Coach Steve Anastasio begins his first year leading the West High Wolf Pack football program with the right ingredients for a successful varsity team.
The 2013 West team went 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the Tri-City Athletic League, but the Wolf Pack also finished with a thin roster as only 27 players suited up for the final game of the season.
Nearly all of the juniors on that team have returned as seniors, this year with a serious attitude and strong focus.
“We’ve got experienced guys who didn’t experience a lot of wins, but I think they know what it takes,” said Anastasio, who took over for Chris Myers, who resigned during the summer after one year as head coach.
Joining those seniors are 33 of the 35 players from last year’s sophomore team, which went 7-3 overall and 3-2 in the TCAL
“We’re fortunate enough that we’re upwards of 60 players now,” Anastasio said. “We look like we have backups at each position. We do have some depth, and that’s what I’m happy about.”
Anastasio said the returning seniors bring the positive outlook that they maintained through a year of adversity.
Fullback and linebacker Lautaime Alailefaleula won the team’s 2013 John C. Kimball Award winner for his persistent competitive spirit, which inspired the rest of the team.
“He’s going to give whatever he’s got with every play, every ounce of energy,” Anastasio said. “I like his intensity, and his work ethic in practice is outstanding.”
Senior tight end and linebacker Austin Torma will also lead the team. Torma said that summer practices and workouts showed that all of the players were taking their jobs seriously.
“We’re more confident this year, and the team has more passion and dedication for what we’re going to do for the Wolf Pack,” Torma said. “Our mindset for the game has changed a lot since last year.”
Senior tight end and defensive tackle Ryan Herrera said the change was in the team’s work ethic in practice.
“We have a more solid team and we seem to be working a lot harder than before,” Herrera said. “We’re working to have a great season this year.”
Senior fullback and defensive tackle Chance Wilson added that the seniors also have a new quality of leadership.
“We didn’t have that bond before in the past couple of seasons. Everyone was doing their own thing in their individual groups, and it showed,” he said.
“Our veterans from last year will carry us, to stay strong together. We can’t mentally or physically break down. We have to stay strong as a unit.”
Anastasio said that senior V.K. Talimalie, a wide receiver and linebacker, distinguished himself last year as tight end and defensive end.
“It takes those guys. You win with the guys who don’t touch the ball,” Anastasio said. “We do have guys with a lot of speed, but we’ve got to get that guy into the open first.”
Senior Kyle Hunt will return as quarterback, but he will miss the first couple of games because of a foot injury from the summer. Junior James Gibbons, the quarterback for last year’s sophomore team, will fill in.
The speed of West High’s offense comes with the upcoming juniors, including a core group that led the Wolf Pack’s rushing attack. Anastasio said that since the start of summer workouts, they’ve exemplified the work ethic he looks for in players.
“Every one of them, they love to show up every day in practice,” Anastasio said. “They’re the group that wants to stay longer.”
Juniors Marcel Dancy, Matthew Roe, Dion Collier and brothers Christian and Justin Velasco were all top scorers for the 2013 West sophomore team. They also play as defensive backs.
The Wolf Pack gets back in action in a much tougher TCAL this year. The league now includes Tracy, Lincoln and Lodi, in addition to St. Mary’s and Tokay, West’s traditional rivals for championships in the TCAL and playoff spots.
“That’s just a meat grinder of a league,” Anastasio said. “To be one of the better teams, you’ve got to play good teams.”
West begins its season tonight at home against Lathrop in a zero-week game. The sophomore game is at 5 p.m. and varsity kicks off at 7:15 p.m.
West High football schedule
Aug. 29 - Home vs. Lathrop 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept 5 - Away at Kimball 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept. 19 - Home vs. Chavez 5/7:15 p.m.
Sept. 26 - Away at Bear Creek 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 3 - Away at Franklin 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 10* - Home vs. St. Mary’s 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 17* - Home vs. Lincoln (homecoming) 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 24* - Away at Lodi 5/7:15 p.m.
Oct. 31* - Away at Tokay 5/7:15 p.m.
Nov. 7* - Home vs. Tracy 5/7:15 p.m.
Home games are at Steve Lopez Stadium at West High School, 1775 W. Lowell Ave.
*Tri-City Athletic League game
Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com or 830-4227.