Prep football: West Panthers preview

It’s still early, but Justin Thompson already has seen some hope for improvement for his West Panthers based on preseason weightlifting workouts.

“I was most happy with the team than at any time last year when I came in at 7:01 for a 7 a.m. meeting,” Thompson said. “My whole team was in there and someone had got them started.

“Some of them were already sweating.”

The second-year coach, who had previous coaching experience at Skyline, is trying to reverse a winless 2016 campaign. In fact, the losing streak has stretched over parts of three seasons and is at 19 for the Panthers.

Although West brings back its team MVP — John Abercrombie — and the defensive MVP — Vili Makoni — from last season, Thompson thinks personnel is only part of the permanent solution.

“I would say our main focus has been to create a culture where winning could happen and could be sustained,” Thompson said. “In Year 1, that didn’t happen. We went 0-9 for a reason.

“It’s very difficult to cross that psychological or emotional barrier, but mostly it’s a cultural barrier. The kids need to buy into the habits needed to be successful.”

WEST PANTHERS <br>Coach • Justin Thompson, second year <br>Last season • 0-9, 0-6 in Region 2 <br>State championships • 1973, 1975, 1980, 1984, 1992 <br>Other title game appearances • 1974, 1978, 1979 <br>2017 SCHEDULE <br>Aug. 18 • Hillcrest, 7 p.m.<br>Aug. 25 • at Cyprus, 7 p.m.<br>Sept. 1 • Woods Cross, 7 p.m.<br>Sept. 8 • at Timpanogos, 7 p.m.<br>Sept. 15 • Olympus, 7 p.m.<br>Sept. 22 • at Murray, 7 p.m.<br>Sept. 29 • Lehi, 7 p.m.<br>Oct. 6 • at Skyline, 7 p.m.<br>Oct. 13 • Highland, 7 p.m.<br>Oct. 18 (Wed.) • Mountain View, 7 p.m.

Behind center • Romeo Johnston (6 foot, 160 pounds) got a year of experience last year in West’s spread-option attack and returns for his senior season. “He’s responsible for distributing the ball to the right spots,” Thompson said. “On every play, he has to decide where to go.” Although Abercrombie (6-0, 170) was invaluable as a wideout, he’ll also be considered for duty at both running back and even quarterback. At tailback, it likely will be junior Faysal Aden (5-10, 180) as a regular. “We should’ve got the ball to him more last year,” Thompson said.

Ball hawks • Abercrombie had 72 catches a year ago, but Thompson said his work in the weight room has paid off in more explosiveness. “He gets quite a lot of touches,” he said. “But he’s a guy who has to get a lot of touches.” At wideout, look for senior Cole Dunkley (6-2, 190) to follow up a good summer with more opportunities as well as senior Brydon Johnson (6-3, 190) to play more after only two games last season.

In the trenches • It’s along the front lines where the West coaching staff might be directed initially. Athletic senior Mark Lopez (6-1, 240) should provide the Panthers with an O-line building block at offensive tackle, which also will be the position for senior Tevita Talakai (5-11, 240). Senior Pona Misa (6-0, 290) likely will go both ways, with offensive responsibilities at guard and defensive duties at tackle. It’s something that you might see more of from the team this year. “Not playing in the large classification, we will be playing more schools that will have more two-way players,” Thompson said.

Hit men • Johnson barely got a chance to show what he could do at strong safety, but his 29 tackles in two contests said quite a bit. He and Makoni, who piled up 70 tackles at linebacker, will make life rough for those venturing past the line of scrimmage. Luis Lopez (5-9, 175) also played linebacker last year and packs plenty of punch.

Key returners • John Abercrombie, Sr. (WR); Vili Makoni, Sr. (DB); Romeo Johnston, Sr. (QB); Pona Misa, Sr. (OG/DT)

Key losses • Craig Tauteoli, (RB); Ezra Linzer, (LB); Kofe Taumoepeau, DE; Noe Urcino, (CB)

The next wave • Faysal Aden, Jr. (RB); Cole Dunkley, Sr. (WR); David Sanchez, Sr. (WR/DB); Musa Traore, Jr. (DB)

from The Salt Lake Tribune


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