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Fouti Afeaki

Not since a decade ago has West entertained the sort of lofty ambitions it is carrying into this season.

The Panthers know this will be their last go-round in Region 6 and 4A for the foreseeable future. As a result, West is determined to transition to 5A in style by doing something the school took for granted in its glory days.

More than anything else, the Panthers want to claim a region title.

"We want to end on a good note," senior center Ben Ogden said. "Give the kids next year something to build on."

West seemed to be on the cusp, at times, of constructing a true breakout season a year ago. The Panthers endured several close losses along the way — losing three games by seven points or less.

With several returning starters on both offense and defense, West is counting on experience to help it turn the corner in some of those close games.

"We have a lot of kids that played big roles for us last year that are coming back," Panthers quarterback Daniel Wray said. "We expect to make the playoffs again and continue on with our success that we've had the last few years."

Wray is one of those returning starters expected to do great things. He took over quarterback duties following a 19-12 loss to Tooele and immediately proved he was more than ready for the promotion.

By season's end, Wray helped guide the team to its second straight trip to the playoffs. West coach Randy Schreiter thinks Wray is poised to deliver even better results for the Panthers in his first full year as starting quarterback.

"He's probably the best unknown quarterback in the state," Schreiter said. "I think he'll really shine this year. We're kind of changing the offense for him — spreading things out a little more."

Schreiter has strong enough confidence in Wray's abilities and his grasp of the Panther offense that he plans to allow him to make calls at the line of scrimmage as needed.

He thinks Wray will offer a steady hand in guiding the offense on the field.

West will have plenty of other offensive weapons to compliment Wray. Tana Afeaki and Josh Fitisemanu will replace Garrett Nicholson in the backfield, with Afeaki likely seeing the bulk of the carries.

Up front, the Panthers have Ogden and Simi Hovaka who bring a great deal of strength and experience to the line.

While West has made it clear that it intends to be a factor in Region 6 this fall, this isn't exactly a make or break year for the Panthers. Even though the school moves to 5A next year, most of their current region rivals move up with them.

Essentially they trade in longtime rival East, Olympus and Highland for Skyline and Hunter. It's a transition Schreiter thinks will be seamless for his team when the time comes.

"I look at it as a wash," Schreiter said. "Our region right now is as good as (any). We didn't show thatlast year in the state playoffs. But in years past we have."

West Panthers 2008 Prep Football Preview

COACH: Randy Schreiter has done a good job of rebuilding West's long dormant program. The Panthers have made back-to-back playoff appearances — their first in nearly a decade — under his watch.

KEY PLAYERS: Schreiter is high on the skills and leadership Daniel Wray (QB) brings to the huddle. The backfield is more of a mystery with Josh Fitisemanu (RB) and Tana Afeaki (RB) taking over for Garrett Nicholson. Either back should have room to run behind an experienced line featuring Ben Ogden (OL) and Simi Hovaka (OL/DL). Hovaka will be a leader on defense as well, along with Fouti Afeaki (MLB).

QUESTION MARK: It's never easy when a team has to replace a 1,000-yard rusher. The question for the Panthers is how easily can they replace Garrett Nicholson. Can one of his replacements come up with the yards the offense needs?

LAST YEAR: 5-6, Lost in 4A first round.

PREDICTED REGION 6 FINISH: Fifth (Tie)

POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: West has become competitive again over the past couple of seasons and there's no reason not expect similar things this time around. There are questions in the kicking game and the backfield to be ironed out, but the Panthers should make a third straight trip to the 4A state tournament as long as they stay healthy.

2008 SCHEDULE

Aug 22 — JUAN DIEGO , 7 p.m.

Aug 29 — at Tooele, 7 p.m.

Sept 5 — at Woods Cross , 7 p.m.

Sept 12 — at Granger , 7 p.m.

Sept 19 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.

Sept 26 — at Cottonwood, 7 p.m.

Oct 3 — CYPRUS, 7 p.m.

Oct 10 — MURRAY, 7 p.m.

Oct 15 — at Highland, 7 p.m.

Oct 23 — EAST, 7 p.m.


E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com