Sophomore Taysen Solie

Sophomore Taysen Solie gets ready for the season at West Point football practice.

After months of waiting—and days after other teams even played their first regular season games—Avondale’s West Point High football team finally suited up in pads in preparation for its first varsity game.

Oct. 23 won’t be just the first game of the season, it’s the first varsity football game ever for West Point High School, which opened in fall 2019.

Part of the Tolleson Union High School District, West Point’s team activities were delayed longer than most Maricopa County schools due to district regulations. Zoom meetings and online football drills dominated the summer and first weeks of the 2020-21 school year. Even so, the new team with no seniors is hopeful to make an instant impact when it takes the field

“We just want to try and win every game and make the playoffs, set a culture,” junior quarterback Caleb Miller said. “If we do good this year, it’s going to be in the history of this school.”

“I guess some people are doubting us, but we want to see how we stack up,” added junior defensive end Kaiden Kratovil.

The Dragons are led by first-year coach Jerry Ball, who is no stranger to leading new programs to success. Ball was on the coaching staff when Anthem Prep began its football program years ago. He also had other stops, including Arizona Christian University and Copper Canyon High School, along the way.

“My long-term plan was always to get to a point of being a head coach, and this job was a perfect fit because I had previous experience with young guys building a program, putting your stamp on them early and building a culture,” Ball said.

The Dragon players said they took to his coaching style immediately. Players describe his coaching method as intense but helpful.

Ball also teaches physical education for West Point outside of coaching and has held players accountable for strength training and conditioning while not allowed to do in-person team activities.

“He’s very uplifting, very positive and gives us a lot of energy,” Taysen Solie said of Ball. “Things are hard right now, but he’s helping a lot.”

Ball also teaches physical education for West Point outside of coaching and has held players accountable for strength training and conditioning while not allowed to do in-person team activities.

“He’s very uplifting, very positive and gives us a lot of energy,” sophomore tight end Taysen Solie said of the coach. “Things are hard right now, but he’s helping a lot.”

And though Ball is still teaching his system to a new group of players, there is some continuity and promise with the Dragon players. West Point’s current roster played junior varsity together last season. Ball was impressed with their skill, especially defensively. He said he saw players “flying to the ball” in game film. And with another year of development and his new scheme, the offense will hopefully follow suit.

“We teach them that there’s an urgency here to do big things, so the intensity is good and that’s promising,” Ball said.

There is still a lot of work for the Dragons to do before the season begins. After a long break, Ball does not want to overwhelm or overexert his players, preferring to slowly ease into the game plan and specific plays. There is still time to prepare for the team’s first game, an Oct. 23 home game against fellow TUHSD school Sierra Canyon.

The energy was palpable at West Point’s first full-out varsity practice, and the kids are excited for the chance to insert the Dragons as a local football mainstay. The first senior class will not graduate from the new school until 2022. 

Though COVID-19 tossed the 2020 fall athletics season into a spiral of confusion, the players want to make the most of the opportunity to take the field and launch the program.

“It’s the first practice with pads, so we’re behind,” Miller said. “But we’re just trying to come in here and build something.”