- The West York High School football team is off to a 2-0 start this season.
- The Bulldogs have struggled recently, going 15-36 over the last five years, including 1-9 in 2019.
- West York has the third-most wins (471) in York County football history .
Ivan Quinones knew he had accepted a challenge when he took over the West York Area High School football program before the 2019 season.
Quinones became the Bulldogs’ head coach after a decade coaching defense at Dallastown High. In his final season with the Wildcats, Quinones served as an assistant to former West York coach Ron Miller, who got the head-coaching position with the Wildcats in 2018.
Miller led the Bulldogs on a dominant run from 2006-2014, going 86-25. In many ways, it had become the premier football program in York County.
Of course, winning had become relatively predictable at West York over the decades. The program has piled up 471 wins since it started in 1934, the third-highest total in York County history, earning numerous championships along the way. Not surprisingly, nearly every fall, Friday night home games were must-watch events in a West York community that had become passionate about football.
West York’s success, however, appeared to leave when Miller did.
That was until this season, at least. West York is off to a 2-0 start after going 1-9 a season ago. It’s a small sample, but for a team that hasn’t had a winning record in any of the past five years, going 15-36 during that span, it’s a sign of progress.
Changing the culture: When Quinones took over, he had a vision to bring the program back to prominence, but he didn’t want the players to lose sight of Bulldogs teams that filled the trophy case at the school. Those trophies serve as a reminder of the heights the program has achieved — and how far it still has to go to get back there.
“We’re not looking to change tradition; West York has a great tradition. We’re just trying to change a little bit of the culture that’s around us now,” Quinones said.
“(The players) understand the tradition and the history that has come through here,” Quinones said. “They grew up watching those guys. Coming through the youth program, a lot of them watched those guys play, so they know what it’s about and they know how hard it is to get back there, and they know they have to work hard to get there.”
Remembering the glory days: One of those players with fond memories of the West York teams that dominated York-Adams League Division II is senior safety Joey DeJesus. Before this season started, the York-Adams League Division II all-star defender made it a point to show his teammates videos of the 2012 Bulldogs team that went 13-1 and reached the state playoffs.
“We pulled up the 2012 West York video on YouTube and just showed them what it was like on a game day for the old West York,” DeJesus said. “That’s what we’re trying to get back to and we’re trying to keep that and elevate that into practices as well.”
Improvise, adapt and overcome: So far, it’s worked. The Bulldogs have won a pair of close, high-scoring affairs during a 2020 season that has seen two games postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the uncertainty of the season, Quinones is proud of the way his young team has responded.
To give inexperienced players the feeling of varsity football, West York spent the Friday nights they had off on the field under the lights, practicing with band noise playing through the speakers to simulate a game-night atmosphere.
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“Our mantra all offseason has been to improvise, adapt and overcome, and that’s what we have hung our hat on,” Quinones said. “We just have to continue to adapt and making them resilient through all of this is really what our focus has been. We talk to them about what being resilient means and the benefits that’s going to have for them, far after they stop playing football.”
The wins boost spirits: DeJesus said the early victories have fueled the players to buy into the coach’s philosophy even more and increase their intensity and preparation for each practice and game. The senior safety added that the players recognize how important the momentum of success is and they don’t want to let the strong start slip away and fall back into a losing streak.
“It’s been a lot better than last year,” DeJesus said. “It’s not (fun) losing, it’s a lot better when you win. (The players have) high spirits and bring that toward practices. More people are engaged and ready to come to practice now that we’re starting this train.”
Not getting carried away: The Bulldogs aren’t getting carried away with their early success. West York’s two wins came by eight total points against Susquehannock and Eastern York, which are a combined 0-7. The next three weeks will be a better test for the Bulldogs if they want to prove that they are ready to take the next step on a possible return to glory. Those games are against Kennard-Dale, reigning Y-A D-II champ York Suburban and undefeated New Oxford.
Quinones said the team is only worried about what they can control and they can only play who is on their schedule. The 2020 Bulldogs know that if they want future teams to look up their highlight videos for motivation, the victories need to continue.
Not worried about others: It’s been a few years since anyone outside of the program had expectations for the Bulldogs, but they aren’t concerned about what people who don’t wear navy blue and white on Fridays believe about them. To get the program back to respectability, a culture change was needed. Quinones said he thinks this team found its own motivation to spark the shift.
“They all believe that we can be successful,” Quinones said. “They have kind of taken on the mentality that it’s everybody against us. They have faith in themselves. They believe in themselves. They encourage themselves and all of us as a program. Whatever people outside of here say, they’re not worried about that. They’re worried about what they’re doing and how we’re doing.”
— Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.