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Knights preparing for second season with Nick Gehrts

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Westview High School head football coach Nick Gehrts instructs players and fine-tunes plays during practice. (West Valley View photo by Ray Thomas)

By Casey Pritchard

Westview’s football team went through a change last year when Nick Gehrts took over the program, but the Knights finished 8-3 in his first season at the helm, and will look to improve on that in 2017.

“I think the first year is always that transition period where it’s a blur for everybody, and everybody is getting their feet wet,” Gehrts said. “I think everybody is on the same page now, and everybody is buying in to the very minimal things we do differently. They’ve been good about it and they’ve busted their butts all summer long.”

The summer was crucial for Westview, which has an inexperienced team heading into the season. Only a handful of athletes with significant playing time returned from last year.

“We look young, and by young I mean just inexperienced,” Gehrts said. “We were very senior-heavy last year, so a lot of the juniors have to step up and fill those roles, and the sophomores, too.”

Gehrts scheduled several 7-on-7 passing competitions over the summer to try to get his players as many quality repetitions as possible. The Knights also went to camp at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.

“That was really good, too,” Gehrts said. “And they were there every day getting after it, so we had a really good summer.”

Westview’s success last year was predominantly based on its rushing attack, which amassed 3,803 yards. More than half of that came from Tyler Vasko, who had 2,055 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, Vasko graduated, leaving the Knights with a big hole to fill.

“I think we’ve got three good running backs that are going to be able to replace him,” Gehrts said.

One of those running backs is Billy-Joe Juarez, who’s been Vasko’s backup the last two years. He had 27 carries for 132 yards last season.

“I think he’s going to have a good year,” Gehrts said.

Albert Curry, a junior who was the JV running back last year, is another guy the Knights will rely on this year.

“He’s faster than Vasko is,” Gehrts said. “He’s not as strong as Vasko, but I think that’s going to come with time.”

D.J. Romero is the third running back. He only had seven carries for 31 yards last year, but Gehrts said he’ll get quite a few carries this year and will add extra depth to the position.

“We had the depth last year, but we didn’t need it,” Gehrts said. “But I think if we can rotate those three backs and get those fresh legs in there, I think those three can do it by committee.”

Senior Scott Fallers is the quarterback. He played wide receiver last year, but has made the transition to signal caller and impressed Gehrts during summer competition.

“He’s looked really good,” Gehrts said. “He’s come a long ways over a year. One of my buddies I played with at Illinois State (Kevin Brockway), he moved down here and has been working with Scott all summer. It’s been a really good experience for me, and Scott getting to work with him. He brings a ton of knowledge, also.”

Protecting Fallers and blocking for the trio of Knights running backs will be an offensive line of fresh faces, as four starters have to be replaced.

“It’s been a work in progress, but we’re moving along about where I thought,” Gehrts said. “They’ve got a ways to go, but coach (Willie) Chaffee does a good job with them. It’s a big difference than last year. I think we’re quicker than we were last year up front.”

Gehrts expects the defense to be the strongest entering the season. He attributes that to the number of returning defensive starters, and to defensive coordinator George Burgess and defensive backs coach Rudy Pacheco.

“Those guys have just gotten smarter in recognizing formations and what they can run out of those formations,” Gehrts said. “So, it’s more mental than it was last year. Physically, the capabilities have been there, but once they pick up that mental side, it’s been good, and they really impress me.”

Key defensive players are Joel Zurita and Mathew Mendez on the line, cornerback Elijah Boykins and safety Antonio Gilbert. Defensive tackle Dominick Russell, who had 71 tackles last year, including 17 for a loss, is another critical defensive player.

“He’ll be a junior, and he was a unanimous first team (all-region) selection last year, so I’m excited to see what he does this year,” Gehrts said.

Westview has the same schedule as it did last year, with home and away games reversed. The Knights open the season hosting Chandler Basha at 7 p.m. Friday, August 18. Basha’s new head coach is Rich Wellbrock, who previously coached at Desert Edge. Westview beat Basha 54-36 last season.

“For me, it’s kind of an important game. I don’t know how to explain it, having the relationship I have with Wellbrock,” Gehrts said. “I think they’re going to be a significantly different team than they were last year, especially having Wellbrock. They’ll be ready, we’ve got to be ready, and I think it will be a much closer game than it was last year.”

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