Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., Sept. 30
Coaching consistency, summer program has Wolf Pack off to quick start
SANTEE – West Hills has become known recently for its two-tone blue turf field – the only one of its kind in the nation. This year the Wolf Pack are distinguishing themselves with what they are doing on the field, starting 4-0 for the first time in six years and already doubling their win total from last season.
“It’s really exciting,” said West Hills senior linebacker Shaun Patterson. “This is the first time our class has even gotten four wins, let alone four in a row to start the season. We’ve come together as a team a lot more than we have in the past few years – we’re really cohesive this year.”
The key to West Hills’ success has been consistency among the players and a coaching staff led by second-year head coach Tay Sneddon. Prior to this season the Wolf Pack had four straight losing campaigns under three different coaches – including a two-win campaign last year, Sneddon’s first as head coach.
“The year before I took over, it was just a bad situation. They were hardly ever in the weight room, and you can’t win if you’re not in the weight room,” Sneddon said. “When we were in spring ball [this season], we weren’t starting from scratch – we were already where we needed to be.”
As a result of a well-attended summer weight training program, West Hills has a senior class that is bigger than it was the year before. That strength combined with a talented junior class that went 17-3 over the past two seasons at the junior varsity and freshman levels gave the Wolf Pack optimism in spite of a lack of recent success.
“We knew if we stayed healthy and had a good summer of weightlifting and passing league that we could be good this season,” Sneddon said. “It’s a good mix of athleticism and size.”
Optimism turned into confidence after West Hills attended the Fresno State team camp in June. At the full-contact camp the Wolf Pack gained experienced while facing Northern California opposition – and felt they could be improved this season.
“It helped us bond as a team and gave us a head start over all the other San Diego teams, because we were in pads running through plays and getting a lot of reps,” said Wolf Pack senior quarterback Rashaan Miller.
West Hills’ most important victory so far this season was its first one – a 47-14 victory over rival Santana on Aug. 31 to capture the Mayor’s Cup. Since then the Wolf Pack have beaten Kearny, Central and Serra by comfortable margins, displaying toughness not typical of their program.
“We’re hardworking and hard-nosed,” Patterson said. “Even if you beat us, we’re going to give it our best – we’re not going to let you walk all over us.”
Sneddon served as Madison’s defensive coordinator before taking over at West Hills, so it’s not a surprise when he said the Wolf Pack defense is the backbone of this year’s team. The defensive front four of seniors Jordan Arnold, Kevin Lopez and Justin Lepisi along with junior Sean Olzaneski has controlled the line of scrimmage for West Hills in its first four games.
“If you can get four guys that can control the pass and run and you don’t have to blitz, you can drop seven players back and in high school it’s hard for quarterbacks to make multiple reads – they’re just not experienced enough,” Sneddon said.
Patterson said the Wolf Pack’s defensive scheme switches between a 4-3 and a 4-4 throughout the game. West Hills has held opponents to less than 12 points per game this season, much less than last season while learning the defense.
“This defense is actually a lot more complicated than any defense we’ve had before,” Patterson said. “We have a lot more checks and audibles and can change up as the offense changes up, rather than sitting in a base defense the entire game. A set play call can change at any time based on what the offense runs.”
On offense, West Hills is averaging 42.5 points per game behind a balanced attack. Miller, a returning starter, leads a unit that features senior running back Eric Seaboch (394 yards, seven touchdowns), a group of junior receivers and a solid offensive line.
“The key has been consistency and the effort to focus,” Miller said. “Those two things help us so that we don’t think too much, we just go with the natural instincts and get going from there.”
On both sides of the ball, turnovers have played a large part in West Hills’ undefeated start. The Wolf Pack have 12 takeaways and have lost the ball only twice in the first four games.
“We preach about the ball – the offense protects it and the defense wants to get it,” Sneddon said. “Our defense has done a good job getting the ball back to the offense, and the offense has done a good job taking care of it.”
West Hills will look to stay undefeated when it hosts El Capitan (2-2) for Homecoming on Friday night. The following week, the Wolf Pack begin play as the smallest school in a loaded Grossmont Hills League that features Helix, Grossmont, Steele Canyon and Valhalla.
“It’s definitely going to be tough, but win or lose it’s good preparation for the playoffs,” Patterson said. “The toughest teams in our division don’t really stack up to the toughest teams in our league, with the exception of Cathedral Catholic.”
An undefeated start has West Hills earning respect as they pursue a winning season for the first time since 2007. For the first time in recent seasons, opponents are envying the Wolf Pack on the gridiron for something besides their unique blue turf.
“We’re just worrying about what we have to do,” Miller said. “Respect will come if we start winning more – however we do will speak for itself.”
Pictured: West Hills linemen perform drills on the only non-green, two-tone turf field in the country. The Wolf Pack are off to a 4-0 start for the first time in six seasons.
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