ZEELAND, Mich. — As the Zeeland West football program enters its 16th overall season, John Shillito does as well at head coach.
This season, Shillito says he's excited to see what his team can do, especially in the trenches.
"We're a little bigger than we were last year and actually defensively up front we're probably bigger than we've been since 2015," Shillito added, "there's some physicality in the guys up front."
Dux senior Bobby Clendenon is one of the eight returning starters for the program in 2021 and will be one of the main pieces of the offensive and defensive lines.
"As a team we've gotten a lot bigger this year and a lot stronger," Clendenon said, "we've increased size on both the offensive line and defensive line, that will help a lot this year."
Starting quarterback Carson Gulker has graduated but the Dux will start junior Trevor Waller under center.
"We obviously miss the guy on the trigger that has been there for so long," Shillito said about Gulker, "but Trevor Waller has really stepped in and really done a nice job at quarterback with the things that he does well, he's fast and he made good decisions in our scrimmage."
Zeeland West will jump right into the season in week one against East Grand Rapids on the road on Thursday night.
"It should be a good match, we played them on JV two years ago, we had a game winning drive in the fourth quarter against them," said senior lineman Caleb Vasquez, "it was a really close game and a fun game. I think that was our first game that year, too, so we got off to a good start and hoping that this year too."
Coach Shillito has nothing but respect for Pioneer head coach Casey Longo and the program at East.
"Their coaching staff is outstanding, the tradition there is so deep and Casey has done a nice job there, they play really, really hard, especially defensively."
Unfortunately, after Thursday's opener, the Dux will go into an early bye week in week two after being unable to find an opponent.
While the coaches and players all say they wanted to play, they were unable to find a team to play, though three or four east side programs were open just weeks ago and in talks to play.
Shillito and the team will now have an extra week to prepare for Muskegon in week three and Mona Shores in week four.
"If we can get a week two, we'd love to have it but if we don't we're just going to practice hard for Mona and Muskegon," Clendenon added, "those are important games coming up."
The program has always struggled to schedule non-conference opponents, according to Shillito and says the programs they were in talks with to play ended up finding closer teams for week two.
"We kind of got ambushed, we thought we'd have more options," he chuckled, "it's a mixed bag, we'd really like to have two games under our belt before we play Muskegon and Mona Shores but at the same point, it gives us an extra week to prepare for them."
The Dux finished the 2020 season 5-1 overall with the lone loss coming 15-14 to Muskegon before their playoff hopes were dashed due to COVID-19 protocols.