I love coming home because I don't get treated any different," he explained.

West, who is coming off a breakout season with the Chiefs, can't stand for five minutes out in the open of his hometown without a car honking and someone yelling for him as they go driving by.

"He's still Moosey when he comes home," Lonnie O'Neal, a longtime family friend, said. "He's not Mr. NFL or anything here. He's still just Moosey."

West means something to these people, as evidenced by the sudden increase in Chiefs fans in the community and all of the No. 35 shirts being worn about town.

It's a love and respect that is reciprocated across everyone in town regardless of age, sex or race. Those who grew up watching "Moosey" shine as a kid only feel pride for what he's doing now, and he does everything in his power to pay it forward to those in the community.

When you ask those who have known him the longest, they'll all say the same thing. They know the real "Moosey," and they love him.

From signing with the Chiefs as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2014 and being a part-time special teams player after beginning the season on the practice squad, to starting in the playoffs and getting a contract extension less than a year later, it has been a whirlwind for West and his family over the past year.

What makes it truly special is they saw this whole amazing story from the beginning, and it has been anything but an easy ride - starting with West overcoming a serious illness in high school that could have taken his life, later switching colleges after one day of workouts, then losing a mentor only a few months before shining for the whole world to see.

Just north of the football stadium and up a concrete walkway covered with rubber matting to protect players from slipping because of their cleats sits a white metal building with purple doors.

When you walk inside, the only thing noticeably different today from a decade ago is the color of the walls. The wooden lockers line the walls of this small room with a couple of rows through the middle, cutting off any extra space there might be to walk around. Shoulder pads sit on top of the lockers with cleats, sparingly dispersed inside the two cubby holes each player is provided.

The space is limited and there's no more than is absolutely needed, and that's always been enough for West.

West's High School locker room

West's High School locker room

"We aren't used to all the cultures and all of that," West explained while sitting in his old high school locker. "We had a mop bucket to ice our ankles. That's what we grew up on - mop buckets and coach (Gray) Haynes taping our ankles before the game while we were sitting up on trash cans.

"I don't need much, but just coming from this, I think it makes you a better person."

There's not a lot of money flowing through this small community, which led to many of West's childhood teammates making decisions that either led them to jail or worse.

West while playing for Springhill

West while playing for Springhill

From the time he was in middle school, West had to deal with losing friends and people he was close with to violence.

"A lot of his classmates made poor decisions, and he had another one of his classmates recently who was put in jail," Haynes, his high school coach, along with O'Neal, someone he still talks to almost daily, explained. "He's seen those guys that made those poor decisions, and he sees the outcomes.

"I think that drives him to make better decisions - to always think about what he's doing and make sure that it's the right thing."

"We all had big dreams," West, who was one of just 21 players on his high school football team as a junior, explained of those he grew up with. "I had a bunch of friends. I probably wasn't even the most talented one. I had some guys that could play some ball, but I had people like coach Haynes [and] my friend Ian in my corner. My parents - a bunch of people that kept me on a straight path."

Coming from such a small town, it would have been hard for West to get away with anything.

"You can't do anything here," West explained. "It's a small community. If I go out and steal a piece of bubble gum at the store, by time I get home, my mom is going to already know."

As West sits in his living room and tells his story, he's flanked by both of his parents on the couch with his two sisters and nana hanging out in the kitchen.

His mother, Demetrice, doesn't necessarily have the same outgoing demeanor around strangers as her son, who is always smiling. She sits with her arms crossed, quiet, seemingly assessing the situation.

The juxtaposition of the two is obvious.

Demetrice has always been protective of her son, and she's undoubtedly the boss of the family. There's really no other way to put it.

Demetrice West, Charcandrick West and Toccara Ford

Demetrice West, Charcandrick West and Toccara Ford

His stepfather, Toccara Ford, who sits on the other side of West on the couch, was a police officer when West was in high school. That, combined with the fact that he's over 6 feet 5 inches tall and 300 pounds, and you begin to understand there was a reason West was always on the straight and narrow.

It's "Yes, ma'am" or "No, sir" around their household, and their relationship couldn't be closer.

"There's not a day that I wake up and don't call them," West explained of his mom and nana. "I can't go to sleep without calling and telling them goodnight."

Ford and one of his closest friends, Dante Coleman, were the reason West first got into football as a kid.

West's biological father isn't in the picture, and it took some convincing from Ford, who started dating Demetrice when West was just a kid, to let him on the field.

She was comfortable with him playing baseball, but football was another story.

