Duplicating what was possibly the best year in program history won't be an easy task for Westview.
Players like Brandon Pili, Boogie Davis, Jason Rucker, Mason Elliott and Zach Schmerber don't come around often. Replacing athletes of that caliber every year is close to nonviable at a public school. Beating teams like Sherwood and Jefferson could take almost twice the effort it once did.
Yet, there's appeal in the struggle. Head coach Ryan Atkinson and his staff are in their third year at the second-biggest public school in the state and maddeningly constructing Westview's high school and middle school programs into potential powerhouses in the near future. The Wildcats aren't starting from scratch and ushering in a completely green group of young players. The old guard is gone, surely, but talent remains this fall sans the lofty level of preseason hype that accompanied the 2016 squad.
"My focus for this year is on our seniors and sending them out the right way with what they're about to accomplish," Atkinson said. "We're going to come back to reality from last year a little bit, but that reality is competing. Building a program takes time and I'm aware of that. I'm not going to come out and say it's going to happen overnight. But we're progressing at a high rate and building the big picture. This year we just want to keep getting better and keep being in that conversation for the top-three teams in Metro."
Westview senior two-way lineman Luke Vrvilo will be one of the few football players to play varsity ball from his freshman through his senior year. Vrvilo was so good as a junior that he was voted first-team all-Metro defensive linemen over Pili, who's making huge waves at USC, and Davis, who earned a full scholarship to Portland State. Junior defensive tackle Luke Cuellar had a "great" camp according to Atkinson and will start alongside Vrvilo, who's possibly the best defensive tackle in the state.
"He's a guy who will come up and smack you," Atkinson said. "He plays with a great pad level, he gets off the football and has a motor. He'll play in the middle for us."
Senior Ja'Quay Rucker is another longtime varsity contributor along the defensive line who should continue provide solid run defense in the trenches.
If Vrvilo is Westview's heart, senior running back Arturo Guitierrez is the 'Cats soul, a diminutive yet dynamic, powerful mail carrier who can tote the rock 25 times a game and catch the ball well out of the backfield. He'll continue a stellar recent tradition of brimstone-tough backs at Westview.
"He's a 'Three C' guy, character, commitment, community player," Atkinson said. "He's a guy we're going to lean on quite a bit. I'll put him up there with the best running backs in our league. He has great vision, heart and shiftiness — he's very hard to tackle and people find that out pretty quickly."
Junior quarterback Cielo del Rosario started a trio of games in relief of Schmerber and played in a handful of others as a sophomore. Two years younger than most of his running mates, del Rosario took command of the Wildcat huddle, and blossomed into a starting-quality signal caller who torched Liberty for 69 points and helped Westview beat Sunset 35-27.
"We expect a lot out of him this year," Atkinson said. "Everybody in our program believes in him, including myself. I've seen a huge lift in his game, his presence on the field. We expect him to lead our football team."
Freshman J.J. Woodin is Westview's quarterback of the future, a heralded underclassman who hasn't set foot inside the high school yet, but has created a buzz about his long-term abilities. As del Rosario discovered last season, the backup quarterback is only one play away from being front-and-center on the gridiron. Atkinson is more than comfortable handing the reins to his precocious freshman, should it come to that.
Fellow freshman E.J. Broussard is another potential heralded recruit, a running back/linebacker with great character, work ethic and Pac-12 conference potential, according to Atkinson. Senior middle linebacker Mante Woods has become a "big-time" leader for the Wildcats in the crux of the 'Cat defense. Woods started as a junior after coming over from Scappoose and is poised to lead Westview in tackles. Senior Levi Adams is back starting alongside Woods and Broussard at linebacker.
"Our linebacker core is the strength of our team, no question about it," Atkinson said. "Those are the guys who are going to be big names. They'll set the tone for us."
Senior wide receivers Nick Capetillo has "blown Westview's staff out of the water" according to Atkinson after not playing football last year. Senior wide receiver Gavin Lloyd runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and can match that speed with solid hands and breakaway ability in the open field. Lloyd is Westview's fastest player and primary kick returner.
"We have a lot of guys who have to get the job done," Atkinson said.
Senior cornerback Patrick Maddox is Westview's unquestioned leader in the secondary, a back end player who made the touchdown-saving tackle of Sherwood's David Morris in overtime of the Wildcats' 27-21 opening game road win over the Bowmen a year ago. Maddox was second-team all-Metro and enjoyed a big spring and summer playing for EForce Football.
"He's had a tremendous off-season," Atkinson. "He looked great (playing for EForce Football) in seven-on-seven. He exploded on that scene, but more importantly, he's exploded in the weight room and leading our kids. He'll be doing really big things for us."