Drew Welch runs the ball for Estrella Foothills

Senior tight end Drew Welch runs the ball for Estrella Foothills.

Riding high off its first playoff appearance under the new coaching regime, Estrella Foothills football looks to get back to its winning ways.

The 2018 Wolves won five of their final six regular season games en route to a 6-4 record and 4A southwest regional title before falling to eventual-champion Saguaro in the first round of the state playoffs. The second region title in school history and first playoff appearance since 2015, according to senior lineman Ishmael Hart, was both a reward for a successful season and motivation to make a repeat run to the postseason.

“It was a confidence booster to us players and the coaches, and we don’t want to let that go,” Hart said.

Estrella Foothills is a vastly different team this year, and coach Derek Wahlstrom likes it that way.

The Wolves are, on paper, the defending region champions, and have a metaphorical target on their back from all the region teams they defeated last season. However, Wahlstrom likes to tell his players that last season no longer matters. From the opening whistle in the team’s season-opener at Bradshaw Mountain on August 23, the record is 0-0 and the Wolves will have to re-obtain every bit of success all over again.

“We’re not defending anything. We’re going after earning our own opportunities this time around in 2019,” Wahlstrom said.

Having graduated several key starters on both ends of the ball after last season, Wahlstrom acknowledged the team will need to have contributions from new starters.

The 2018 junior varsity Wolves went undefeated, and the coaching staff has been looking forward to seeing the stars from the JV squad perform at the next level. The returning starters have noticed the talent of the young studs, too.

“We have a lot of talent with the new guys that kind of rounds us out a little bit, so that’s been great,” senior lineman Finn Walter said.

Among the team’s early strengths could be the offensive and defensive lines, where the Wolves will hope to clog the trenches and control the flow of play. It is a senior-heavy front, according to Wahlstrom, while the juniors and sophomores fill out much of the skill positions and speed on the outside.

More importantly, entering his third season, Estrella Foothills is looking more like the tenured coach each practice. The seniors were sophomore varsity players for the coach’s first season, and have grown, both in skill and attitude, as the staff has instructed them.

“They’re probably the team that reflects my mentality and my demeanor more than seasons past. That was a cool thing. They embraced what we were bringing, and they’re continuing to build off of that,” Wahlstrom said.

Continuing under his tutelage, and riding high off a playoff season, the Wolves are confident they can get back to that point.

For the seniors, a winning season and chance to make an even further playoff run than before would be a fantastic cap to the change they have seen the Wolves make over the last three seasons.

“The senior class is the first that started with him on varsity, and they’re going to finish with him as well as we can,” senior tight end Drew Welch said. “There’s some teams we’ll have to put a big fight against, but it’s definitely realistic.”