By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

West Salem is almost always a favorite to finish atop the league standings.

With the 2017 Greater Valley Conference offensive and defensive players of the year, Anthony Gould and Alex Hurlburt, returning, this season is no different.

“I don’t mind as a coach saying we’re talented enough to be league champions and make a playoff run,” West Salem head coach Shawn Stanley said. “I’m not scared to say that. If we don’t, we didn’t do a very good job as coaches.”

Along with Gould, who was also voted special teams return man of the year, and Hurlburt, the Titans also bring back linebacker Micah Pugh and cornerback Stanley Green, who were both selected to the All-GVC First Team defense last season.

But West Salem does have question marks entering the 2018 season. The Titans return zero starters on both the offensive and defensive line.

Hurlburt played on the defensive line last season but is moving to linebacker.

“It’s crazy to think two years in a row we replace pretty much the entire line,” Stanley said. “I’m encouraged and feel real positive about those guys but until you’re tested on a Friday night that’s the part that’s unknown.”

Senior Daniel McNeely will be counted on to lead both lines. Holden Whipple is an athletic sophomore that could break out.

West Salem’s strength is team speed as Gould and Green along with Simon Thompson and Jamal McMurrin all ran on the Titans 4×100 relay team that placed second in the OSAA Track and Field State Championships last spring.

McMurrin will play receiver and defensive back for West Salem this season. Thompson, the state champion in the 110 hurdles, is the team’s new quarterback.

But Stanley said Thompson, who has already made his mark with the Titans in previous seasons at free safety, is more than just a runner.

“He’s been the consummate team guy and waiting his turn and he can do some things that no quarterback that I’ve had can do and I’m really excited,” Stanley said. “He fit a ball in a window 40 yards down field. If he gets out in the open, there’s not a lot of guys, even on our team, that are going to catch him.”

Thompson will also continue to play defense.

“He has to for us,” Stanley said. “He’s too much of an impact player.”

The Titans return only two full-time starters on offense—Pugh at tight end and Gould at receiver.

Both will play at the next level as Pugh has committed to Air Force and Gould to Oregon State.

“Obviously people are going to try to take him away,” Stanley said of Gould. “We’re lucky enough we have some other guys and we’ve just got to be creative with where we put him.”

West Salem has one of the toughest schedules in the state, opening the season at Lake Oswego on Aug. 31 and then hosting Sheldon on Sept. 21.

“It’s not going to be a slow build up,” Stanley said. “It’s going to be one of the best teams in the state week one, which I look forward to. We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves, win or lose. I think they see it as an opportunity to play the toughest schedule we’ve ever played and we want to compete with the best and we definitely have two of them on our schedule.”