This season, Coach Kyle Simmons and his Bulldogs hope to repeat the success of 2011, when the team romped their way through the regular season and district tournament to win yet another Concorde Title
While last year’s senior-dominant team graduated a vast majority of its starters, Simmons is excited to coach a younger team with a goal of making the playoffs. But first the Bulldogs must host South Lakes in the season opener Thursday night.
“The motto this year has been “Next man in” and we’ve had t-shirts printed out that I gave to the kids,” said Simmons. “It signifies we had a lot of kids graduate and we need to figure out who the next person is.”
A lot of seniors did indeed graduate—40 in fact. Many coaches would panic when faced with a blank slate to fill. but Simmons remains collected, having been in this position before in his coaching career.
“This year we’re returning a handful of players on both sides of the ball—so it’s a young, inexperienced team,” he said. “We have quite a few seniors again but were also depending on a lot of juniors and a few sophomores. It’s kind of uncommon for Westfield to be depending on sophomores. We’re excited because we have some sophomores who can fill some positions.”
Matthew Pisarcik and Kendall Anderson, who provided the vast majority of Westfield’s offense in 2011, have both moved on to play at the collegiate level. So, Chris Mullins will now take the snaps under center for the Bulldogs. Simmons is high on his 6-foot-one, 200 pound quarterback and feels confident in a trio of tailbacks to relieve some of Mullins’ responsibility via the ground attack.
“I think [Chris] is going to be a threat to throw the ball but also with his legs,” Simmons said. “We have two to three running backs who are explosive. The big question for us is at wide receiver. One thing we ask from our wide receivers is not only do they have to run and catch the ball, but they have to be able to block.”
While uncertain of who will stand out at wide out in 2012, Simmons said “the situation will work its way out” through competition. He added that growing pains always become a factor with an inexperienced team, but he believes his athletes have the discipline and focus to stay on track with the learning curve at the varsity level and improve throughout the regular season.
”I think our team will struggle a little bit at the beginning,” he said. “But I think we can gain some momentum as the season goes on as they get more experienced. I think we’ll be playing our best football come playoff time.”
Speed is the main variable that increases from junior varsity to the varsity level. But a few other crucial factors also arise in the transition.
“Your mistakes are more fatal when you are playing at the varsity level,” Simmons said. “The coaching is better along with the players and they’re going to take advantage of weaknesses and they’re going to see those.”
Last year’s regional title loss to the Wildcats hurt but Simmons said he believes it may have also provided a positive impact for the Westfield program because it “put the team on notice” that it cannot just expect to defeat Centreville regardless of Westfield's previous records. He added that it is always exciting to see another school’s football program “resurrect itself and become part of the conversation and competition.”
That rival matchup will not happen until later in the season; for now, Simmons and his young varsity players must stay on point with their short term and long term goals for the year.
“Right now the goal is—who are those pieces?” Simmons said. “My more long term goal is, I want our team to make the playoffs. We made the playoffs for 10 straight years and I would like that to continue. We’re young and going to have some troubles but we may drop a game here or there—I don’t know. But if we can just keep getting better when playoffs roll around, our next goal is to win that first playoff game.”
Westfield hosts South Lakes in the season opener on Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m.