While the 2011 Wolf Pack started the season with about 50 players, third-year head coach Matt Loggins said this year’s team is only about 35 deep. And 12 of those players, Loggins estimates, are first-time football players.
“We’re going to be young, and we’re going to be thin,” said Loggins, the 2011 Tri-City Athletic League Coach of the Year.
That means the coaching staff and older players are busy in the lead-up to the season-opener Friday, Aug. 24, teaching the less-experienced athletes on the fly. Many will be forced into roles on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
“How good can we be” is going to be a theme of the year, Loggins said, rather than focusing on a particular rival or a run to the playoffs, which West made in 2011 with 6-5 overall and 4-1 league records.
“We’re just trying to get better each week,” he said.
Quarterback and returning senior Bobby Landrum, however, has his sights clearly set on a return to the postseason. He recalled the thrill of making a playoff appearance as a junior and the bitter disappointment of losing in the first round to Pitman High, and said he’s determined to do what he can to make it back.
Landrum said it’ll take playing as a team, not as individuals.
“We can beat a lot of teams if we play together,” he said. “Everybody’s got to do their part.”
Loggins said Landrum will be asked to assume the mantle of team leader.
“Just to be a leader and compete,” Loggins said. “We really challenge him to lead by example.”
In addition to helping less-experienced teammates, Landrum is tasked with learning a new offense, the Wing-T.
Loggins said the running attack — which uses pre-snap motion and misdirection to confuse defenses — will allow West’s smaller offensive line to compete against larger opponents.
“Our thought is we needed to run an offense that’s going to fit the personnel that we have year after year,” he said.
The offense will take advantage of the speed the Wolf Pack can put in the offensive backfield, Loggins said, but keeping people healthy might be a problem.
“It’s just depth,” he said. “Those guys are playing both (offense and defense).”
One of the team’s two-way starters is Gabe Miller, a 16-year-old safety in his fourth year of football at West.
Loggins said Miller will act as a type of quarterback for the defense, “especially because all the guys in front of him are really young.”
He’ll also line up as a halfback, Loggins said.
“We’re anticipating him to have another strong year.”
Miller was named to the All-TCAL team a year ago and hopes to lead his team back to the playoffs, as well as help his less-experienced teammates succeed as he has.
“I want to follow the seniors last year, how they led us to the playoffs,” he said. “I’ve been teaching, especially the defensive back drills — there are a lot of new guys.”
Miller said defense should be a strength, even though Loggins said only a handful of starters return from last year’s unit.
One of the newcomers is DeAndre Thomas, a projected starter at cornerback in his first year of competitive football. The 5-foot-6 senior has played three years on the basketball and track teams, but this year saw an opportunity to play a game he’s always enjoyed.
“I’m having a lot of fun. I’m just excited to play,” he said.
But Thomas said the amount of physical contact has been an adjustment.
“Just trying to get as much contact out here (at practice) as possible, getting used to it,” is the key, Thomas said.
He and the rest of the Wolf Pack will be put to the test at Steve Lopez Stadium for the first time this season by Beyer High School on Friday, Aug. 24. They’ll soon gear up for games against crosstown rivals Kimball and Tracy high schools, on Sept. 7 and Sept. 21, respectively.
Veterans are circling those dates on their calendars — four-year players like Landrum and Miller have never lost a crosstown contest, and they don’t plan to start during their senior years.
“Especially Tracy,” said Landrum.
The regular season begins at home against McNair on Oct. 5, and homecoming is Oct. 26 against Edison, the second-to-last game of the league season.
Whether that game is a farewell to the seniors or a launching point for a playoff run, Loggins is more focused on getting his team ready to compete.
After a recent practice, Loggins told his players how he felt about his team and its prospects:
“We don’t have a lot of guys, but I like the guys we’ve got.”
Embracing the challenge
Quarterback is the most demanding position on the football field. And West High senior Bobby Landrum will have even more to handle than the typical field general, with a host of new players to look after and a brand-new offense to install.
But Landrum, in his fourth year of putting on the pads for the Wolf Pack, said he’s ready to meet coach Matt Loggins’ challenge to step up.
“I like having pressure on me,” Landrum said. “It makes me play better.”
The 5-foot-8, 150-pound quarterback has a raw crop of recruits to manage this year on a small team — Landrum guesses fewer than 35 will suit up for the first game Aug. 24, and many of them have never played a snap of football. He said it means that he has to lead by example.
“When things start to go bad in a game, just keep working hard,” he said.
He’ll also have to master the team’s new Wing-T offense, a run-heavy attack that relies on misdirection. But Landrum said he doesn’t care about passing statistics or anything personal, just helping the Wolf Pack make a second-straight playoff appearance.
“We’re not going to pass a lot, but it’s gonna win us games,” he said. “I don’t care if I pass two times a game, as long as we win.”
But win or lose, Landrum plans to work hard so every week he can be under the lights, hear the crowd yell, and soak up the reaction after a score.
“I love the game,” he said.
Safety aims high
Gabe Miller has been to the top of the prep football mountain. As a junior in 2011, the safety was named to the All-Tri-City Athletic League team and experienced playoff football at the varsity level.
As a senior, he not only wants to return — he wants to reach new heights.
That means helping his squad break the single-season school record for interceptions, a mark of 18 set in 2011.
“It’d mean a lot,” he said, because of the others he played with who have moved on to the next level.
Miller said he also has his sights set on emulating former West players Stanley Arukwe and Amini Silatolu, who are in NFL training camps with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.
“I just want to be like them and hopefully get to the NFL,” he said.
But first, Miller is focused on this season. Miller was up to 175 pounds Aug. 14, and hoped to add five more before the Aug. 24 opener.
“The whole team has (worked hard), but I’ve been training hard in the weight room, trying to get strong,” he said.
He’s also looking forward to his new role as one of the team’s running backs, a position he hasn’t played since his freshman year at West. Miller said the new offense is looking good, and he can’t wait to get his hands on the ball in a game.
“Running backs this year are running hard,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I like getting the ball.”