For three days last week, the West football team camped out on its own field, trying to sleep in tents as downtown traffic whizzed past.
What better way to make sure players got closer than, well, forcing them closer? First-year head coach Keith Lopati — who took over after Justin Spencer left for Woods Cross — got the idea from his own playing days at the University of Hawaii, where he arrived to a cot-filled fieldhouse.
"It didn’t make sense to me then, but it made a whole lot of sense to me once I left," Lopati said. "It develops a lot of great relationships, not only with my coaches, but with players. I think we were able to accomplish that this past week."
For a group coming off a second-round playoff exit, the issue wasn’t talent but discipline — something Lopati admitted to be a cliche.
"Attitude, work ethic, team unity — these are some of the things that have been an issue here at West High School for many years," he said. "Relying on the kids’ talents for many years, and really the kids not getting anything out of it after the fact."
That effort has taken well with his young roster, which returns only four players with varsity experience: quarterback Alex Espinoza, defensive and offensive tackle Brandon Slade, tight end Tyler Ferrelland Lorenzo Lau fullback.
"[He’s] bringing back that West High pride," Espinoza said. "That kind of drifted away these past couple of years."
LAST YEAR: 6-6, lost in quarterfinals to Syracuse.
KEY RETURNER: Alex Espinoza, senior, quarterback. Should be more comfortable with the offense as the only returning starter on that side of the ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tyllel Jones, sophomore, running back. Jones starts his first year at tailback, and pairs with junior Marqise Beans to give the Panthers two gamebreaking threats. "People don’t know much about them, but they will," Lopati said. "They will before the end of the year."
BIGGEST HOLE: Youth. Not only does West return just one starter on each side of the ball, only four players have any sort of starting experience.
NEED TO KNOW: West may have a high ceiling — particularly with a massive offensive line that includes 6-foot-5, 320-pound Waylen Jackson — but inexperience keeps the Panthers from a region title.
SEASON OPENER: Visits Highland. Aug. 17 @ 7 p.m.
— Jack Wang
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