Ford and Coleman eventually convinced Demetrice to let him play, although the first experience West had didn't go exactly as planned.

West in Pee Wee Football.

West in Pee Wee Football

His first team was the Vikings when he was in fourth grade - a grade he would take twice because his mother felt "he was slacking" on his first attempt.

Despite West passing the leap test and teachers saying he could move on to fifth grade, she wasn't having it and made him do the year over again, a decision that caused a rift between her and nana.

"My mom wasn't speaking to me for a while after that," Demetrice, who said with a laugh, as nana was in the other room, not laughing. It's fair to say nana strongly disagreed with West being held back a year.

West's tenure with the Vikings was over before he ever played a game for them, although he did make it to picture day. The mistake that cost him his first year of football is something we'll only categorize as childish and harmless, but it was enough for Demetrice to delay the start of his career.

The year away from organized football wasn't easy for West, who was a standout on the baseball field at the time.

Once he finally got on the football field and was able to stay on the team long enough to play a game, everything would change, and it didn't take long for Demetrice to recognize the talent.

Ford and Coleman were running a two-back system, utilizing spread formations and a lot of other things nobody in this small town, particularly with kids at this age, had seen before.

In two years at the Pee Wee level playing for Coleman's team, the Cowboys, West never lost a game, and it's at that point they all saw something special in him.

Nobody could really catch him. If you gave him the ball around the corner, he was gone. It was six."

West's stepfather, Toccara Ford

"Nobody could really catch him," Ford explained. "If you gave him the ball around the corner, he was gone. It was six."

Seeing West's already impressive speed, Ford and Coleman began training West to see how good he could become. They didn't have a lot of money, so they had to make do with whatever they could find to use as training equipment.

Ford cut a hole in a tire and put a rope through it and then around West's waist, and he would have him run around the yard, dragging the tire through the grass. There was a significant amount of space just outside of their house, big enough for an entire football field, which lent itself well to training a future NFL running back.

When West got a little older, Ford went to the high school and asked to borrow and fix up some of the old sleds that nobody was using. They did everything they could to feed the appetite West was developing for improving his strength and speed.

In addition to all of the physical training, Ford mixed in some football drills as well.

They had a game they'd play in which Ford would throw West 100 footballs every day.

"Each one you drop, that's going to be 10 pushups," Ford would tell West. "You're either going to be a heck of a receiver or a really strong linebacker."

Before he ever got to the high school field, the buzz surrounding "Moosey" was palpable around town. Everyone saw him training and running around the community, which, at the time, had some people snickering about all the work he was doing.

But the nice, humble, young kid could have been the greatest athlete in the world, and it still wouldn't have prepared him for the battle he was about to face.

''I was told I'd never play football again.''

"I woke up and couldn't move. I had a fever and was weak."

It was November of 2006 - West's freshman year at Springhill - and he had just scored 3 touchdowns for the school's varsity team the night before against Lakeside.

When West woke up that Saturday morning, he had broken out with a rash and a fever and couldn't move. His temperature was 104 degrees and he was quickly taken to the hospital an hour away in Shreveport.

"He hurt so badly," Ford explained. "If you moved him, he was literally screaming."

They tested everything from West Nile to HIV and Meningitis.

They had his braces removed because they had just been put on and thought there may have been some kind of an allergic reaction. His gums were so swollen they almost covered up his teeth, but that wasn't it either.

After putting West through every test they could think of, the doctors still didn't know what was wrong with him.

Eventually, he was transferred to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, where he would stay for the next three weeks.

"He had a 104 fever for 21 straight days," Ford explained. "They were like, 'This is rare. This will kill a grown man to run a fever for that long.'"

I was told I'd never play football again. I was ready to really give up on life."

West on not being able to play football

West would drop more than 40 pounds throughout this ordeal, and the doctors told him he might never walk again.

For West, that meant something else.

"I was told I'd never play football again," West recalled. "I was ready to really give up on life."

That message from the doctors didn't resonate well with Ford.

"I was hot," he explained. "Why would you tell a kid at his lowest point? Why would you crush him like that? Nobody knows that but God. You don't know. You can't even tell me what's wrong with him, so how can you tell him that?"

It wasn't an easy time for anyone in the family.

"I looked at him as my little tough guy, my little superman, you know," Ford added. "To see him now like this, it took a very emotional toll because we couldn't figure out what it was."

Ford, who is a towering figure that enjoys his barbecue and football, struggled to explain the pain and stress he burdened during this time in their lives.

