KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Charcandrick West’s engaging smile is often the first thing people notice when meeting him.
But the Chiefs running back gave everyone a reason to smile in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium in London.
West took a handoff from quarterback Alex Smith late in the second quarter at the Lions’ 8-yard line before bursting up the middle behind a wall of blockers untouched.
Lions safety James Ihedigbo got his hands on West around the 2-yard line, but couldn’t prevent the touchdown as West’s momentum carried him across the goal line.
West briefly fell to both knees, and then immediately jumped up to sprint to the middle of end zone where he placed both hands on the back of his head and swung his hips in a counter clockwise motion to celebrate.
Social media erupted as people tried to figure out the dance and the popular opinion surrounded moves made famous by former wrestling star Ravishing Rick Rude.
The origin of West’s celebration, however, could surprise.
“I don’t know if you’re ever seen it,” West said with a laugh. “It’s an episode of ‘SpongeBob,’ he was talking about bring it around town.”
Did the second-year pro really mimic something he saw on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a popular children’s cartoon show?
“I have to find it for you, man,” West explained while chuckling. “It’s funny, though. I didn’t even have that playing; I don’t know what made me do it.”
West busting a move from something he saw in a cartoon is part of his genuine charm and upbeat personality.
The 24-year-old West is a kid at heart, after all, and is often observed joking with teammates in the locker room.
“He’s a happy go-lucky kid,” Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. “You’ll never see him not smiling and every time he’s in the building, he’s smiling, he’s enthusiastic about learning and he’s very professional.”
Abilene Christian University head football coach Ken Collums, who coached West in college, agreed emphatically during a telephone interview.
“I don’t know if he ever had a bad day here,” Collums said. “He comes in, he’s constantly smiling. Of course, he smiles from ear-to-ear when he smiles. His smile is intoxicating.”
West’s performance since assuming the role as the Chiefs’ primary ball carrier after Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 provide numerous reasons to feel good.
And West does it with constant encouragement from Charles before and after games.
“He sends texts, he loves me,” West said. “To get a text like that from a guy like that after a game is amazing. For Jamaal Charles to be one of my closest friends, I watched him in college. I actually watched his highlights before my college games just to steal moves and stuff like that. To be in the same room and share texts is amazing.”
With Charles out of the lineup, West has rushed for 240 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries the past three games.
West exploded in Weeks 7-8, totaling 207 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 42 carries. He also showed his versatility, catching six passes for 44 yards receiving during that span.
On the season, the 5-10, 205-pound West has 288 yards rushing on 63 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, and caught nine passes for 59 yards.
“Not surprised, but impressed,” Bieniemy said. “He’s had a great teacher and a role model in Jamaal and Jamaal has done a great job of laying the foundation. And (Charcandrick) is just one of those kids, he has a unique way of carrying the football, he finds a way to make things happen and he’s doing a good job, knock on wood.”
West, a native of Springhill, La., joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and spent time on the Chiefs practice squad before being elevated to the active roster in Week 11.
He entered the 2015 offseason in a crowded backfield behind Charles, Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray, but opportunity presented itself when the Chiefs released Gray before the start of training camp.
West turned heads during organized team activities (OTAs) and carried that momentum through four preseason games to lead the Chiefs in rushing with 136 yards on 28 carries.
Davis began the season as Charles’ primary backup, and West didn’t record his first carry of the season until Week 4.
He hasn’t looked back since supplanting Davis as the lead rusher.
“I’m surprised really that it’s happening soon,” West said. “I never expected it to be my second year in, going in the situation that I’m in, I never expected that. But I’m going to keep doing what my team asks me to do and just go out and give them my all.”
Collums couldn’t be happier to see his former player thrive at the next level.
“I think the Chiefs got a dandy there because he is a good player and he’s only going to get better,” Collums said, “but he’s way more than just a good player.”
West’s skillset as a rusher and receiver afforded the Chiefs a luxury of not tweaking the offense without Charles.
Bieniemy, however, cautions against equating West to the player he replaced in the backfield.
“He has similar traits as Jamaal and obviously to compare him to Jamaal is not fair,” Bieniemy said. “But I will say this, he’s a great receiver out of the backfield. He does a lot of good things for us in the pass game as far as protection is concerned, and he has a unique running style and he has unbelievable vision.”
Coach Andy Reid agreed, pointing out pass protection is the biggest area of improvement from West.
“We knew he could run the ball, he’s pretty good at that,” Reid said. “Having to learn all the different protections, and then the techniques involved and blocking some of those guys, I think is where he’s improved the most.”
Ever a humble person, West is flattered the coaching staff thinks highly of him and he has thrived under the tutelage of Bieniemy.
He especially enjoys the opportunity to learn from a position coach who has mentored some of the NFL’s elite running backs of the past decade.
“It’s amazing because he coached Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, he’s got Jamaal Charles,” West said of Bieniemy. “I mean, those guys are great football players.”
West also appreciates learning and playing in the Chiefs’ version of the West Coast offense.
“Coach Reid is an offensive genius, he’s an offensive guru,” West said. “For him to consider me a good football player is great. To be there is a blessing.”
Success won’t go to West’s head anytime soon and he has unfinished business, which the 2014 NFL Draft helped fuel.
“I stayed up for three days and watched and watched and watched, waited for a phone call and waited for my name to be called,” West said. “That’s was really the biggest dream, to see your name come across that screen.
“I didn’t get my name called, but the Chiefs gave me an opportunity to come and show what I can do. That leaves a chip on my shoulder to show that I belong in this league.”
West was first driven to prove others wrong after not receiving an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine despite posting 2,098 yards rushing, 1,007 yards receiving, 758 yards as a returner and 35 total touchdowns (28 rushing) at Abilene Christian.
He is the only player in school history to produce 2,000 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving and 750 kickoff return yards in a career.
For good measure, West posted a wind-aided 4.27 40-yard dash during his Pro Day workout.
“If I had done what I did at Pro Day at the Combine at a bigger school, I might have got drafted,” West said. “It just stayed like that, always running through my head, man, why was I was overlooked? So now I just want to show that I shouldn’t be overlooked anymore.”
His college coach isn’t surprised West used the predraft process as motivation.
“What that tells me is that Charcandrick West – it doesn’t tell me, I already knew this – but it affirms in my mind that he is a fierce competitor,” Collums said. “He feels like he belongs at that level and he’s not going to be intimidated. He’s going to go in and do the best he can.”
The Chiefs are riding a two-game win streak to claw back in the hunt for the playoffs in part because of an energized running game since Charles went down.
But while West has personal goals and embraces his role in the backfield, he is quick to quick to deflect credit for the Chiefs’ current success to teammates.
“This isn’t about me,” West said. “It’s about them; it’s about us, really. The success and stuff, it’s a beginning of where I want to go. I’ve got big dreams. I want to be as good as Jamaal one day. The past, those two weekends were great, but just keep working and doing it over and over again.”
West’s approach to the game and willingness to cast the spotlight on others doesn’t come as a surprise to Collums, who saw those traits firsthand in the four years he coached West.
“You want to root for people like that because he genuinely believes that,” Collums said. “He genuinely believes that it’s not about me, it can be a lot of people taking these handoffs, but I’m here and I’m going to make the best of it and I’m going to prove the Chiefs right for taking a chance on me.
“It fires me up because humility – we talk a lot about that around here – humility is the ingredient that you have to have to in order to develop as a man, as a player, as a person.
Given what West has provided since arriving in Kansas City, it is safe to say the Chiefs delight in the combination.
“I enjoy working with him,” Bieniemy said with a smile.