If you love football, Craig Whitney has a spot for you on the West Valley High School football team.
A little on the small side? A step slow? No matter. His staff will work to make you stronger and faster.
They’ve done it before.
Take the case of Brandon Funk.
“When he first got here as a freshman he was 5-feet-1 and I swear he didn’t weigh 100 pounds,” Whitney said. “In four years here he never missed a single practice. When he got to be a senior, he was 5-9 and 165 pounds. Right now he’s a freshman playing football at Linfield College.”
If a player is living, breathing, passes the physical and gets the paperwork filled out, Whitney has a spot for him in an Eagles uniform. If he works hard and follows the program, he’ll get a chance to play.
That, in a nutshell, is the not-so-secret behind West Valley’s resurgence under Whitney, who led West Valley all the way to the Class 2A championship game a year ago. The Eagles lost to Lynden, 16-6, the only loss by the team all season.
When the team opened camp last week for the 2010 season, Whitney welcomed close to 100 bodies, most of them bigger and faster than they were a year ago.
“We had a great summer,” he said. “We didn’t take the team to the University of Montana football camp this year – it was just too expensive for us to make happen. Instead, we had three weeks of summer ball at West Valley. Colville was in the same situation – they’d been going to the Eastern Washington camp for 15 or 16 years in a row, but had to cut back. We scrimmaged with them a few times.
“I think we got more done this summer than we have before. We had everyone working with (head track and football assistant coach) Vic Wallace on improving their speed, and I think everyone on the team has gotten faster. We’re averaging four-tenths of a second faster in our 40-yard-dash times than we were last year, and that’s making a huge difference.”
Numbers stick out when you analyze the Eagles.
For a Class 2A school, getting 100 kids to turn out to play football is an impressive number. A year ago the West Valley freshman team won nine of 10 games and the junior varsity went 8-2.
“We’re fortunate in that we have a great group of coaches all the way down to the Pop Warner level,” Whitney said. “Our middle school program is teaching kids our program, but more importantly, they’re instilling a love for the game. Same with our grid kid coaches – our kids are learning to play and to love the game.”
On this year’s roster are upward of 35 players who saw action in the Tacoma Dome in last year’s championship game.
And all of them almost a half-second faster?
“My son is in the fifth grade and I’ve had him go through Vic’s speed training,” Whitney said. “I played wide receiver at the University of Montana and right now, in the fifth grade, my son knows more about running than I do to this day.
“I can see the difference on the field already. With our linemen, especially.”
Whitney said he and his coaching staff set a list of conditioning goals for their players going into their summer workout season.
“We met all of those goals – things like being stronger, faster, having a better vertical jump, things like that,” he said. “Most of them, we exploded past. I’m impressed.”
Perhaps the most impressive number from last year’s impressive run to Tacoma was the number of injuries the team had. Three.
“That was huge,” Whitney said. “I credit our kids for doing the hard work getting themselves in shape over the summer. We put a lot of emphasis on our conditioning and our coaches do a great job with it.
“You can’t expect that year in and year out. That’s why we work hard to get kids into games. Take our offensive and defensive lines, for example. We start five kids on the offensive line and we have 10 kids ready to play for every game. On the defensive line we start three, so we have six ready.
“Every one of those kids knows they’re going to see playing time. They’re all counting plays and know when they’re going in. That way our kids know just when they’ll get a breather and they can go harder while they’re in the game. And they all work with one another to make sure they all know who’s in there and what their assignment is.”
Still, there are some big shoes to fill. Three Eagles from last year’s team are now playing college football. Quarterback Drew Clausen is at Carroll College in Montana. Receiver Sam Schoessler is a walk-on at Montana and lineman Nick Brown is at Western Montana.
“Our kids have stepped up,” Whitney said. “They know they have big shoes to fill, but they’re doing a good job.”
One player the coach was quick to praise is senior defensive tackle and tight end Brody Penaluna.
“He’s been playing for us,” Whitney said. “He put in a lot of work over the summer and he’s come in bigger and faster. He’s a solid 6-1 and 210 pounds. But where he’s really stepped up is with his leadership skills. He’s been a great leader for us already.”
And then there’s the size.
“We ran some seven-on-seven drills the other day,” Whitney said. “We ran three receivers for a Hail Mary play. We were 6-6, 6-5 and 6-3. That’s going to be a tough group to cover –- they were tough for our junior varsity defensive backs, that’s for sure. They were 5-8, 5-8 and 5-9, but they did a pretty good job.”