"I'll never forget the day [Coleman] came over to the house and I just broke down, I started crying," Ford noted. "I said, 'We don't know what's going on and it's just, why him? I don't know what to do. I'm about to break.'

"[Coleman] told me, 'Man, you have to stay strong. You have to stay strong for your family, for him and the girls.'"

At the toughest time in all of their lives up until that point, Coleman was there for all of them. He was a part of West's foundation, and that would come full circle years later as Coleman would become the subject of the family needing to find strength during a difficult time.

West had two younger sisters - Meoshia, who is now 23 years old, and Paradise, who is 14 - and much of the responsibility to take care of them while Demetrice was caring for West in the hospital fell on Ford.

"I never left," Demetrice explained of the weeks of testing. "The doctors were saying he's old enough, he can stay in the hospital by himself, but I wasn't leaving."

"It was just me and my mom every day," West explained. "She was tough. If it wasn't for her, I really would've gave up. Who knows? I might have died. You never know what could have happened.

"I'm just blessed to have parents and people like her."

Even though she was there by his side through it all doesn't mean she was catering to his every need. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

"You know how nurses come in and help you shower? She wouldn't let the nurses touch me," West said with a laugh. "She made me get up and shower myself. I had to do everything myself even though it was painful."

West eventually got better without anyone figuring out the cause of what was wrong.

He slowly gained his weight back and was healthy in time for track season that spring, but then it happened again.

The rash, the fever and the pain.

It was finally at the Shriner's Hospital in Shreveport that West was ultimately diagnosed with what had plagued him the entire time - juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

It was a serious condition and the side effects of the treatment can be even more serious, but West took the medication and has been fine ever since, although, to this day, anytime West gets a fever, the family gets a little nervous.

While the lessons he would have learned on the football field playing as a sophomore were lost because he was fighting this illness, he learned more through this battle than he ever could have imagined.

"I feel like that situation with me getting sick, it made my family realize we're all we've got here in this small town," West explained. "We have this community. They had a big ol' fish fry for me. The community came together big. That's the thing about being from a small town. You get so much support from everybody, and they came together for me.

"I'll never forget that."

I think now, that's why he takes every day as a blessing. He's so happy to be where he's at because he knows how close it was from being taken away from him."

Lonnie O'Neal on West's illness

"I think now, that's why he takes every day as a blessing," O'Neal explained. "He's so happy to be where he's at because he knows how close it was from being taken away from him."

Eventually, West got healthy and the same people who had been so worried about "Moosey" the person, holding a fish fry for him and being supportive to their entire family through it all, once again got to witness "Moosey" the player.

"When he came back and he was willing to put forth the work, you could see him get a little better every day," Haynes explained, "and by the end of his junior year, he was - I wouldn't say 100 percent, but he was back 85-90 percent.

"Heading into his senior year, he was back ready to play."

It wasn't long before West gained back the speed and strength that everyone witnessed when he was a freshman. In addition to being a standout football player, West was also a standout track athlete. He still holds the district record with a 10.34 100-yard dash time.

As a senior, West averaged more than 15 yards per carry for the Lumberjacks in their final year of existence, finishing with 1,350 yards on 89 carries with 16 touchdowns.

"It was almost like a man playing against boys," O' Neal explained. "He was always faster and could jump higher. He could cut and change directions like a video game, but he always had something a little different.

"He always had that 'it' factor, I guess people call it. He always had the drive to want to do a little better than other people."

"It doesn't matter if he's playing football, basketball, baseball or tiddlywinks. He doesn't care. He wants to win," Haynes added.

This all manifested itself on the field one day, as Haynes recalls, when West had an opportunity to play defense.

Haynes put West at safety during the spring game and his only direction was, "Don't let anyone behind you."

West while playing for Springhill

West while playing for Springhill

"First play, they run a sweep right and Moosey is the first person to meet the running back about three yards deep behind the line of scrimmage," Haynes recalled. "He knocked himself and the other kid out."

In West's mind, he had done his job and he would shake it off and continue playing.

Haynes had other plans and told him he was done.

Moments later, West snuck behind him and ran back on the field, which caused Haynes to take West's helmet away.

While many would have gotten the point, that also didn't stop West.

"He was trying to grab another player's helmet and get back in," Haynes laughingly explained. "So we had to tell the rest of the team under no circumstance do you give West your helmet."

That was West's first and only attempt at playing defense in high school, although that didn't stop colleges from pursuing the sub-six foot athlete as a defensive back.

After a standout senior season in which he was named to the All-State team just a few years removed from fighting that terrible illness, West had offers from Arkansas and Louisiana State to play cornerback.

