SETH STRINGER @SethSnwfdn

NICEVILLE — Being the new guy on the team can be tough.

No one knows your personality. No one understands your sense of humor. No one has seen your talent, your work ethic … essentially what makes you tick.

Eli West experienced the awkwardness firsthand when he transferred to Niceville from Hoover (Alabama) before spring football practice. 

He’d build somewhat of a reputation as coaches gushed over him, but no one knew the rising senior. Only bits and pieces.

West changed that in a hurry with a loud first impression.

“We had a little scrimmage and me and Juanyeh were going back and forth and I kind of hit him the wrong way,” he said. “When we were getting up, I kind of strong-armed him a little bit. He didn’t like that, so we kind of went at it. It was a little crazy.”

Juanyeh as in Juanyeh Thomas, Niceville’s D-I cornerback and star receiver. The two have been inseparable ever since.

And also indispensable for Niceville’s defense.

“I think he knew what it was like to be the new guy,” West said of Thomas, who transferred from Walton after his sophomore year. “We realized from that moment we were going to get along because we have that same game mentality.”

When West arrived at Niceville, head coach John Hicks didn’t mask his excitement. After all, it’s not everyday a potential Division-I linebacker is dropped into your lap.

“God was smiling down on us,” Hicks said in May. “He’s a great player, a great person, a great linebacker. He’s one heckuva player.”

Even though West hails from one of the most lauded programs in the nation in Hoover, a tradition that even earned its own TV show a decade ago, Niceville proved to be his dream school.

“When I

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