Depth, talent and versatility have West Albany High in a good spot as the Bulldogs try to keep their undefeated football season going.
Five of the team’s eight first team all-league selections play primarily on one side of the ball, helping them stay at or near full strength at the end of contests.
The Bulldogs (10-0) have had only one game this fall where they were pressed to make plays late in the fourth quarter. But that’s likely to change, possibly starting Friday night when they host Ashland (9-1) in an OSAA 5A state quarterfinal at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“Usually we play a lot early and kind of taper off. This year we just continue to play a lot of those guys,” West coach Brian Mehl said. “That’s a testament to them and their skill set. It makes it a lot easier as a coach when you have kids like that.”
Second-ranked and third-seeded West has four players, Mehl counted, that regularly see significant time on offense and defense. They are senior running back and defensive back Porter Phillips, the Mid-Willamette Conference’s offensive and defensive player of the year; senior wide receiver and first team defensive back Blake Bowers; junior tight end and linebacker Chance Hendrickson; and junior wide receiver and defensive back Cole Schaffner.
The majority of the remaining players who contribute on varsity play on just one side. That was a factor that helped the Bulldogs close out Silverton for the conference title two weeks ago.
“It’s definitely a key factor, since when you’re not fatigued you’re always at your best,” said senior linebacker Hunter Williams, a first team all-MWC pick whose focus is on defense. “We’re able to what we like, have fun and play football.”
The offensive and defensive are largely exclusive units. Defensive linemen Austin Leeper and all-league first-teamer TJ Zimmermann play tight end, but otherwise the linemen stay on one side. The Bulldogs use seven offensive linemen to cover five spots.
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“We kind of stick to our groups and it’s a trust thing. We have a lot of trust in the guys that are playing at those spots,” Mehl said.
The coach and players alike credit the offseason conditioning, led by Mid-Willamette assistant of the year Linden Loren, for building stamina that has helped them dominate games.
“When teams give up in the third, fourth quarter, we’re still really fresh, acting like it’s the beginning of the game,” said senior offensive lineman Darius Braithwaite, another first team all-conference pick.
The Bulldogs’ depth has been tested by injuries, a common situation in football. But Mehl says his team is as healthy as it can be this late in the season.
The coach said for the few players who play both ways, the November playoff run is not an issue because of the endurance and strength they’ve developed throughout the season.
But West Albany guards against overly using players throughout the season. It’s an in-game focus for the coaching staff that requires attention and good communication.
“To protect those to the point where you can have that moment and you really need it, those kids are ready to go,” Mehl said. “That really speaks about how our kids physically train and coach Loren and what he’s been able to do with those guys. They believe in what they’re doing. They’re ready for these moments where they have to play a lot.”