Football Preview: West Valley High School

Even with their home turf under construction, the Mustangs aren’t taking any breaks from practice

Photos by Corey Evan / The Valley Chronicle
The Mustangs gather for a quick pep talk by Coach Matt Willard. They are currently practicing at the south end of campus, as the stadium is undergoing improvements.

■ By Corey Evan / Sports Reporter

West Valley High School’s varsity football boys may have won a mere four out of 10 games last season, but it’s a major improvement over 2015 when they went 0-10. Three of those were Mountain Pass League wins, enough to make them the inaugural and current Ramona Cup winners. Now, as the Mustangs prepare to make a fresh run at improvement, there is an air of renewal in Mustang Canyon.
As the 2017 team was practicing in the rain Aug. 3, head coach Matt Willard took time to talk about his team: “We’re here, which is a nice thing! We’re gonna be a little younger this year, obviously we graduated a whole lot of seniors last year.” To be exact, 33 of his senior players walked the stage in May.
This season’s Mustangs include 20 seniors, 20-24 juniors and around 25 sophomores. But to Willard, age ain’t nothing but a number. “That can be misleading a little bit. Within any big number, you also have a smaller number that make significant impact on your team.”
Willard had to replace 13 starters this summer, among other things, but he is confident his Mustangs are up to the task.
“I feel like top-to-bottom we’ve made strides athletically. We’re a lot faster this year; we’re a lot bigger this year,” said Willard. “But the young guys, we’ve gotta figure out how they’ll respond to the bright lights of Friday night.”
Willard’s Mustangs are currently practicing on the auxiliary field at the south end of the campus, in all its muddy glory. At the moment, West Valley is making improvements to its playing field. “We decided that it would be better to play on sand, so we have a sand field now,” joked Willard.
Willard’s joke comes from the fact that the turf replacement project is currently behind schedule.

The Mustangs hard at work, despite the threat of rain overhead.

“We expect the field to be done possibly by week two, in time for our first (varsity) home game,” explained Willard. “However, if that’s not gonna happen, we will either play at Hemet or Tahquitz. We feel at home there, too.”
While Willard can crack a joke, he takes training as seriously as those before him. “We’re striving to be consistent over here, that’s part of our vision for this program – consistent championship culture.”
And among his championship hopefuls this year are these fellow Mustangs:
Alex Zavaleta, a junior quarterback, hopes to help lead the Mustangs to the winner’s circle: “I’m an experienced [player], so I’m gonna bring a lot of leadership to the football team this year. And hopefully make some good plays. I think [the team] should just push through and be the best they can be.”
Michael Riley, a senior safety, hopes to be explosive on the field: “I’m a team leader, you know, I hype the team up when it’s down!”
Let’s hope their explosive leadership pays off for their first game: The Mustangs will saddle up on Friday, Aug. 25, as they make a run to Indio to stampede on Shadow Hills. Perhaps the shadow from Mount San Jacinto will favor the Mustangs.

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