PORTAGE — The calendar still says July, but the countdown to high school football season has officially begun.
The WestPAC held its media day on Monday at Portage's football stadium, allowing coaches and key players to answer questions and speak with reporters in preparation for the new season.
The conference is comprised of football teams from Berlin, Conemaugh Township, Conemaugh Valley, Ferndale, Meyersdale, North Star, Portage, Rockwood, Shade and Windber.
The consensus among many of the coaches in attendance was that the usual suspects — teams like Portage, Windber, North Star and Berlin — will, once again, be the teams to beat entering the season.
Berlin is coming off an 11-2 season that culminated in the District 5 Class A championship and an appearance in the PIAA state playoffs.
Mountaineers head coach Doug Paul was away on vacation Monday, but seniors E.J. Custer and Nick Stockwell were on hand to represent the team.
"We've been working really hard and we're definitely coming along as a team," Custer said. "Obviously, we can't play into the hype. We try to keep a level head and just play our game, don't get caught up in what the media and other people are saying. But we are looking forward to the season and are ready to defend our title."
Here's what some of the other players and coaches had to say about their teams and the state of the WestPAC:
Portage coach Gary Gouse: "Windber is always up there. They have a lot of great players back. Berlin has some kids who are coming back. They're always good and their program is always going in the right direction. North Star is going to be decent again. Those are the top teams that we have to battle. And Meyersdale is going to be much better than what they were. There's not really any easy games on the schedule."
Conemaugh Township senior Bruno Rosa: "Last year we had a pretty rough season. We have a lot of guys who are working hard and we're hoping to turn things around and have a better record than last season. It makes it easier when you have guys around you who want to work hard and win games, which we do. After going 3-7 last year, that just wasn't acceptable. We want to turn it around and have a lot better season. We have a bunch of young hard-working guys who will go out there and give it their all."