SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Olosaa Solovi, head football coach of West High School in Salt Lake City, is looking to turn his team into the juggernaut it was in the 1990s.
“When I was at West in the 90s, we were a total powerhouse,” said Solovi. “The program has been struggling the last 20 years.”
In an attempt climb back on top, Solovi has taken his team to Southern California, where they will play nationally renowned Mater Dei.
MaxPreps, a company that specializes in coverage of high school sports, currently ranks Mater Dei as the number two team in the country.
The team has held the top spot on many other occasions.
“I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play the number one team in the country,” said Solovi. “We were trying to take the next step in our program in our own state. We felt that in order for us to take that next step with the top dogs in 6A, we needed to find a national power to prep our team.”
Earlier this year, Solovi set out to find the national power willing to host West High School. He found that many nationally ranked schools were turning him down. But he says Mater Dei representatives called him and expressed a willingness to play. Solovi expected to play a Top 20 or Top 50 team so the stature of Mater Dei gave him pause.
“When they gave me a call, I was definitely like, ‘whew, I don’t know if we’re ready for the number one team in the country,’” he said with a laugh.
In the end, Solovi figured the experience would be valuable for his team.
“Once you play the best team in the country, there’s really no team you have to mentally overcome after this,” said Solovi. “I think the experience we gain from this is really gonna help us down the stretch. Eighty percent of our kids have never been on a plane or seen the beach so there was a lot more to gain for our program than just the game and preparing for football.”
Kyler Hamilton, an assistant coach with the team, thinks it will be an incredible experience for the players.
"We’re just trying to develop this winning mentality," says Hamilton. "So one way to really put that to the test and see if that’s really being embedded in our boys is, 'let’s put you up against the number two team in the nation and see if you really believe you can win against anyone."
Though the opponent is intimidating, Solovi and his players say there’s no way they’re going into the game thinking of a loss.
“I don’t think you should ever approach a game not believing you should win,” said Solovi.
“We’ll never go into a game saying that there’s no way we can win,” said Tai Rona, a running back on the team. “I think this is gonna make the team better because it will make us better mentally. We’re going up against the best team in the nation and if we can overcome this, we can overcome anything as a team.”
West High will take on Mater Dei Friday night in Southern California.