They thought he was too small to play running back at the collegiate level.

Louisiana Tech was just down the road from his hometown in Ruston, and it was also where Coleman had spent some time. They sold West on the idea of coming there to play running back, which was enough for him and he signed to play for the Bulldogs.

But much like everything else he had already been through, the stop in Ruston wouldn't necessarily go as planned either.

''They really just left me in the middle of nowhere''

With all of the challenges that came along with the diagnosis and eventual treatment of his illness, the one that came back to sting West the most had to do with his academics.

When he initially signed with Louisiana Tech and was given a scholarship, the school knew he was one class short of being eligible - a byproduct of, among other things - missing so much school early in his high school days.

West's signing party to attend Louisiana Tech

West's signing party to attend Louisiana Tech

"He reported to (Louisiana Tech) for the first day of workouts, and they told him that he was one core class short," Haynes explained. "Tech told us they had called the NCAA and they should have that waived and everything was supposed to be [on go], but then he shows up and his financial aid hadn't gone through. They told him he was going to have to pay for class.

"So Moosey calls me about 9:00 a.m. that day and said, 'Coach, you've got to find me somewhere else to play. We can't pay for it.'"

Just like that, the dream of playing running back for the local Division I college was over, and West was going to have to find somewhere else to play college football.

The family didn't have the means to pay for college on its own, as Tech had suggested taking a "grey shirt," which meant he wouldn't be playing football. As a "grey shirt," his family would have to pay his way while his only affiliation with the team would be working out in the weight room.

"I can't go there and not play football," West recalled of the time. "I needed to do something."

Lonnie and I called, texted and emailed every coach we had ever heard of, every school we had ever heard of. By late that afternoon, we had four or five schools that were interested."

West's high school coach, Gray Haynes

The problem with finding a new place to play was that it was only a few weeks before the college football season was set to begin.

"Lonnie and I called, texted and emailed every coach we had ever heard of, every school we had ever heard of," Haynes explained. "By late that afternoon, we had four or five schools that were interested."

One of the school's was Abilene Christian, a small school more than 400 miles East of Cullen, Louisiana. That's a far cry from the 70 miles he was going to be away at Tech.

Besides the trip to Arkansas when he was sick, West had never left the state of Louisiana.

The head coach at Abilene Christian at the time, Chris Thomsen, who is now an assistant at Arizona State and has been for the past four years, remembers the circumstances surrounding West joining their program.

Thomsen had two strong, veteran running backs headed into the upcoming season, and just a couple of days before he received the email from Haynes, one of those backs had torn his ACL during a workout.

"It's not like the NFL where there's a waiver wire where you can go pick up some guy that you maybe had on your practice squad," Thomsen explained. "When [West] showed up, he was a good, strong-looking kid. That was a no-brainer for us."

West had initially called Haynes on Monday about finding him a new school, and on Friday, Haynes, O'Neal, West and the family took off for Abilene, Texas.

It wasn't easy for West, who had never been that far away from home before even for a vacation, let alone moving there by himself for college.

It didn't take long for everyone to leave and head back to Louisiana that day.

"They didn't even go in my dorm," West recalled. "They dropped me off and left. I'm trying to hold the tears in. My mom - she's walking away. I'm trying to make eye contact with her because I know what it was.

"I'm looking at their car like, wow, they really just left me in the middle of nowhere. My mom even told me I couldn't come home. I wouldn't have a place to stay."

It was time for West to be on his own, and they all knew it.

"He's still not real happy about that," O'Neal laughed. "He reminds me of it every time I talk to him."

After just a few hours in Abilene, West had a dorm room, class schedule, football equipment and was set to compete for a running back position when workouts began, but the hardest transition was still going to be the distance from home and the fear of the unknown.

West with best friend Ian Eason

West with best friend Ian Eason

"I called [O'Neal] and my best friend Ian," West explained of that first night. "I was ready to change my life. I told them I was going to join the Army. I got to saying all kinds of stuff, but I met some good people (in Abilene)."

It wasn't easy for his mom either.

"I was fine until we came home and then that Saturday morning, I was cleaning his room and I just broke down," Demetrice explained.

They had been through so much together, and it was the first time he had ever been away from home without her by his side.

She knew he needed to be on his own in order to grow, but letting go wasn't easy.

"Abilene Christian was different," West explained. "When we got there, they really accepted us. Everybody was hugging you and greeting you. I'm like, 'Man, I'd never seen that before.' It's almost scary that people are this emotional and touchy-feely, you know, but it kind of gelled on me."

