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Westwood Patriots move forward: After first game canceled, Westwood football to open season Friday night

Westwood defensive back Zach Carlson, left, and Menominee receiver Brendon Harris battle for the ball during their MHSAA Division 6 playoff game at the Patriots' field in Ishpeming on Nov. 2. (Photo courtesy Curt Kemp)

ISHPEMING — “Better late than never” might be the motto of the Westwood football team right now.

While nearly every other Upper Peninsula teams got its season underway last weekend, the Patriots were forced to cancel their opener against Iron Mountain due to injuries.

However, this week, things appear to be relatively back to normal as the Patriotrs prepare to play at Manistique.

“It was a little bit of a rough start,” WHS head coach Scott Syrjala said. “The week before (the scheduled opener vs.) Iron Mountain, things were going really good. We had a really good week of practice.

“We’ve got a great group of kids. We just don’t have a lot of them. We didn’t get a couple of kids out this year that I kind of expected to come out and it’s disappointing, but there’s nothing you can do.

Westwood center Matthew Paavo, center, gets ready to hike the ball in the first quarter to Taylor Dellangelo, left, or Garrett Mann in the Patriots' Division 6 playoff game against Menominee in Ishpeming on Nov. 2. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I don’t know if COVID(-19) was that reason for that or what, but it is what it is and you have to move on without them. Our kids are doing that.

“We’ve had a good week of practice. Then we took a couple of days off just because we were in a little bit of disarray with kids being out and this and that. So last week ended up on a good note.

“We had a good week of practice there, too, a good few days and I wish we could’ve played Iron Mountain. But now we’re prepping for Manistique and we’ve got to make the trek down there.”

Like every other program, Westwood was wondering if the season was even going to happen at all. Despite things being up in the air, Syrjala said it didn’t affect the Patriots that much.

“They were excited and I was too,” he said when it was announced that the season was back on. “Just a little bit of a roller-coaster ride. The kids were fine with it. It’s the old coaches that are ‘Well, what are we gonna do?’ and this and that. The kids just want to play and have fun and be kids.”

Once they get on the field, Syrjala says that Garrett Mann will be the starting quarterback and there will be quality skill players to support him like veterans Travis Uren, Zach Carlson, Stephen Kangas and Luke Mariuzza.

“Garrett Mann is going to run the show for us,” Syrjala said. “He’s a big kid, 6-(foot-)1 and 195 (pounds), 190 maybe. Very smart. Last year, a lot of people don’t know this, he was hampered by a real bad bruised thigh the entire year and that’s why we didn’t run him a lot. But he did a great job blocking and did a lot of good things.”

If there’s a shaky part of the Patriots’ roster, it’s on the line due to a lack of depth.

“What we do have, in my opinion, is they’re great kids and they’re willing to learn,” Syrjala said. “We’re pretty young. The line starts with Spencer Harvala. He started for us as a sophomore last year. Pretty vocal kid, a good leader and he worked hard in the offseason.

“We have Michael Boissineau returning who was an all-U.P. player for us last year. We’ve got some other kids there, too. We’re just not really deep.”

Things may be different, but the enthusiasm is still there.

“I wanted to play last Friday and it didn’t work out,” he said. “So we get to play this Friday. We’ve got 20 kids. That’s not a lot, but that just kind of seems to be the norm somewhat nowadays. Everybody seems to be down, I guess.

“I’m glad we get to play and it’s a pretty good group to be around. It’s a really good group to be around. Very coachable kids and I think they’re happy to be playing, too. We’re gonna keep practicing hard and let the chips fall where they may, I guess.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.

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