Bearcats Back in Action: W.F. West Opens Up Fall Football Practice

REGULAR SEASON: W.F. West Looking Forward to Full Season After Playing Just Six Games During ‘COVID Year’

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The sunny, 79-degree weather for the opening day of fall football practice on Wednesday was a far cry from the gloomy, 46-degree high the W.F. West Bearcats faced its first practice last season on Feb. 2.

Wednesday’s weather was much more favorable — though maybe just a little too balmy.

“It feels great,” junior quarterback Gavin Fugate said. “It’s hot but it’s good to be out here. COVID pretty much shutdown (fall practices) last year.”

It’s a day Fugate and his teammates have been waiting for since their 2020-21 regular-season finale on March 19, ending a season that was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. What followed — after six months of postponement and worries of a season never materializing — was limited fan attendance, required mask-wearing and a winter start date for a season that normally begins in September.

Now, even with Lewis County breaking its COVID-19 case rate for the second-straight week, there’s hope that this season will be unlike the previous one experienced just six months ago.

“Pretty much all summer long,” Fugate said of how long he’s been waiting for the opening day of practice. “Just grinding in the mornings, all that weight lifting and conditioning just for today.”

Last week, the WIAA released its updated COVID-19 protocols for K-12 sports, the biggest change being masks not being required among participants during contests.

Masks won’t be required for any athletes of any contact level in outdoor settings, including football.

Additionally, regardless of vaccination status, athletes competing in low-contact or moderate-contact sports, like baseball, softball, golf and track, will not be required to wear masks while competing. Though, the state Department of Health will still be looking for athletes to wear masks while not competing.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health strongly recommended individuals wear masks in crowded outdoor settings. Each of the state’s 35 local health officers also recently recommended masking indoors for everyone.

Still, there’s a sense that football this year will somewhat return to normal, especially compared to last season. 

“It feels like we’re gonna get a full season in us,” Fugate said.

The Bearcats are now just focusing on what they can control — the biggest being their own destiny.

W.F. West loses a large and talented senior class from last season, including the 2A Evergreen Conference’s Defensive MVP Cade Haller. Also gone are four first-team all-league selections on offense, two on defense and three honorable mention picks.

The Bearcats also return a ton of talent, led by two-year starter Fugate. The first-team all-league selection used a cannon arm to complete 61-of-96 passes for 747 yards and 10 TDs, and added 96 yards and two more TDs on the ground.

He’ll be throwing and handing off to a few experienced returners, including senior back Brock Guyette and senior honorable mention wideout Logan Moore.

“Speed and hustle,” Fugate said. “We’re always flying around. We may not be the biggest team out there but we’re gonna outhustle other teams.”

But Fugate said the team’s strength this season should be a formidable line on both sides of the ball, anchored by first-team all-league junior Daniel Matagi and honorable mention junior William Buzzard.

“Our physicality on the line of scrimmage, between our offensive and defensive lines, I feel like we can do some damage there,” Fugate said. “Try to go undefeated, win the league and beat Tumwater. Big goal right there.”

Coming off a six-game season, the W.F. West has nine regular-season games scheduled and hopes to add a few postseason games to the end of that with a deep playoff run. The Bearcats begin their quest with an opening-season, non-league matchup at home against Class 3A Kelso on Sept. 3.