The other healthy running back at ACU at the time was Daryl Richardson, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Richardson has since spent time with the New York Jets, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. He's currently with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What we didn't know when we first got that email was how good of a person he was. Once you get to know him and are around him, you just realize that he's a kid that not only makes you better on the field, but in your locker room, your community and in our case, your campus."

Abilene Christian head coach, Chris Thomsen

For a smaller school, ACU has done a pretty good job putting out NFL talent with players like Danieal Manning, Johnny Knox, Bernard Scott, Richardson and now West, who have all made an impact at the highest level of football in the world.

"The system that Moosey came out of, especially in high school, it was pretty much, 'Give Moosey the ball and he was going to do the rest,'" Ford explained. "So we came to the conclusion (at ACU) that the blitz protection and the pass blocking stuff wasn't where it needed to be."

It took some time, but obviously, West worked his way to success.

West finished his college career with the Wildcats with more than 3,000 combined yards and 30 touchdowns.

"There's a scripture, James 4:10, it says, 'Humble yourself, and in due time, God will lift you up,'" Thomsen said. "This kid is an example of humility, hard work, being positive and pouring into other people. It took a while. He wasn't a star right away at ACU and he wasn't a star right away in Kansas City, but he's a shining example of when you're humble and you work your butt off, and you have some ability and you pour into other people, sooner or later, that comes back to you."

The player, who literally only found himself at ACU because his high school coach sent cold emails to as many people as he could think of, wound up being a huge part of their program.

"What we didn't know when we first got that email was how good of a person he was," Thomsen explained. "Once you get to know him and are around him, you just realize that he's a kid that not only makes you better on the field, but in your locker room, your community and in our case, your campus.

"He's what I call a life-giver. He's inspired me. There are certain players who every day you go to work you look at that guy and go, 'That guy is going to come to work with a smile on his face and a positive spirit.' He was one of those guys."

Regardless of how hard it got or what kind of adversity got thrown in his direction, West attacked it with an unmatched work ethic and a genuine smile.

"You're trying to inspire him to be a great player, and he doesn't even know it, but he's inspiring you every day to come to work and give your best," Thomsen added. "It was a blessing that he ended up with us, and I think it worked out well for him too."

While the day Haynes, O'Neal and his family dropped him off in Abilene won't ever be forgotten because he wasn't exactly thrilled with them at the time, West understands what that experience did for him and how it helped him get to where he is today.

"Abilene Christian is a great school," West noted. "They had great people and I enjoyed my time there. I think it was the best decision I ever made in my life."

''He was acting like a lion in a cage.''

Thomsen didn't coach West the final two years of his career at ACU because he had moved on to Texas Tech (2012) and then Arizona State (2013-present), but he did receive a phone call from an old friend that wanted to know about the speedy running back prior to the 2014 NFL Draft.

That call came from the director of football operations for the Chiefs, Chris Ballard, who had known Thomsen for more than two decades.

Ballard got his first coaching job at Texas A&M-Kingsville back in 1994, when he worked with the defensive backs and spent much of his time on the road recruiting. That's where he first met Thomsen, who had started that same year as an assistant at Abilene Christian, which was in the same conference as Kingsville.

"It's a relationship that goes back 20 years to where Chris and I coached against each other and recruited against each other back at junior colleges in Texas," Thomsen explained. "We used to go at it. First time he ever walked into a coaching office I was like, 'Who is this guy?'

"I wanted to compete with him right away because he had that air about him - that confidence, and [Kingsville] was winning. When I first got in to Abilene Christian, I was an assistant and we weren't winning."

A relationship that developed from the grind college football assistant coaches go through on the recruiting trail manifested itself decades later in regards to West, who caught the eye of Ballard and the Chiefs personnel staff.

This wasn't the first time Ballard had reached out to Thomsen about one of his players.

In the 12 years he spent in the personnel department with the Chicago Bears, Ballard had scouted and pushed for the team to draft two of Thomsen's players at ACU - receiver Johnny Knox and safety Danieal Manning, who both went on to contribute for the Bears during their time with the team.

I believe I can fly lol

A video posted by Charcandrick West (@charcandrickwest) on

"[Ballard] said, 'We've seen some things on tape that we like here (of West),'" Thomsen explained. "I told him, 'Everything you're seeing is valid. The guy's a player, but he's also a great kid and a great person.'"

For Thomsen, who had a record of 61-21 during his seven years as head coach of the Wildcats, the pairing of a longtime friend and colleague in Ballard with a former player of his in West was special.

