As a youngster, Cole Pouliot could see the Friday night lights from his house, not far west of Memorial Stadium.
West Albany High football grew on him, and the sport had his heart soon after that.
“Ever since my mom would let me go to the games I’ve been here,” Pouliot said. “I just kept showing up. I never stopped. I’ve been in love with football since I was 5 years old. I just never stopped, and I don’t foresee an end in the near future.”
Fast forward almost three decades, and Bulldogs football is still a big part of his life.
In his 17th year on the staff and fourth as West’s defensive coordinator, Pouliot heads a unit that leads the 5A classification in fewest points allowed. The Bulldogs (9-1) have given up more than seven points just three times.
“He can just look at an offense and know exactly who their number-one guy is, what their tendencies are,” said West senior defensive lineman Kyle Hutson. “I don’t know, he’s just crazy. He watches so much film and he picks apart every single detail and puts together up an amazing plan for us. He makes it easy for us.”
West goes to Mid-Willamette Conference rival Silverton (9-1) on Friday night for a state quarterfinal, trying to reach the semifinals for the seventh time during Pouliot’s tenure in the program.
A West Albany math teacher and alum, Pouliot joined the coaching staff the fall after his high school graduation in 2002 and has been with the program ever since.
He was the offensive line coach when the Bulldogs reached the state championship game three straight years (2006-08) and won two titles. He was the outside linebackers coach in 2013, when West won again before heading to 6A for four school years.
This fall, in their return to 5A, the Bulldogs have piled together experience, versatility, chemistry and depth to make another playoff run.
“You combine their talent with coach Pouliot’s defensive mind, the staff on the defensive side of the ball, I think that’s why we’ve been effective this year,” said West head coach Brian Mehl.
The Bulldogs’ strong showing on defense was well represented in the Mid-Willamette’s all-conference teams.
Hutson, fellow seniors Cassius McGinty (defensive back) and Drew Toland (linebacker) and junior defensive back Porter Phillips were named to the first team; senior defensive back Ezra Lopez and junior lineman Austin Leeper were second-team selections; and senior linebackers Tanner Curr and Eli McSpaden and junior lineman James Burwell received honorable mention.
Pouliot was named the conference’s co-assistant coach of the year along with Silverton’s Matt Craig.
The Bulldogs started the season with a strong base of experience on defense.
Lopez says that experience and chemistry have been big factors.
“We communicate a lot, so we’re all always on the same page,” he said. “Even in practice, when we all know what we’re doing we just overtalk and make sure everyone knows their assignments. I think that’s really what helps us. I can jump a slant and know that somebody has me behind.”
Added Curr: “I think it’s just all the teammates working together. We have a good bond. We’ve been playing together since we were kids.”
Pouliot says building toward success started with the players getting in shape in the offseason then watching game film and practicing hard once the season was underway. Pouliot and the players have lunch and watch film together three days a week.
“We didn’t change a lot of what we do, so the guys were familiar with it. We were kind of more fine-tuning than installing stuff,” the coach said, adding that the experience and chemistry made communication easier and allowed the players to just go play.
Mehl said he believes the team played good defense last year, while allowing an average of 27.2 points in a 4-6 season. West had two shutouts and held six teams to 22 points or under.
This season, the Bulldogs have given up 79 points in 10 games, with no more than 21 points allowed in any contest. Mehl says, “I think this is by far our best defense since 2013.”
Mehl points to the defensive line as a strength, and that there are playmakers at every level of the defense.
Hutson and Leeper have been the stalwarts at defensive end. Hutson and McGinty are three-year starters. Burwell (at nose tackle), Lopez and Toland have been pleasant surprises.
McGinty and Phillips have shown an ability to play both linebacker and in the defensive backfield when injuries have cropped up or when adjustments are made to an opposing offensive system.
“Cassius and Porter, we play them in all sorts of different roles,” Pouliot said. “So their ability to play in the box or play a deep safety, or play man coverage, those guys are so versatile it’s easy for us to have the same 11 guys on the field but run a lot of different defensive concepts.”