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2011 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Westerners motivated to best 2010's 3-6 mark

Thursday, August 18, 2011

(Sentinel photo by Bethany Kroeze) Members of the Akron-Westfield football team start Wednesday's practice with some stretching exercises. The Westerners open their 2011 campaign at home on Friday night.
AKRON -- Three-and-six.

That's the phrase motivating the Akron-Westfield football team this fall.

It's also the Westerners' overall record from 2010, a dramatic drop from their 8-3 mark in 2009.

"We don't want to be (3-6) again," A-W junior Taylor James said.

At a school where football has a strong tradition, new A-W head coach Eric Walkingstick doesn't want to be 3-6 again either.

"They definitely set the goals high around here," said the Oklahoma native, who brings 17 years of coaching experience to the field in Akron. "The 3-6 mark for them last year was a slap in the face and the kids want to redeem themselves and have some retribution. They want to prove themselves and get back on top again.

"We're doing everything that's possible to get back (above) that mark."

The Westerners' goals are more than just besting last year's record - they want to go all the way.

"We're looking to go undefeated and go to state," James said.

Senior quarterback Chance Klemme agreed.

"This year we think we can be No. 1 in the state," he said. "We just gotta keep pushing really hard."

The goal is to get to the state championship, Klemme added.

The senior brings a year of experience to the squad after starting all nine games for the Westerners as a junior. Klemme passed for more than 1,200 yards and added eight touchdowns.

He also gets his top three receivers back - senior Chet Utesch (430 yards, two touchdowns, senior Mitch Hedlund (308 yards, two touchdowns) and junior Chet Willer (224 yards, one touchdown).

"This year I'm not going to be as nervous," Klemme said. "Last year I didn't know what to expect. Now I've watched a lot more film and I go out there and I'm more calm.

"I know my players a lot better too. We're all returners and it's a lot easier to be with them."

A-W did graduate its top rusher from a year ago in Ben Wolthuizen, but it returns James, who rushed for 467 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore.

"We return a good core group," Walkingstick said. "They have good playing experience. On our offensive line, we've got some kids that are stepping up and helping us out there.

"Experience is going to be a good key for us this year. We've got very talented seniors and very talented juniors."

Defensively, the Westerners graduated their top two tacklers from a season ago, but return James (44 tackles, five for loss) and Cory Eskra (34 tackles).

Hedlund and Willer each had five interceptions a year ago and Hedlund returned one for a touchdown.

"On the defensive side, it's the same story (as the offense), a different page," Walkingstick said. "We've got some very athletic kids. They're talented and we're expecting good things from them."

A-W opens the season with a Week 0 game against Alta-Aurelia at home on Friday. The Westerners will take on Hinton, Lawton-Bronson and North Iowa before opening district play against Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn on September 23.

"We're ready for the season to begin," Walkingstick said. "We couldn't be more excited for Friday night."

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