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Wolves set to howl under new coach

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Estrella Foothills football coach Derek Wahlstrom gives instruction during a preseason scrimmage August 9 against Agua Fria. (West Valley View photo by Ray Thomas)

By Casey Pritchard

The Estrella Foothills High School football team will take the field Friday with a new face at the helm.  

Coach Derek Wahlstrom replaced Lamar Early, who spent seven seasons as head coach and another seven as an assistant, after Early stepped down to take the Millennium football job. Wahlstrom has had little time to prepare.

“We’re playing big-time catch-up,” Wahlstrom said. “My first day with the student athletes was May 30 – so no spring football. Everything started in the summer, but we kept growing our numbers. We kept seeing increases in the weight room, so it was a very productive summer and something we’re very proud of.”

Wahlstrom is excited for the start of the season and has been impressed with the Buckeye Union High School District, the administration at Estrella and the student athletes and their families, he said.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but everybody seems to be buying in to what we’re trying to do, and we’ll figure out what the best way to get it done is,” Wahlstrom said.

The Wolves spent four productive days in July at summer camp in Winslow, taking 32 athletes.

“It was great,” Wahlstrom said. “We really came together as a team. Guys were able to see kind of the vision we have for what the program is supposed to be. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

Wahlstrom brings to Estrella a new coaching staff, including a familiar face. Mike Welch, who was the Wolves’ first head coach, is back to helm the offensive line and help with the offense. Jason Randels, who was a former head coach at Millennium, is the defensive coordinator.

“I’m really blessed to have several guys who were willing to join the staff … they’ve been willing to be flexible and do some things,” Wahlstrom said. (Welch and Randels) are doing a fantastic job, and I really appreciate their diligence.”

Wahlstrom comes to Estrella after a successful career at Verrado, where he went 36-28 in six seasons. The Vipers were 26-8 the last three years, including a state semifinal appearance in 2015. Wahlstrom’s Verrado teams were prolific in the passing game, but he said that will not necessarily be the case at Estrella.

“We’re always going to do the very best we can to adapt to the talent we have, but there are some core principles that I’m going to stick pretty hard and fast to,” Wahlstrom said. “There are going to be some similarities, but there will be some distinct differences as well, because the talent that we have dictates that.”

Senior Tyler Godfrey quarterbacked the Wolves last year and is one of two players vying for the starting job this season, Wahlstrom said. Godfrey completed 42 of 86 passes for 512 yards and two touchdowns last year.

“Tyler is one of the guys competing for the quarterback position and doing a fantastic job; I anticipate him getting reps there,” Wahlstrom said. “We also have Reagan Jenkins, a junior, competing for that position as well.”

Other players have stood out offensively to Wahlstrom, he said.

“Frank Kasel has really impressed me with his work ethic, leadership and diligence,” said Wahlstrom about the wide receiver/running back.

Running back Jacob McLeod is another standout. Wahlstrom said he likes McLeod’s explosiveness and burst, adding that he’s probably the strongest guy in the program. Fellow running back Kentray Noble squatted 405 pounds five times during the Wolves’ max lifting day.

“I’m really impressed by his strength,” Wahlstrom said.

Nate Mora is a junior who plays wide receiver. He’s 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds.

“He’s a big wide receiver who’s not afraid of contact. He’ll go up and get a ball, but also will go over the middle, absorb contact and make the catch,” Wahlstrom said.

Senior Matt Tarin is extremely intelligent and can fill multiple positions for the Wolves, Wahlstrom said.

Overall, Wahlstrom has been really impressed with the team’s willingness to accept change on the offensive side of the ball.

“It’s not just the new offensive system and offensive coach, but a whole new program,” Wahlstrom said. “We’re adjusting our scheme a little bit from what they’re used to. We’re trying to get a lot of people to the ball every play, so their willingness to really give that max effort all the way through the play is something we’re seeing growth in, so I appreciate their hard work in that fashion.”

Defensively, Godfrey will be a big piece at middle linebacker. He was third on the team in total tackles last year with 71, including nine for a loss.

“His instincts are fantastic,” Wahlstrom said. “He’s doing really well.”

Senior Trent Campbell plays cornerback and has been one of the most consistent players in the program, Wahlstrom said.

“We tell him to do something once, and he does it exactly how we explained it, so that’s been impressive,” Wahlstrom said.

Defensive lineman Wyatt Powe has strong upper-body strength and toughness, while outside linebacker Christian Conroy works hard, Wahlstrom said.

Estrella is coming off a 5-5 season in which it started 1-4 but won four straight region games to give itself a shot at the playoffs on the final day of the season. However, a 42-14 loss to Buckeye squashed those hopes. This year, Wahlstrom believes the Wolves can be successful if they are confidenct, he said.

“Our guys need to have a belief in what we’re trying to accomplish and the confidence that they can achieve it. If they sell out to that, we should have quite a bit of success, because there is talent,” Wahlstrom said.

As far as goals are concerned, the team didn’t really make any, other than trying to be the very best they can, Wahlstrom said.

“We’re not going to set any limits on ourselves, so we’re not going to say, ‘Hey, making it to the playoffs is a great year,’ because maybe excellence is winning a state title,” Wahlstrom said. “Maybe excellence is 5-5, who knows. We have no control over our opponents and how good they are. We have control over how hard we work and how much better we become. That’s kind of what our focus is and what our expectations are.”

Estrella hosts Tempe at 7 p.m. Friday, August 18, in the season opener. The Wolves lost 36-24 to the Buffaloes last year.

 
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