The road to victory


Laura Veldhof

Panther captains head to center field for coin toss.

Mark Cosgrove

For 31 straight games, West Ottawa varsity football players prepared mentally and physically to fight, to win. Players warmed up on the field, stretched, sprinted, and hit. 

For 31 straight games players listened to their warm up music: Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye.

For 31 straight games, players sat in silence and solitude waiting for their coaches to give their pregame speech. 

For 31 straight games, players listened to their coaches’ pregame speech while the ringing of the drum core and cheering of the crowd could be heard echoing through the locker room. 

For 31 straight games, players played their hearts out, and lost. 

31 straight times. 

Laura Veldhof

In games 32 and 33, players went through the same routine. But something changed, something was different. In the 32nd and 33rd games, they won.

Coach Pat Collins said,“We’re bigger, faster, and stronger, which is a key component of football or any sport for that matter.” This change in size, speed, and strength was partly initiated by a new program that was implemented for West Ottawa football players after the 2021 season.

This new program was a 6th hour lifting class that was targeted and designed specifically to better each individual and his skill. “Having a full year of off season work was a big difference for us.” Players that participated in this program saw significant growth in their weight room numbers along with their agility. Collins called this a “key component” of any team’s success. 

Laura Veldhof

 Along with the lifting class, Panther’s football players worked through a full summer of football to prepare for the upcoming season. Sr.Cooper Terpstra, left tackle said, “We worked our butts off this summer.” Coach Collins believes that this off season work not only made the team stronger but brought the team together more. “A lot of that has to do with off season work, when you’re sweating with each other and you have a million moments together… those million moments add up.” 

Although the Panthers’ increased strength and agility is a large factor of the 2022  success, it is not the only factor.

Laura Veldhof

One of the underlying factors is team chemistry and culture. Players and coaches believe that the chemistry and culture is immensely stronger than years past.

Sr. Ryan Stam, H – back, linebacker, said, “Honestly almost everything in this football program has changed, which has led us to where we are.”

This is partly due to the coaching staff on the team who are constantly adapting and overcoming new challenges that emerge. One of the biggest bonding moments for the team was the senior retreat that players and coaches went on during the preseason. Sr. Bryce Baldwin, wide receiver, believes that the bonds he made with his teammates and coaches during this retreat is what really helped to grow their chemistry. “The connections I can have with them (coaches and teammates) has changed things for me.”  The one moment at this retreat that the seniors believe really changed things for them was a bonfire that they shared. Sr. Ryan Stam said, “We were out there for 4 to 5 hours, all the seniors and coaches were out there having a great time.”

Collins believes the same about this moment. “The seriousness they had at the senior retreat was nothing like last year and that’s no disrespect to the other seniors because it’s a cultural thing, it’s nobody’s fault.” Sr. Cooper Terpstera said, “It gave us a little extra confidence that we all have each others backs.” This retreat really helped the panthers to grow their team chemistry and build the culture of their team. These underlying factors are really what made the team whole.

Laura Veldhof

Another defining moment for the 2022 Panthers was preseason scrimmage that they had against the Reeths Puffer Rockets. During this scrimmage, one of Reeths Puffer’s first plays they threw a long pass for a touchdown. After this moment, the Panthers hung their heads. It’s almost like they had given up before the game was even close to over. Although the Panthers kept fighting and no score was kept, the Panthers did not feel they played well during this scrimmage. But what happened after this scrimmage, was a defining moment.

Laura Veldhof

After the scrimmage, the Panthers came together on the field, as they do after every practice, game, or scrimmage. But this time it was different. Coach Burke gave a very compelling speech. He spoke on the fact that he believes that the Panthers currently have the fear of judgment and the fear of messing up.

Burke told the Panthers that he believes that to truly be a great team, they need to eradicate these fears. Following this, seniors Joe Overway, linebacker, and Juan Gomez, linebacker, both gave heartfelt speeches. This was a defining moment for the panthers. Speeches from coaches can be compelling but when it comes from your teammates, your peers, it really hits home for players.

During the Panthers game against Portage Northern, a very similar moment occurred. On one of the Huskies first few plays on offense they threw a long pass that resulted in a touchdown. Just the same as Reeths Puffer. Except this time something was different. 

The Panthers didn’t hang their heads. 

The Panthers held their heads high.

The Panthers kept their composure.

The Panthers didn’t give up.

The Panthers Kept fighting.

The Panthers beat the Huskies 21 – 10.  

Fox 17, Blitz, 2022

Defining moments such as the Reeths Puffer scrimmage and the moments that followed are some of the moments that made the 2022 Panthers who they are.

Laura Veldhof

Currently Panthers are 3 – 3, the team’s spirits and playoff hopes remain high as they head into the last 3 games of the season. As said by Sr Cooper Terpstra, left tackle, “We want to prove people wrong.”