SARATOGA SPRINGS — The past few months have been a whirlwind for new Westlake coach Steve Clements.
Since arriving from his home state of Texas, the former BYU quarterback and state champion coach has been working feverishly at his new gig after being out of coaching for five years.
“I’ve only been here since June 3, so it’s been sort of crazy and a lot of work,” Clements said. “You have all the administrative stuff and then you have to put in a new system. It’s just been a ton of work, but I’m happy to be back, believe me.”
Clements is well-seasoned within the Utah prep coaching ranks, having previously been at Lehi for four years. He led the Pioneers to a 3A state championship in 2000 before moving back to Texas to be an assistant high school coach for a couple of years before focusing on private endeavors and teaching.
“It’s been awesome just being a dad, being able to get home at a decent hour for the last five years, but it was time to get back into the coaching business,” he said. “Coaching is in my blood, and I always knew we’d come back to Utah, so I determined now was the time and I’m back here at Westlake.”
Clements has done his best to create a new culture inside a Westlake program that struggled to a 4-6 record last season and lost in the first round of the 4A playoffs to Woods Cross. The team makes the leap to 5A in 2013 and will compete in ultra-competitive Region 4.
Clements sees great potential for his new program, despite the challenges.
“It’s probably not going to be a quick fix here — it almost for sure won’t be,” he said. “It takes some time to install a new system — I mean, I’ve only been here nine weeks. But I like the attitude of the kids and I certainly like the possibilities to do some great things here. I didn’t take this job immediately, that’s for sure, but after discussions and looking into it more I came to realize that we can do some great things here.”
As for this season, Clements inherits a largely inexperienced team that has just six returning starters. Fortunately, the group of returning starters includes quarterback Gavin Williams, who is expected to start again this season.
“You do what you can with the group you have, and I don’t know how good we’ll be this year. But I can assure you we’ll be competitive,” he said. “I’ve met with the team. I’ve been with them enough to know that these are great kids who are committed to work and to be as good as they possibly can be.”
As mentioned, the Thunder will have to compete in a tough Region 4 that includes powerhouse Lone Peak, a rising Pleasant Grove program and Herriman, which like Westlake makes the leap to 5A — just to name three.
“We’re in 5A, but we really don’t have 5A depth yet,” Clements said. “I don’t know too many 4A teams that could make the leap to 5A and still have the type of depth to truly contend their first year — probably Timpview, and a few others, but we’re certainly not there with our depth yet. We’ll get there though.”
Clements' ultimate goal is to develop great citizens and fathers in the community.
“I want to teach these kids, through football, that they can be great successes in life,” he said. “I’ve always been around football since I was young and I love the game. I believe the game can serve as a great benefit to everyone involved. That’s the big goal here. I plan on being here for a while and I’m thrilled about the opportunity I have here.”
Westlake Thunder at a glance
Coach: Steve Clements played quarterback at BYU before moving on to a brief career in the CFL and AFL. He held various coaching positions around the state before landing a head coaching job at Lehi. He compiled a 33-12 overall record in his four years.
(3 returning starters; spread)
Clements claims to have been running the spread offense before it was even called the "spread." It's a system he's married to. He's had a lot of success running it.
"Whatever sport I played, or coached, I wanted to go high-tempo, and saw success going with a high-tempo system," Clements said. "It makes the game more exciting. I believe it brings a great effort out of the players. I don't know how successful it will prove to be here, in my first year, but that's what we'll run."
The offense will feature a largely inexperienced line and receiving corps, but does have the talents of speedster Robert Santiago.
"He's very fast and he's someone we'll try to use in the open field and to stretch the defense," Clements said about Santiago. "Overall I think our receivers are young, but they all have good potential."
(3 returning starters; 4-3)
It's important for any defense to have good, experienced linebackers, and the Thunder have that. Starting linebackers Colton Fairbourn, Jack Harrell and Shea Hildebrandt are expected to be the leaders on defense.
"It's potentially a real strong group for us," Clements said. "Overall we'll use some multiple fronts, and I like our secondary, but our linebackers are probably the group I feel most confident in right now."
Coaches preseason Region 4 straw poll: Seventh
Deseret News Region 4 prediction: Sixth
Bottom line: Clements certainly has his work cut out for him in his first year. He'll make due with a lot of inexperience in what many consider the toughest region in the state. Look for Westlake to experience some initial growing pains, but the Thunder should be able to improve during the course of the year as players become more familiar with Clements' system.
Westlake coaching history
2012-current — Gary Clark (4-6)
2009-2011 — Jason Walker (16-15)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2011 — Moana Ofahengaue, DL
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.