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2012 West Ranch football preview: Erase and shine

Wildcats look for defense to make the difference

Posted: August 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch players, from left, Rawston Redick, Zahr Lyttle, Jake Lambirth, Mark Collins and Gerrit Mouw are going to collectively play a big part in whether or not the team can bounce back from a fifth-place finish in the Foothill League last season.

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If there’s an overwhelming sentiment on the West Ranch football team this summer, it’s an eagerness to erase the memory of a disappointing 2011 season.

Last summer, the Wildcats, coming off a 2010 season that was the best in school history, didn’t want for confidence.

This season, that confidence remains, but it’s tempered by the knowledge that improvements must be made if the Wildcats are to improve on last season’s 5-5 season, in which they finished 1-4 in Foothill League play and outside the playoff field.

“I think we’re on the rise,” said West Ranch head coach Sean O’Brien. “We had, on paper, a disappointing season last year. But when you look at it really carefully, we lost a lot of close games.”

In 2012, the Wildcats will have to contend with the loss of running back Jeff Coprich, a current University of California, Berkeley player who graduated from the Stevenson Ranch campus in May.

But the team returns senior quarterback Gerrit Mouw, senior running backs Zahr Lyttle and Mark Collins, and a strong defensive core that includes linemen Brad Littleford, Andrew Eichten and Jake Lambirth.

“I was very shocked (last year),” Collins said. “We had some really, really good athletes and I thought we’d be right there in league.”

This year, they expect things to be different.

Mouw will start under center again for the Wildcats, but with a year of experience under his belt.

“He’s still confident, but there’s a definite determination,” O’Brien said. “‘I am going to show myself and anyone who doubted me. Yes, I have improved on last year.’”

Catching up to the speed of varsity football was a struggle last year for Mouw, and when teams began to key on the offense’s bread and butter, the running game, things became difficult for the first-year quarterback.

“I’m still that way, I’m really confident,” Mouw said. “Last year, I think I was overconfident. The speed was much different (from junior varsity).”

One area that should help Mouw is greater skill and depth at the receiver position this year, with guys like Rawston Redick and newcomers Isaiah Guzman and Colton Long.

The Wildcats plan a more balanced attack with the goal of scripting a 50/50 run/pass offensive set.

In order to make that work, though, Mouw will play a pivotal role.

It’s difficult to see how the team can win without the senior improving on last season’s six touchdown, five interception performance. A performance that saw Mouw pulled from a week 8 game against Canyon and benched for a week 9 contest with Saugus.

“I go through and look at film (from last season) and I pick them apart and I get so mad at things I should have done better,” Mouw said. “We’ll be more balanced this year, that’s for sure. We have a good receiving corps and our backs are coming back stronger. I think this is the best team we’ve had here.”

But for all the improvements on offense, the X-factor for the 2012 Wildcats will be on its defense.

Starting up front, the defensive line will feature all returning starters in Littleford, Eichten and Lambirth.

The 6-foot, 5-inch, 260 pound senior Lambirth has already received interest from numerous Ivy League universities, and will be key in forcing opposing offenses to alter their gameplan.

“I would say that’s our hinge point,” O’Brien said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say if the defense doesn’t do it, we ain’t winning. But that’s the hinge of how much this door opens or closes. If the defense plays well, we’re going to win a lot. If they don’t play well the other two units, kicking game and offense, are going to really have to step up.”

They’ll also benefit from a core group of linebackers and improved defensive backfield that should help the Wildcats lower their 2011 average of 28.6 points allowed per game in league play.

“Defense is going to have to play a huge role, you can’t rely on an offense, you always have to control what you can control and we as a defense are ready for that role,” Eichten said. “We’re ready to take that on. We know defense wins championships, if they don’t score points they can’t win. But we also have a lot of trust in our offense, knowing they can get the job done if we do ours. It’s a mutual type deal, but we know we have to do our part.”

The first test starts right away for West Ranch, which will open up its season with a week zero contest Thursday against Marmonte League opponent Moorpark at 7 p.m. at Moorpark High.

Entering league play, the Wildcats will enjoy a bye week before their opener with league-favorite Hart, and will end the season with a contest on Nov. 2 against Saugus.

“It’s a very good motivator for the seniors this year, who really think they let one get away from them last year,” O’Brien said. “They really feel like we started strong and then we coasted and look what happens. So there’s a very definite sense of ‘Let’s not let that happen again.”

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