WEST ISHPEMING, Mich. (WJMN) – The Westwood Patriots had a year for the history books in 2021 – finishing atop the West-Pac at 10-2 and capturing a district championship. It was their first in program history.

Despite all that success last season – The Patriots enter 2022 with a chip on their shoulders.

“I think that everyone is kind of praying on our downfall a little bit,” said Max Wiljanen, a senior defensive end and offensive lineman for the Patriots. “We lost a lot of seniors, a majority of our team was seniors but I think we got a great group of young kids. We all put the work in in the offseason, we were grinding in the weight room.”

“We have to have high expectations because we’re kind of slept on,” said Jerzee Karki. “Nobody expects anything from us this year. We want to prove everybody wrong. We have a chip on our shoulder to prove everybody wrong.”

The Patriots will look to re-establish themselves under the guidance of first-year head coach Jake Wolf who took over for longtime head coach, Scott Syrjala.

“It’s a dream,” said Wolf. “Playing here for a long time, growing up here, and being on those bleachers over there at the field as 5th and 6th grader there to being on the field, to an unpaid assistant coach, to an assistant coach, to more of a role as an assistant coach and to a varsity coach, it’s pretty cool.”

Wolf, who played for and graduated from Westwood in 2008, has already built strong relationships with his players during his climb up the coaching ladder.

“I’m expecting nothing but the best for (coach) Wolf,” said Jerzee Karki, a senior for Westwood. “Wolf’s been with me since Freshman year, helping me in the weight room, helping me get stronger. He’s been the first person I call no matter what. So, I’m pretty excited, it’s a good bond.”

“We’ve all known Wolfy since we’ve been in elementary school,” said Wiljanen. “He’s always been doing our lifting and he’s always been a huge presence in our life. We’re happy to play for him, he’s an absolutely fantastic guy. He really motivates us to get better ourselves and it’s a good feeling.”

Early in camp, Wolf says the focus is all about effort and focusing on the little things.

“When we come out on the field, I want our effort and intensity to be there with an understanding of our alignment and assignments,” said Wolf. “Hustling to the football, we want nine and a half, eight and a half guys to the football every time we step out there playing defense and understanding where we’re going on offense.”

It’s hard to ignore the talent lost from last year’s Patriots team, but all is not lost at Westwood.

“A few players that I’m looking to be productive this year are Jayce Arseneau, Jerzee Karki, a few guys who played prominent roles on last year’s team. We got Max Wiljanen coming back a lineman who started last year. Eddie Anderson, Nick Salzwedel. We also have two seniors coming back as well, Jacob Olson and Johnny Peters. A lot of those guys I expect to have big roles.”

“We worked our butts off last year and it really paid off, ” said Wiljanen. “We might not have as much talent or size, I mean I’m starting on the offensive line and I’m 5’8, 200lbs. We’re all a little undersized but we know what it takes and we’re ready to get it going.”

Westwood opens up their season on the road against Houghton on August 26th.