2013 High school football previews: Westwood Patriots

ISHPEMIING – If there was ever a place for a running back in football, it would be in the Mid-Peninsula Conference.First-year head coach Jeff Jessen hopes a deep stable of rushers will bring success to the Westwood High School team this season.

“We’ll try to be diverse in how we use our backs,” said Jessen, 31, who has been an assistant coach for the Patriots the past three seasons.

“We have a lot of backs and I want to try and put as many in the game as I can.”

That may mean some split wide to become receivers or tight ends at times. Jessen, who played football and graduated from Kingsford in 2000 and is also a 2005 graduate of Northern Michigan University, didn’t want to divulge too many secrets before the start of the season, though.

“If we’re going to win in this league, we’ve got to be able to run, though you also have to mix in the pass to keep people honest,” he said. “Without big numbers, we’re going to have to do the little things right if we are to be successful.”

The Patriots, 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the M-PC a year ago under Westwood athletic director Jon Beckman, have just 22 players out for varsity this fall.

“One focus this summer was trying to get as many players as we could get,” Jessen said, “but we just don’t have a lot of seniors.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, though, because we have a big junior class (10 on the team) and a lot of sophomores, too.”

While most of the 10th-graders will play on the JV team, Jessen does have three out on the varsity, all in a place where Westwood is thinnest experience-wise – along its lines.

“We don’t have any returning starters back on our offensive line,” Jessen said. “It’ll be a totally new unit.”

All three sophomores are leading candidates to start – Trent Deans (5-foot-10, 230 pounds) and Seth Tackman (5-7, 225) most likely at tackle and Brandon Benda (5-11, 170) at tight end.

They’re joined by senior Joshua Perreault (5-8, 165) probably at center and senior Tyler Villeneuve (5-11, 165) and junior Nathen Nelson (5-9, 170) most likely at guard.

Top reserve candidates are juniors Dan Arpiainen (6-0, 285) and Toivo Hendrickson III (5-5, 140).

Considering that it takes two Hendricksons to make an Arpiainen, the coach hopes that variety will pay off for the Patriots.

“Every kid has their strengths,” Jessen said about his linemen. “We’ll plug a kid in where he can have the most success.”

He said sometimes a bigger package has obvious advantages, but so does mixing speed and size. And at times, just having the quickness of smaller guys can pay big dividends.

They’re working to open holes for a stable of backs led by returning seniors Derek Wing (5-8, 170) and Tyler Harvala (5-8, 160). Juniors Marquise Baggiore (5-7, 165), Mitchell Messing (5-5, 135) and Ryan Anttila (5-10, 170) also figure prominently in the mix.

“Speed will be our friend this season,” Jessen said.

Speaking of speed, heading up the offense are two fairly equal candidates at quarterback – senior Tanner Giroux (5-11, 125), who backed up starter Nathan Clisch last year, and junior Trevor Burke (5-5, 140), who headed up the JVs.

Leading wide receivers are junior Vincente Carlson (5-11, 160), who could also go at tight end, and seniors Trevor Swanson (5-9, 135) and Luke Duquette (5-11, 145).

On defense, the coach sees his leading linemen as Tackman and Deans, ends as Anttila and Villeneuve, inside linebackers as Perreault and Benda and outside LBs as Harvala and Wing.

His starting safety will be Baggiore or Burke and cornerbacks he’ll have a choice of Giroux, Duquette and Cooper Guidebeck (5-11, 160).

Anttila will takes care of all kicking duties, while Baggiore and Duquette are leading kickoff and punt returners.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.