Kyle Ide fully understands the situation at Westwood.
The demographics of Mesa’s second oldest high school changed long ago, and most of the school’s sports teams have been bypassed by other programs in the district.
He has seen it first-hand, initially as a student and the last two decades as a teacher and coach, but it didn’t deter him.
“Our demographics were more like Mountain View is today,” he said. “The one thing that is the same is the tough kid. We still have that hard-nosed kid, but when you look at trying to do fundraisers and things of that nature things are harder.”
In fact, it brought him back onto the football field under Jim Ewan, who was his receivers coach at Mesa Community College.
Ide, a 1987 graduate, wanted to get in touch with kids in the program as he did as the Warriors boys basketball coach for seven seasons starting in the 1998-99 season and golf coach at various times during his time as a teacher.
What he didn’t expect was getting handed the reins of the program when Ewan was dismissed last year with two games left to play. It was a tough situation, taking over a program that won just two games each of the last two seasons, but if Ide wasn’t named interim he probably would not be running the program today.
“It gave me an idea as to what was in store for me,” Ide said. “It was a horrible situation to be thrown into because you are basically just trying to keep the ship afloat.
“I did learn a lot in those two games. If (Ewan) had left at the end of the year I don’t know that I would have applied. It let me know it was something I wanted to do.”
The three-week spring ball session was a great chance for the Warriors to implement new schemes on both sides of the ball, get an idea of the depth chart and develop the bond required to be a cohesive team.
The players showed up in large numbers with about 120 participating; looking for a fresh start with a positive and invested coaching staff.
More importantly, they want to be part of the group that redefines what it means to be part of the Westwood football program.
“I think we can turn things around,” said senior-to-be Braxton Adams, who is a running back and linebacker. “People look at us and think we’re not any good, and there’s only one way to change that. Winning two games isn’t acceptable. We have to prove we are better than that on the field.”
The atmosphere around the program has changed, and success is not that long ago (6-4 in 2013 and 9-2 in 2014 under Spencer Stowers) it seems impossible to be competitive.
Logistics have changed since then as Westwood is in the largest classification – 6A Conference – which wasn’t the case in the last two winning seasons.
“We will be better,” Ide said. “It’s a tough region with Red Mountain, Skyline and Mountain View. Mesa is on the way up. We will be, too.”
The key for future success is keeping the players invested, and staying with the orange and blue instead of heading to another East Valley program with hopes of winning more games and getting some exposure by college coaches.
Ide knows the more homegrown players, ones who have stayed in the program for four years, is vital going forward. They all need to be in it together. Working toward the same goal.
Otherwise, the gap between Westwood and the top programs in the East Valley region like Skyline, Red Mountain and Mountain View will remain. A lot of sophomore saw action last season, probably before they were physically and mentally ready, but it should pay dividends the next two seasons.
“What we need is to be able to have success so we can keep the kids who are supposed to be Westwood kids to stay Westwood kids,” Ide said. “If we can keep the kids that are supposed to here then we can be competitive.
“We can’t have another 2-8 season because those kids will leave. Understandably, in today’s world they can go anywhere and if they are a blue chipper and you are not winning it is tough to keep them. We have to show them we are going to be competitive, we are going to put a good product on the field and you are going to work hard.”
The process of shrinking that distance began in the weight room in January, continued through spring ball, which ended with a team barbecue last Friday, and now has a chance to lessen with additional work between now and the season opener at Skyline on Aug. 18.
Ide is raring to go. He saw that competitive edge needed to be successful dissipate when he was coaching the basketball team as the constant push needed to get the players to do the necessary work wore him down.
The time away along with the little preview at the end of the 2016 season has Ide ready for the challenge ahead.
“We had some success, won some playoff games and then it turned into the frustrations of trying to get the kids to work on what they need to work at in order to be successful. Not being able to do that anymore is what pushed me away. It takes an incredible amount of energy and I lost it. Taking that break has me rejuvenated and I have that energy to get the kids to work hard.
“When you have a school like this you have to create competition at every position. Once you do that it is easy to work hard and then you can really do some good things.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.