Outlook: Bit by bit, the climb upward is underway.
The task is massive, but Spencer Stowers knew that when he took over Westwood's football program before last year. Sure enough, the Warriors went 1-9 in his first campaign. Injuries, depth, and some off-the-field situations arose.
But the imprints were planted, and the change evolved a bit this offseason. Westwood not only returns 16 total starters from last year, but Year 2 in the program means more "doing" and less "adjusting" or "learning" under Stowers and his staff.
So goes the plan, and there were signs of awakening.
The Warriors won the Sunrise Mountain passing league tournament against 17 other schools. The offensive and defensive lines each took second place in Sunrise Mountain's "Big Man" competition, and took third place (behind Hamilton and Peoria Centennial) in the Arizona State Big Man Challenge.
Nearly 120 kids went to Show Low for camp this summer to begin the 2013 motto of "Fear the Spear."
None of this guarantees any on-field success, but for an oft-struggling program, it's a start. A loaded roster of returners also helps.
Devon Shirrod, Tevon Sinica-Williams, Brandon Ayre, Kane Tieman, Dezmond Sueing, DJ Bex, Chris Brown, Grant Eagar and Corey Whiting were all sophomore starters in 2012 who are now juniors. Jackson Ward, Jordan Jumper, Isaac Gonzalez , Josh Brown, Jason Arambula, McKay Tingey and Doug Shaffer were starters as juniors who are now seniors.
Kaleb Papalli’i, Isi Itaahau, Sitileki Taumalolo, Eldon Finau, Eddie Rodriguez, Shurrod Davis (sophomore), Adam Astorga, Andrew Astorga, Jacob Hlebak, Tyler Zuccato, sophomores Ethan Johnson and Tyler Akins (sophomore), and Nick Salazar will provide depth, and their youth also bodes well for the Warriors fortunes beyond this year as the gradual building project rolls on.
The successful move down from Division I to Division II might have seemed like a no-brainer to outsiders for this two-year block, but being in section VI is hardly a "reward" with Marcos de Niza, Campo Verde, Mesquite and Poston Butte.
The last half of this year's schedule will be rough, and a playoff spot remains a lofty goal, but the Warriors have enough pieces in place to earn a few more wins this season. Equally as important, the Warriors can continue to establish their program's "ways of life" on and off the field under Stowers, a must-have in the coming years.
Division II, Section VI
Coach: Spencer Stowers
Last year's record: 1-9, did not qualify for Division I postseason
Returning starters: 8 on offense/ 8 on defense
Top returners: WR/DB Jackson Ward; DL/TE Jordan Jumper; DL Isaac Gonzalez; OL/DL Jason Arambula; QB McKay Tingey; LB Devon Shirrod; RB/LB Dezmond Sueing, DB/WR Chris Brown; OL Grant Eagar; DL Corey Whiting
Aug. 30 vs. La Joya; Sept. 6 at Maryvale; Sept. 12 at Mesa; Sept. 20 vs. Gila Ridge; Sept. 27 vs. North; Oct. 4 at Mesquite; Oct. 11 vs. Marcos de Niza; Oct. 18 vs. Campo Verde; Oct. 25 at Betty H. Fairfax; Nov. 1 at Poston Butte
Sept. 12 at Mesa: A natural rivalry, but winnable games against La Joya and Phoenix Maryvale means this is the first step up in competition. Will the Warriors match Mesa's physicality? It's also the first time this season depth and sheer numbers could be a factor.
Oct. 4 at Mesquite: Similar to Mesa, a big notch up in competition. This is where the schedule gets real dicey for the Warriors, so how competitive they can be (win or lose) from this point forward won't make many happy without a 'W' but this is a long process ahead.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.