As the largest school in the Northern Region, winning football seems like it should be Westfield High School’s birthright.
But sheer size doesn’t always equal dominance. For example, T.C. Williams and Annandale, second and fifth in terms of size within the region, have struggled to win consistently.
But Westfield, founded in 2000, usually wins. The program boasts a 117-29 all-time record heading into tonight’s game at Chantilly, and it only has lost nine home games (including playoffs) since the start of the 2007 season. Two former players are in the NFL — Eddie Royal of San Diego Chargers and Evan Royster of Washington Redskins — and each has had his number retired.
It all comes together to make for the most electric Friday night atmosphere in Northern Virginia — thousands of fans, a rowdy student section, a Rose Bowl Parade-bound marching band and a team of passionate parents and booster club members manning the concessions.
(There are two regular season home games left — Oct. 19 against Oakton and a week later against Centreville.)
“Winning certainly helps that atmosphere. The product that gets put on the field comes from a lot of hard work from January until the game, and people appreciate being a part of something winning,” said second-year head coach Kyle Simmons, from his black-and-gold office during the week leading up to the Bulldogs’ 35-3 win against Fairfax on Sept. 28. “I’m always impressed with the number of people I hear about or run into who don’t have kids who go here anymore that come to the games. It’s kind of their Friday night thing.”
A 17-1 record under his watch doesn’t hurt, either.
It’s Friday Night!
The voice of the Bulldogs, Lou Nistler, does his part to keep the crowd engaged — beyond just announcing down and distance.
He’s known for bellowing “It’s third down!” and making up nicknames for certain players — calling former diminutive wide receiver Artie Pickett “The Big Guy” after every catch, and current 5-foot-3 junior running back Brian Garland “Goodbye Garland” when he makes a long run.
Nistler’s been manning the public address microphone at Westfield games for eight years. It’s a chance for him to take on an alter-ego after spending the week in the subdued role as the executive director of the region’s Parkinson Foundation.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s really about making the fans and the students happy,” he said. “They like to have an announcer who gets them all excited.”
Putting the sizzle in high school stadium food
Senior quarterback Chris Mullins is proud of helping the Bulldogs to a 5-0 record halfway through the season. He is one of the top passers in the competitive Concorde District — having thrown 11 touchdowns and just one interception — and looks to have the team rolling to yet another postseason appearance. But unless the Bulldogs win a state title under his watch, which would be the school’s third to go with championships in 2003 and 2007, it’s quite possible potatoes will be his legacy.
Mullins’ grandparents run Swaz Potato Farms in Hatfield, Mass., and ever since he became a member of the Westfield team in 2010, his family has donated about 250 pounds of its produce per game to the school’s booster club. In turn, the potatoes fuel the home games’ best culinary attraction — the fresh-cut French fry stand run by the club. For $5, you get a bag of the hot, salty treats, and the money goes directly to help fund the school’s athletic program. Ironically, Mullins never has tasted them, because by the time the game ends, there never are any left.
“They smell good,” Mullins said, laughing. “I guess that’s all I get.”
Blowing off steam — with permission
Although football is the main attraction, the chance to let loose at a school-sanctioned event brings out a boisterous student section called “The Dog Pound.“
“Friday night football games are one of the best things I’ll remember from senior year in high school,” said Katie Manning, her blond hair streaked with red to match her crimson outfit during a night honoring two members of the student body who passed away recently. “If you’re not here, I’m not sure what you’re doing [on Friday night].”
Cheering for Westfield is a physical event.
“I’ll probably feel terrible tomorrow morning. My throat’ll hurt, my head’ll hurt, my ears will be ringing,” Karan Suryakant said. “But it’s all worth it.”
Aside from touchdowns by Dalaun Richardson, Garland, Devon Burns and Tyler Thrasher-Walker, the highlight of the game for the student section seemed to be a rendition of “The Interlude Dance,” a hyper, bouncing, waving, clapping two-minute routine performed to the techno sounds of Attack Attack!
Royster, who was on-hand to give a pre-game speech and see his No. 24 retired in a halftime ceremony, said he thought the students were “a little rowdier in my day.”
The student section keeps Terri Towle, the director of student activities, on her toes.
“Monday morning, we’re already thinking about the next week’s game,” she said. “They come to me [with a plan] and it starts again.”
“You’re coming down that hill, everyone’s screaming, you go through the gate, and run through the banner. You run through the band and come around the corner and see the student section going crazy, and after that, you’re ready to go,” said junior tight end Nick Pezdek.
It all begins three hours before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff with the band and the team warming up; boosters and volunteers making last-minute adjustments to sponsor banners; raising flags, setting up picnic tables; getting oil to the proper temperature for the fries and starting the grill, said booster head John Cleveland, 47. It’s his last year, so he’d love to go out with a great season.
“We’ll have food ready and waiting when the gates open at 6 [p.m.],” he said, beginning to list everyone’s responsibilities. “We want this to be a great experience for our fans, and create excitement for them and our 50 to 75 volunteers who show up on Friday night.”
By 7:18 p.m., the line for fries already is 10-deep.
A minute later, the band — which last week was invited to the 2014 New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. — arrives, led by a 20-man drumline. It’s so large — about 200 members — it can bisect the field along the 50-yard line standing shoulder to shoulder, five across.
By 7:23 p.m., Nistler can see the team marching down the hill from the locker room and begins his script: “It’s Friday Night…”
At that point, everything has gone according to script, and it’s up to the Bulldogs to execute on the field.