SHEFFIELD — The West Fork football team has been working on building something over each of the past two seasons, but the results haven’t quite shown the progress at times.
Both years, the Warhawks, with a young roster each time, started slow but finished strong. They’re looking to change that this year.
“We’ve kind of built to this point where we’ve had a ton of young guys starting early and we’ve had a couple 0-5 starts, and then we’ve gotten better throughout the year, which is good I suppose, but now we need to start fast and get a few wins early,” West Fork coach Eric Gabe said.
A large reason why the Warhawks feel they're close to doing that is the program they’ve worked on building since Gabe started two seasons ago.
It was also an accepted fact that success wasn’t going to happen overnight, especially with so many sophomores playing in that first season, which saw the Warhawks finish 2-7. Even last year when they rattled off three wins in a row after an 0-5 start, they started to see more and more things they liked.
“If we all work together I think it’ll work a lot better than it has in the past couple of years,” senior Jordan Clark said. “We’ve had good leaders to show us how to go since our freshman year.”
A couple weeks into their workouts, and Gabe has liked what he’s seen.
Their depth, something that wasn’t present in his first year, has been a point of pride so far. But that has mostly been the product of the behind-the-scenes work done over the past two seasons.
In 2014, Gabe said the team had 13 or 14 kids who were varsity guys, and the remaining players of the 26-man roster got valuable time on the junior varsity squad. Even with the low numbers, they never missed a JV game. That live action is about to pay off.
“I feel like we’ll do pretty good,” senior lineman Collin Meints said. “We’ve got a lot of potential and we’ve got a lot of players coming back.”
Meints, a three-year starter on the offensive line, has put his time in. So has fellow senior and three-year starter Alex Bender. With those two, plus juniors Garrett Anderson and Trey Pfeffer, who each started along the line as sophomores, the Warhawks have a good starting point up front.
Competition in camp and early practices is driving the rest of the roster.
“The competition level in practice —we’ve got two guys competing to be quarterback, we’ve got offensive line backups competing to be the starter and we’ve got two runner backs that are varsity-caliber running backs who are competing with each other,” Gabe said. “We have that depth and I think that’s leading to improvements.”
In a tough district that includes St. Ansgar and West Hancock, each of which made it to at least the Class A quarterfinals — St. Ansgar made the semifinals — the Warhawks will have their work cut out for them.
But they are up to the challenge.
“I’m thinking as long as we’re going out above .500, that’d be successful, but we want to try to win as many as we can,” Meints said.