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High school football: West Panthers 2012 preview

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 12:03 a.m. MDT

Scroll to bottom of story to see West Felt's Facts

Note: West finished with an overall record of 6-6 in 2011 and was 5-5 in Region 2 in 2011. It lost to Syracuse, 10-0, in the 5A quarterfinals.

SALT LAKE CITY — The two dozen tents scattered around the outside of the West High football field are not an indication of a problem or an emergency.

The urban camp site is, instead, Keith Lopati's idea of team bonding.

"It's been an awesome experience," said Lopati, who took over West's football program after a year as the Panthers' defensive coordinator and organized a three-day camp out for the team. "These kids come from so many social and economic backgrounds that a lot of teammates pass each other in the hallway but don't know each other on a personal level."

What better way to get to know the lineman expected to block for you than to sleep next to him for three days?

"I'm trying to restore some of the pride of West High," Lopati said. "It's slowly diminished over the last few years, and we've lost a little piece of what this community was about. We want to bring that back."

His players said the three-day camp out on campus was a step in the right direction.

"We just felt like one big family," said senior defensive tackle Mafi Mounga. "It really felt like home. Just being here (for the camp out and workouts) was a great experience."

Lopati said one parent stopped him after watching the boys swim at the Northwest Recreation Center Tuesday night and thanked him.

"She said they were so grateful for this opportunity," he said. "It was heart felt and it touched me. They're finally getting the opportunity they deserve."

Lopati learned how to instill confidence and pride in young men from a legendary high school coach. He played for Roger Dupaix at Skyline, the state's winningest football coach who retired last winter in order to serve an LDS mission with his wife.

"I like the pieces we have," Lopati said. "The kids have talent; they have the right attitude, and we're working hard."

Senior quarterback Alex Espinoza said much has changed in the few months since Lopati took over. He and his teammates said the new coaching staff expects a lot more out of them and holds them accountable for everything they do — on and off the field.

"It's a lot more exciting," he said. "We're really disciplined. With the new coaches, the pride is building up. We're bringing back the tradition West has had."

Added Tyler Ferrell, a senior defensive end and tight end, "It's exciting, one of the best things that could have happened to us. (Lopati) is bringing so much discipline back to the program. ...We have the same basic skill set as last year, but the team is more disciplined."

Brandon Slade, a senior defensive tackle, and Sunday Owda, a junior wide receiver, said the biggest difference is that the coaches care. That has translated into more effort from the players.

"These coaches motivate you to come to practice," Owda said. "They want you to experience a championship. They want us to have that and in order to have that you have to work hard."

The coaches expect more from the players, and the players believe that will mean more success on the field.

"Even though they're new coaches, we're still expecting big things," Espinoza said.

And for many players, the high expectations extend to activities off the football field. Bobby Masina said his parents made him quit football after the first game last year because "the vibe wasn't very good." He considered transferring to another school, but then Lopati was hired.

"I wanted to play for a program that would enlighten the community," he said. "Lopati told me things are going to change. ...Every practice is different. Everyone looks like they want to be here. We have the potential to go all the way."

Lopati acknowledges the team has its work cut out for it as the Panthers learn a new system and play a tough preseason schedule. But he believes they can have an impact in both the region and the playoffs.

"We've got a really young group of kids," said the first-year head coach. "We'll be challenged early. We're talented to the point where if the light turns on, then we could be someone to contend with."

West Panthers at a Glance

Coach: Keith Lopati played at Skyline High School and for the University of Hawaii. He was an assistant at Highland for five years before taking the defensive coordinator job at West last season. He took over head coaching duties last winter.

Offense

(4 returning starters; Multiple-formation offense)

Senior quarterback Alex Espinoza will anchor the offense. He's one of just four returning starters and has stepped up as a leader this season. He threw for 14 touchdowns last season and will have plenty of talented targets in Sunday Owda, Tre Spillers and Jose Lopez. The Panthers have a strong running game led by Tylle Jones, a sophomore running back, and Lorenzo Lau-Vaafuti, a senior running back/full back who also plays safety.The offensive line will get some help from senior left tackle Mafi Mounga, who didn't play last season.

Defense

(3 returning starters)

Defensive tackle Brandon Slade, one of the few returning starters, will anchor the defensive line. Bobby Masina, who quit the team last year, will start at safety and is quick and athletic. Logan Tapusoa and Josh Rettenmair will lead an aggressive group of linebackers. Spillers, Tristan Mulder and Abraham Ortiz give the Panthers depth at cornerback.

Coaches preseason Region 5 straw poll: Third

Deseret News Region 5 prediction: Second

Bottom line: If the Panthers live up to their potential they could contend for a region title. Lopati is one of three new coaches in Region 2 and most of the schools they play are facing similar issues.

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Felt’s Facts for West High School

All-time record: 551-391-34 (118years)

Region championships: 24 (1909, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1925 co, 1927, 1928, 1933, 1936 co, 1941, 1946, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1978 co, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)

Playoff appearances: 38

All-time playoff record: 42-31-1

State championships: 7(1925, 1927, 1973, 1975, 1980, 1984, 1992)

State championship record: 6-4

Most played rivalry: 111 meetings with East dating back to 1914. East leads 60-44-7. Meet on Aug. 24.

Felt’s Factoid(s): West has the most wins (551) and games played (976) in state history. ... West holds the single-game blocked punt record: five against Bonneville in a 1973 Class 4A quarterfinal.

West coaching history

2012 — Keith Lopati

2009-2011 — Justin Spencer (18-16)

2005-2008 — Randy Schreiter (15-28)

2002-2004 — Don Holtry (4-25)

1998-2001 — Sam Aloia (13-26)

1985-1997 — Don Holtry (90-46)

1967-1984 — Gean Plaga (147-47-3)

1959-1966 — Don Jesperson (28-40-1)

1956-1958 — Glen Tuckett (14-11)

1946-1955 — Jimmy Vranes (44-36-8)

1943-1945 — Paul Packard (0-20)

1942 — Parley "Paddy" Davis (1-3-2)

1938-1941 — Pat Ryan (10-12-3)

1920-1937 — Roy E. McIntyre (63-40-7)

1919 — Homer P. Christensen (5-2-1)

1911-1918 — Henry G. "Heinie" Richardson (31-15)

1910 — Joe Busse (4-2)

1903-1909 — David H. Callahan (28-12-3)

1902 — Mr. Boyle (6-1-2)

1898-1901 — David H. Callahan (15-2-1)

1893-1897 — team captain (15-7-1)

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Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

(None)

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.

Twitter: adonsports email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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