Each year that coach Adrian Gonzales has been at the helm of the West Las Vegas football, the Dons have taken the season a step farther.
At first, it was simply changing the attitude, then it was reaching playoffs.
And now entering his sixth season, Gonzales and West are looking to take that next step and reach the state championship game, and perhaps even win it.
“We have a lot of kids that experienced our deep run that we had last year and that helps us for this coming year,” he said. “Our senior class has been playing for four years. Up to this point, they’ve seen it all. They’re battle-tested and comfortable in what we do in all three phases in the game.”
The big change with the Dons is the attitude, not just among themselves, but of opponents, as well, Gonzales said.
Opposing teams can no longer chalk up a meeting with West Las Vegas as a sure win.
“That’s what I wanted to establish,” he said. “You’re going to have to earn this win. You’re going to have to go through a fight. We’re not viewed as a cupcake game or cakewalk game. I hope we’re viewed as a legitimate threat. Given what we’ve been able to accomplish so far, I think that’s the case.”
The Dons reached the Class 3A semifinals last season and now want more.
“Our seniors were seventh-graders when we took over,” Gonzales said. “They don’t know anything else. I was thinking the other day, this class could be the first to never miss the playoffs at West. That can’t be said that much. This class has that chance to do something.”
West Las Vegas returns about six starters on both sides of the ball, led by senior quarterback John Balizan (6 feet, 3 inches), who is entering his third season as the starter. He threw for 2,552 yards last season, with 24 touchdowns.
Although three of his top four receivers graduated, returning senior Estevan Gonzales (5-9, 175) caught 40 passes for 553 yards.
The Dons do have a big hole in their backfield as their top two rushers who gained nearly 1,800 yards between them are also gone. Gonzales may see some time in the backfield, as will sophomore Damien Gallegos (5-9, 160).
Senior tight end Isaiah Dead (5-9, 155) has been more of blocker, but he’ll be expected to get downfield more to open up the offense.
Now that West Las Vegas has gotten within sniffing distance of a championship, coach Gonzales said it is up to the seniors to carry this team to the next step.
“It’s going to take our senior class,” he said. “Every year, we put the responsibility on them. It’s come to be expected, that’s the attitude that the kids in the program have. To be successful is expected. We’re not trying to get there any more.”
It says a lot considering where the program was six years ago.
“It’s rewarding to an extent,” Gonzales said. “Within our program, there are certain expectations and although we’ve taken steps, we haven’t met it all.”
So the goal remains what it has been since he took over.
“To win it all,” Gonzales said. “Be the first team in the history of our school to win it all.”