"It makes it even more special to know [Ballard] is going to come back and get those kind of guys," Thomsen explained. "He knows where they come from, who they are and how they operate. He sees those qualities and those traits and understands they can be valuable to an organization."

The weekend of the draft was difficult for West, who had spoken with a few different teams leading up to it and thought there was a chance he would be selected at some point.

"He was acting like a lion in a cage," Ford recalled.

"There were so many people here at the house," Demetrice said of that last day of the draft. "We had a bunch of food and our whole family was here and guys he played football with in high school were here."

It was a day to celebrate West and everything he had been through.

At one point during the party, as he anxiously awaited for his name to be called or the phone to ring with good news, the nerves and stress just became too much for West, who needed to get away from everyone.

There were so many people here at the house. We had a bunch of food and our whole family was here and guys he played football with in high school were here."

Demetrice West on the last day of the draft

"Everybody was looking for him," Demetrice recalled. "He had disappeared and went into a room by himself. When I found him, I asked him what was wrong. 'Momma, my head is hurting me so bad right now,' he said. He was so stressed because it was all the way down to the wire."

Finally, West emerged from his room a bit later, his family sensing he had good news to share.

"He got a phone call. He got a phone call," everyone was saying as West walked out to the front yard.

That call was from Ballard, who was asking West if he wanted to join the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.

"My headache went right away," West said with the smile he's so often associated with.

Then the party began. They were all barbecuing and celebrating until the early hours of the morning with family, friends and all of those who had been a part of this amazing journey.

It was the culmination of all the tire workouts, the time spent in the hospital and watching dreams deferred by those around him who didn't make the same choices throughout their lives.

It meant a little bit to everyone in that small Louisiana community.

The honeymoon soon ended, as it didn't take long before West was introduced to what being an NFL running back was all about, which started with learning to play under running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, who is as passionate and fierce of a coach as you'll find.

"I remember the first day I got there, it was the first OTA practice and [Bieniemy] had us doing drills," West recalled. "I think my first time going through drills he told me, 'You stand back. You watch them go.' He didn't explain the drill. He just set the cones up and said, 'Y'all go.' I watched them and I was nervous, then (when it was my turn) I hit a cone. 'Oh my God. Why did I hit that cone?' I said to myself.

West with the Chiefs in 2014

West with the Chiefs in 2014

"He lost it," West recalled. "I'm like, 'This is like my first time doing this.' He didn't care."

Bieniemy laughed when asked about that moment.

"I tell all of those guys those cones are set up for a reason," he said with a smile. "They don't move and they don't jump. If you touch that cone, we've got issues. Don't touch the cones."

Lesson learned.

The good news for West is that he came to the right place and the right situation, with a running backs room that's led by veteran Jamaal Charles, who has been more than a teammate to West since he arrived two years ago. He's been a friend.

Running backs coach, Eric Bieniemy

Running backs coach, Eric Bieniemy

"We all go to each other for help," West explained. "We compete against [Bieniemy] basically. We're trying to save each other. Don't go out there and mess this up because he's going to embarrass you in front of everybody."

That said, West likes that whether it's himself who touches the cones, or even Charles - the franchise's all-time leading rusher and one of the NFL's elite playmakers - they're going to get called out.

"He doesn't care who it is," West said of Bieniemy. "He is going to treat all of us the same. That's what makes our room special. When you look at a coach like that, you know he loves the game."

Bieniemy knows where West comes from and believes it's part of the reason he's as driven and motivated as he is to be successful.

"One thing [West] understands is that in life, if you don't work at what you want to be successful in, all that can be taken away," Bieniemy noted. "Growing up the way he did has helped him to mature, but also has helped him to grow as a man."

After his first go-around at OTAs and hitting the cone, West knew he was in for even more when they got to training camp his first year in 2014, and on the first day of wearing pads, one moment stood out to him.

"I remember the first practice at training camp and I saw Jamaal get tackled and said, 'Oh man. Imagine what they're going to do to me,'" West said with a laugh.

West at Chiefs Training Camp in 2014

West at Chiefs Training Camp in 2014

If one of the most important players on offense was getting hit that hard during camp, the defense wasn't going to take it easy on the undrafted rookie free agent out of some small school in Texas.

The validation from Charles during West's rookie season meant more to him than Charles probably realizes, but it was part of the mental development West needed to play and compete at this level.

"When Jamaal told me I could play, it meant a lot," West said. "I use to watch Jamaal's highlights before my college games. Now he's one of my best friends, it's special to me."

