What happens when a football team lopsidedly comprised of under-sized sophomores and juniors meets up with an overabundance of elite teams?
Well, a 1-9 record is not uncommon. Such was the result in 2012 for Westwood and first-year coach Spencer Stowers. An opening-night victory over Dobson was followed by nine successive losses (seven to playoff teams such as Desert Vista, Red Mountain, Brophy and Mountain Pointe to name a few).
So Stowers and the Warriors' fresh start didn't go well in the won-loss column. There was, however, learning in the process from the top on down. And Stowers' believes it has stuck as the players and community aim for more tangible success on the scoreboard in 2013.
“What we learned very quickly is there are a great core of kids here at Westwood,” Stowers said. “They believe in what we are doing. They didn't get down. There are some third- and fourth- generation families, grandparents, that live across the street from the school. There is a lot of tradition here. Passionate support.”
With one fresh start behind it, Westwood gains another in 2013. Westwood appealed its Division I placement late last fall and was allowed to move down to D-II. For the next two years that's the battlefield the Warriors will patrol.
“It was a difficult decision, but a collective call (by Westwood),” Stowers said. “I intend, if we stay on course, to go back to Division I after this two-year block.”
Westwood plays several opponents not unlike itself in the first half of the 2013 season — La Joya, Maryvale, Mesa, Gila Ridge and North. Mesa, Maryvale and North are D-I programs; La Joya and Gila Ridge are D-II. Maryvale and North should have opted for D-II status.
It's the second half of Westwood's D-II schedule where dividends must accrue. Westwood faces section games against Mesquite, Campo Verde, Marcos de Niza and Poston Butte. Campo Verde and Poston Butte are up-coming in the D-II ranks. Marcos de Niza is a standard title contender and Mesquite should be improved dropping from D-I to D-II.
So what did Westwood accomplish away from the 2012 scorecard? The best news is improved numbers in the program. Not dramatically at the varsity level, but half of varsity returners have varsity experience. Junior varsity turnout is way up. As of week two of practice the varsity roster stands at 40 and junior varsity a healthy 52. And youth football leagues in west Mesa near Westwood sport four teams.
“Right now we are able to two-platoon,” Stowers said. “That's a goal. We knew coming in (last year) this was a work starting from the ground up. We had a few sophomores last year who had never played football. A couple were lineman. We're not turning anyone away, inexperienced or not.”
The gain in numbers has allowed the offseason to proceed with a heavy emphasis on the weight room. The aim is to be collectively stronger, particularly linemen. Some recent offseason competitions allowed a look at progress linked to strength. The returns are promising.
“Our varsity team competed at a high level in several 7 on 7 and Big Man challenges,” Stowers said. “Our varsity was first in the Sunrise Mountain 7 on 7 competing with 17 teams. And we finished in top three in the ASU Big Man Challenge (Hamilton and Centennial were the top two).”
The junior varsity also came home from competition with noteworthy effort winning the Cesar Chavez 7 on 7.
Stowers coached at the freshman level a few years ago at Queen Creek. He helped mentor several Queen Creek players who were offensive line starters last year for the D-III champion Bulldogs that managed to produce a 14-0 campaign. That offensive line was afforded due credit for the Bulldogs high-powered attack.
“Westwood has had a long tradition of talented, capable skill players.” Stowers said. “We have some of those same type kids this year. (Queen Creek) knew last year was going to be their year. They were very talented up front. We want to be strong up front. We want to be a physical, run-oriented team. That's what we're striving for.”
The first glimpse for Westwood fans comes Friday night (Aug. 16) at the Warriors' annual Blue and Orange Scrimmage at 6 p.m. Then on Aug. 21 is a chance to match up against McClintock in a scrimmage at 6 p.m. at Westwood.
“Our young kids stayed with it last year through some adversity,” Stowers said. “This year is a chance to build character with their experience.”