WEST ISHPEMING, Mich. (WJMN) – Westwood head coach Scott Syrjala is entering his 22nd year of coaching this season. In his two-plus decades on the sidelines, 2020 may have been the most challenging year to date.
“Last year was challenging for everybody,” said Syrjala. “Hats off to the teams that, you know, went the distance and went far in the playoffs. They had to take that huge break, then re-start up and keep going and things like that, that’s tough. That’s on top of how the season began. We started, we stopped. They literally told us you’re going to be practicing and we don’t know if you’re playing or not. It’s hard to motivate kids when it comes to that. Not only our kids but all kids across the state of Michigan I thought did a good job with that.”
The Patriots did get to play football games, but what started as a nine-game schedule was cut to just three games due to Covid-19.
“They were three games that were relatively easy for us,” said Syrjala. “We weren’t challenged or tested I should say. Then you get to a Negaunee team that has been tested and the results spoke for itself.”
The Patriots fell to Negaunee in the first round of the playoffs ending their season before it even began.
“You know we got punched in the mouth and we didn’t handle it very well,” said Syrjala. “So, that’s been our mantra this season is how are we going to handle adversity. We’re back to normal this season and we’re getting after it. Everything is normal so far and I’ll take it.”
The Patriots have around 19-20 players on their roster this season and although it is heavily senior-laden, Syrjala says inexperience will be a factor early on.
“Those seniors only played in three regular-season games last year and had a playoff game,” said Syrjala. “They weren’t tested in my opinion on either side of it. We weren’t tested in the regular season and we got blown out by Negaunee. So, there were no real battles there. You know, I want to see how we’re going to be when it comes to crunch time in the fourth quarter and, you know, it’s a tie ball game or we’re down a score. We know we have to get better with that.”
Westwood does return a couple of difference makers that will help the Patriots in crunch time.
“Last year we didn’t have Zach Beckman with his wrist,” said Syrjala. “So, we got him back this year. You know, he’s a coach’s kid and he’s smart. He will play some quarterback for us. We also have Zach Carlson who played a little bit of quarterback for us too and he’s a good runner. He worked really hard this offseason in the weight room. He’s a lot bigger, stronger, and faster. We got Travis Uren back. We have a lot of seniors back, but it starts up front too. This year it’s going to be Westwood football. We’re going to run a few plays, we’re going to try and do them well and try to play some sound defense and let the chips fall where they may.”
Westwood will kick off their season at home against Houghton next Friday.
“I love the game of football, I really do, and what it can teach you about life, and overcoming adversity,” said Syrjala. “It teaches you to be disciplined and commit to something. That’s what we try to instill in our kids here. I try to tell them it’s not just football, we’re trying to teach you some life lessons along the way. I’ll tell you what, our kids have responded so far. We’ve had a good week and a half and it feels really good to not have to be wearing masks, and taking temperatures, and literally getting suited up for practice and then being told we’re not practicing. Let’s cross our fingers and hope everyone stays safe and healthy and we can continue on with this.”