Before Charles got hurt last season, he and West had plans to see who was faster during a competition in Texas this past summer.

"We went down to Austin, Texas, and watched the state track meet," West said of him and Charles two years ago. "We just sat there watching, and you know, we'd always talk about who's the fastest. I mean, everything we do is competitive. You sit down and see who can eat the fastest. Who can win the video game - everything is like a competition.

"We were going to run it this year. We were going to run the open 100 this year at the Texas Relays."

Obviously that didn't happen because Charles was rehabbing his knee from a torn ACL, but their plan is to try again next year.

From playing at Baucum-Farrar Stadium in high school all the way to Abilene Christian, who also shared its stadium with a local high school team, when West had the opportunity to play at Arrowhead Stadium as a rookie, he was emotional.

West embraces fans at Arrowhead Stadium

West embraces fans at Arrowhead Stadium

He had been through so much, and he was finally there.

"I started crying the first time I went to Arrowhead," West explained of his rookie season. "It was emotional when they started singing the Star Spangled Banner. I was looking around like, how did I end up here? How did I get here? That's what's crazy to me. I feel like I'm supposed to be here, but I'm not supposed to be here.

"Everything is just like a blessing to be in the situation I'm in today."

''I thank him for this every day''

One of the blessings throughout West's life came in the form of Coleman, who had first turned him on to football as a 10-year-old kid and served as one of his friends and mentors throughout his life, but a phone call last July, just a week before his second training camp was set to begin, changed everything.

"She called me and wouldn't say anything," West recalled of his mother that summer morning.

"I couldn't pull myself together," Demetrice explained. "He knew something was wrong for me to call that early."

Coleman, who had been dealing with some health-related issues in regards to problems with his back, had suddenly passed away at the age of 35 after waking up that morning feeling hot.

At the funeral, West placed his No. 35 Chiefs game jersey in the casket with Coleman - the man who had first introduced and cultivated his passion for the game."

He was taken to the emergency room, and a bit later - his heart had stopped beating.

Just like that, out of nowhere, he was gone.

West was crushed.

At the funeral, West placed his No. 35 Chiefs game jersey in the casket with Coleman - the man who had first introduced and cultivated his passion for the game.

If it hadn't of been for Coleman, West might never of had that jersey with his name on the back in the first place.

"You couldn't ask for a better friend," Ford said of Coleman. "He's the type of guy that, if I needed something at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, I called him. He was just a phone call away. He was always there.

"I can say he is my only true friend. I have a lot of associates, but I keep my circle small."

Ford's relationship with Coleman started when they were in high school and were on the football team together. Coleman was a year older and played cornerback, while Ford played along the defensive line.

One day after practice when Ford was a sophomore, Coleman had a note on his locker that read, "We need a Willy linebacker, are you up for the challenge?"

"At the time, [Coleman] probably only weighed 145 pounds, but he was a fiery cat," Ford recalled. "I looked at him and said, 'Don't worry about it. You can handle it. Willy linebacker, that's behind me (Ford was 6 feet 3 and 285 pounds at the time). They'll probably double-team me so you'll be able to come through that side and make all the tackles.

"He was pretty successful and that kicked off our friendship."

Demetrice had a different kind of relationship with Coleman, who was never afraid to speak his mind and be critical of "Mama's little man" if he thought it was warranted, which was often.

"I would always be so mad with Dante because like I said, he spoke his mind," Demetrice explained. "He always had something smart to say, he didn't care who you were."

They all couldn't have been closer.

"We were all actually making plans to make that Houston game," Ford recalled of the opening game of the 2015 season. "For it not to happen, that was tough."

West takes the field in Houston for the Chiefs 2015 Wild Card game

West takes the field in Houston for the Chiefs 2015 Wild Card game.

"Dante was my biggest critic," West remembered. "I don't care what I did, Dante found something wrong with it. Like the day I ran the 10.34 (in high school, which is still a district record), he went and did so much research on the internet and found a kid in America - not in Louisiana - a kid in America, who ran a faster time than that. He made sure he came and showed me.

"Nothing was ever good enough for him, and that's why I miss him so much, man. I would like to hear what he had to say about this season."

Coleman never got to see West step in for the then-injured Jamaal Charles and help lead the team to 11 straight wins and the franchise's first playoff victory in 22 years.

He wasn't there in person to witness West carry the ball 66 times for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns in the three games following the team's 1-5 start, which all resulted in wins.

I know losing him, there was a reason why. I feel like he was up there watching and helping me with this year. I thank him for this every day."

