High school football: West Panthers 2013 preview

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15 2013 8:50 p.m. MDT


SALT LAKE CITY — West head football coach Keith Lopati took his seniors to Camp Kostopulos, hoping it would help them be better teammates.

There aren’t any weight-lifting facilities, there are no sleds, and there is definitely no tackling involved in any of the activities at Camp K, an organization that offers recreation programs and camps for people with disabilities.

“I wanted to be able to mentor our kids, to teach them leadership skills,” said Lopati, “so they’re able to mentor our younger kids. I want to teach our kids perceptions and how things change from one person to another.” With only five returning varsity starters, the West High football team will have a lot of student-athletes in key roles this season.

“A lot of them don’t have a lot of experience,” said Lopati. “There is going to be a fear factor. They need to be able to face their fears.” Lopati’s been impressed with the commitment level of this year’s team, and he hopes that allows them to do something special this season.

“What I’m expecting from them is just effort,” he said. “We have talent. We’ve got speed, we’ve got length, we’ve got girth up front. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together and getting the kids to trust each other.”

How does a coach manage that? “A lot of patience,” Lopati said with a laugh. “I’ve got to learn a lot of patience and continually work with the kids and put them in situations to be successful, not only as individuals but as a group.” His players said they feel more connected with each other and more confident in their own skills.

“The atmosphere is different,” said junior Chandler Wiley, one of the team’s quarterbacks. “People want to compete instead of just being given a position to play. There isn’t that sense of entitlement.”

He said West has always had solid Little League programs, but for the last few years, the real challenge has been convincing players to stay and play for their neighborhood high school.

“We definitely have enough talent,” said Wiley. “We have a good core of kids that can compete for a region title. If we come together, I think we’ll go quite far in the playoffs.”

Senior linebacker Chase Moray said Lopati and his assistants have changed a lot since they took over after his sophomore season.

“There is a lot more discipline than there was my sophomore year,” he said.

This year, the team has even higher expectations in Lopati’s second year as head coach.

“I feel like we’ve buckled down and gotten ready more this season,” Moray said. “We’ve prepared a lot harder.” Adds offensive lineman Polo Langi, “If we want (a region title) we can get it. We just need to work hard and be motivated.”

Lopati said West will run the triple option this season and he believes senior A.J. Lolohea will play quarterback much of the time.

“He’s played D-lineman the whole three years of football,” said Lopati. “We’re turning him into a varsity quarterback. We need him to carry the torch to what we want to do offensively.”

While Lolohea wanted to give quarterback a try, Lopati said they made the move out of necessity.

“It gives us that dynamic of being able to run and pass, and that’s a double threat that a lot of teams don’t have the luxury of having. The only thing he lacks is game-time experience.”

He said this season’s team is deeper with at least two players at each position.

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