WEST ISHPEMING — The Patriots went 5–5 last season in coach Scott Syrjala’s first year at the helm. They had a three game win streak late in the year, before bowing out in the first round of districts to eventual state champs Ishpeming. For the first few days of practice, Coach Syrjala wants to work on the little things first.
“The kids are itching to get the pads on and ready to go. This is what they worked hard for and they want to create something. They’ve talk about that a lot in the off season. They’ve talked about trying to create their own identity and to not just form a football team, but to create a football program here at Westwood and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Syrjala said.
The players say they spent a lot of time in the off–season working out and spending time with each other in an effort to build that team camaraderie.
“Come in bright and early, do some work for an hour. And then other team–bonding stuff after. Lots of different individual work, lots of weightlifting, lots of team–togetherness and just being around each other so we know what it’s going to be like once football season starts,” said senior center Joey Boburka.
“I think it’s very important to bring us closer as a team so we can work harder together and just be better overall,” senior cornerback Jarod Anttila said.
Sophomore Nathan Beckman was the quarterback for JV squad last season and this year, he will lead the offense for the varsity team. He isn’t too nervous after chatting with the former quarterback, Luke Gray.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure but the coaches think and I think I can handle it and it’s a big job and big shoes to fill with Luke Gray. He gave me advice. You need to take control of the team, make sure they’re on your side and you always got to work hard every day in practice,” said Beckman.
13 seniors graduated from last year’s team and coach Syrjala is optimistic about the talent on this year’s squad.
“To replace a Tackman or a Trent Deans, kids that are stellar kids and All–Star kids, that’s hard to do. But I think our kids are up for the task. I think our seniors set the tone last year on how to play. They told them have no regrets and get after it,” Syrjala said.
Westwood will open the season on the road at Chetek–Weyerhaeuser in Wisconsin on August 26th.