High school football: West Panthers 2014 preview

Published: Monday, Aug. 18 2014 10:40 p.m. MDT

Note: West finished with a 4-6 overall record in 2013 and was fourth in Region 2 with a 2-3 record. It lost to Bingham 41-10 in the first round of the 5A playoffs.

SALT LAKE CITY — Known more for its costly penalties than its explosive running game or physical defense, West head football coach Keith Lopati wants to instill some discipline into his team in an effort to redefine the West High football program.

“We want to get past that perception that people have of West High football, where we aren’t disciplined and get penalties left and right,” Lopati said. “We have paid a lot of attention to that this year, but we‘ve also got a different mindset this year with a lot of new kids coming in, so that helps out quite a bit.”

With many of its core offensive and defensive players returning this year, West should have the necessary leadership to get the young guys up to speed in time for the new season.

However, with the departure of star defender Helaman Sagapolu (66 tackles, 13 1/2 sacks last year) among several other key players graduating, the Panthers will need a lot of their young guys to step up and fill those holes this season.

“I think we’ve progressed quite a bit in a lot of ways. We’ve got some young kids that are coming up that have shown up and are ready to play at a higher level,” Lopati said. “Our preparation going into the season has been really good, so I’m really excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of us.”

With names such as Landon Tapusua, Chandler Wiley, Spencer Hautau and Soakai Mounga all returning this year, West definitely still has some weapons to unleash.

Tapusua, whose 1,114 yards and six TDs led the Panthers last year, is set to carry West out of the backfield again this year, while senior QB Wiley is set to return under center.

“Obviously, (we expect Landon) to carry us offensively,” Lopati said of his star running back. “He’s such a great talent; he can take a lot of hits but still be productive. But he’s got to carry us offensively.”

Despite throwing just one touchdown and three interceptions last year, Lopati also expects his quarterback to step up and make things happen this season.

“He is one of our biggest stars on the offensive side of the ball, so he’s got to make things happen for us,” Lopati said of his QB. “Last year, he wasn’t really prepared for that, but this year, I know he is. So I am expecting a lot of big things from both a passing and running standpoint out of Chandler.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers lost their top pass rusher and defensive leader in Sagapolu, leaving a difficult hole to replace.

Lopati knows how lucky he was to have a player such as Sagapolu on his squad, but with the extremely deep and talented defensive unit West has, Lopati remains confident in his defense.

“We’ve got a bunch of great defensive kids that can just flat-out play defense. So right now, that’s definitely our strength,” Lopati said. “So it’s going to be tough to make up the numbers that Helaman made for us last year, but we’ve got a lot of great kids that should fill in those holes nicely.”

Lopati has seen his team’s numbers increase drastically in the last couple of years, and with so much experience returning all over the field, the Panthers' offensive and defensive lines remain one of West’s top threats.