West on the loss of Dante Coleman

The 412 yards of total offense for West during those three games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos is exactly what the Chiefs needed at the time, and it's what Coleman, Ford, Haynes and company had pushed West towards ever since his days in Pee Wee football with the Cowboys.

"One person I feel like I want - if I can hear him say, 'You did a good job last year,' that will complete the year," West explained of Coleman and his breakout season. "Just to hear him, not even say good job, but just tell me you did all right but you know what you can get better at. He always expected the most of me - that's what is just crazy that he's not here to witness all of this.

"I know losing him, there was a reason why. I feel like he was up there watching and helping me with this year. I thank him for this every day."

West had dedicated his season to Coleman before he ever stepped on the field last year, and he thought about him every time he came through that tunnel and onto the field.

The way everything played out - signing a contract extension just days before the scholarship banquet West and those in Cullen and Springhill had already planned in order to honor Coleman's legacy - made West realize it wasn't a coincidence.

"Signing the deal right before we honored him, that's why I know it was him," West explained. "That's how I know that's him working. Him and God working together up there."

At the lowest point in West's life, when he was barely a teenager, sick and in the hospital, Coleman was there for him and his family.

He is and will always be a part of the foundation - the yellow paint that will never be covered up. Regardless of how much changes over the years, Coleman's influence will always be there in West, and he honors him every time he steps on the field.

''I wasn't even supposed to be here''

One of the first things that will always be used to describe West is his smile, which he's always displaying for the world to see.

It's his trademark.

When you've been through all the things West has been through in his life, it's easy to see why he's developed this effervescent outlook.

"They use to always ask, 'Why are you so happy to come out here and practice?'" West explained. "I wasn't even supposed to be here (is what he tells himself). There were so many bumps in the road that I could've just went this way or went that way, but having good people like my parents to keep me going straight - that's what really helped.

"That's why I'm so happy."

The same kid who was told he might never walk again, let alone play football, won't ever take this platform or opportunity for granted. It's not how he's built or how he's been raised.

"If I didn't play again after last year, I wouldn't be satisfied, but I would be OK," West said. "I lived out my dream. I scored an NFL touchdown. That's what people are always like, 'Who's going to get the football (now with Charles back)?'

West signs autogrpahs before a game

West signs autogrpahs before a game

"That's not something I worry about. If I give it my all, everything will fall in place. That's why I take the time and show people appreciation."

West is consistently one of the last players to leave the field during pregame warmups because he is taking every picture, signing every autograph and making memories that will last a lifetime with kids who might never have another opportunity to meet an NFL player.

Look no further than his social media channels for even more proof of the pride he takes in being accessible and open to fans.

"You should never be big enough to where you can't take time for a little kid that's standing out here in the cold," West explained. "We know how cold it is out there. How could you not stop and shake this kids hand and take a picture with him?

"That's why I feel like coming from a small town, a small school - it made me a better person. It made me realize that all this can be taken away."

"He was raised to give respect to everybody," his nana explained. "In school, out of school, the young, old - everybody. They said he wasn't going to make it, but he did, and I'm so proud of him."

His family, his community and his upbringing - the foundation that is the bedrock of his character, is alive and well in West.

When asked what he remembers about his high school days, West recalls his favorite poem from Haynes’ English class, Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

It's fitting that West's favorite poem as a teenager is about a man who stands at a fork in the road with two options, equally travelled, knowing that he might later find insincerity in whatever decision he made.

West had to deal with so many forks in the road throughout his journey and while he might not have always understood why his parents, his coaches, O'Neal, Coleman or his friends helped steer him in a particular direction at any of these crossroads, the sincerity would later come and be fully realized.

They always had his back and faith in their role of his journey, which simply meant helping him develop the character and respect for others that have come to trump his abilities on the field.

He's one of the good guys and anyone who has even spent a moment with him can attest to that.

West in his hometown

West in his hometown

West navigated the forest to come out the other side a successful, genuine man who has made an entire community proud to call him one of their own.

Much like the stadium in which he first made a name for himself, the community will forever be his foundation, regardless of how much changes over the time - the yellow will always be there, just like the pride of being from Cullen will always be ingrained in West.

"Some people have success and forget where they come from and forget the people that helped them get there," West noted. "When you do that, that's when I feel stuff goes bad."

West understands the future is unclear and as he's learned over the past 17 months, a lot can change in just a short time, but he's not going to take anything for granted.

"The first thing people always say is 'Enjoy the journey,' so I'm just enjoying it."

So if you ever happen to cross paths with him during this journey, now you'll know the story behind that smile.