WESTBY — Westby High School’s Ryan Daines already is known throughout the Coulee Conference for being a big, strong and punishing running back. Now, on the other side of the ball, he’s going to be close enough that opposing quarterbacks will be able to hear him breathe.

If that doesn’t strike fear into the opposition, it should.

Daines is moving from outside linebacker — a position where he recorded 105 tackles last season during the Norsemen’s 6-5 campaign — to strong side defensive end. His coach, Andy Hulst, believes it will be a smooth transition for the talented two-way player.

“Essentially, he’s doing the same type of responsibilities that he did at linebacker,” Hulst said. “He’ll be in a two-point stance, and he’ll be (lined up) on the tight end. It made sense because he was used to it last year. He’s bigger and stronger from last year. The transition shouldn’t be too difficult for him.”

Westby will need Daines and a number of others to step up if they are going to dethrone two-time defending Coulee champion Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. The Norsemen appear to have the talent and depth to challenge G-E-T, as Hulst said there are 21 seniors on the 60-player squad. In addition, Westby is coming off a strong finish to last season, where it went 3-1 in its last four games and finished second in the Coulee with a 4-1 league mark.

The Norsemen beat Black River Falls and Onalaska Luther to end the regular season, then bumped off perennial state power Lancaster 38-29 in the WIAA Division 5 playoffs.

“We have a lot coming back and a lot to prove this year,” said senior quarterback Alex Gluch, who passed for 1,263 yards a year ago. “We have to play a lot tougher. I feel like we played soft last year in some of our losses. We’ve been in the weight room a lot more and the guys have been getting stronger.”

Daines has certainly gotten stronger as he gained about 15 pounds during the offseason. He attributes that to using the weight room and by working hard during the track and field season this past spring.

“I wanted to get bigger and stronger for my senior year,” Daines said. “I think I accomplished those goals. I wanted to gain an advantage on my opponents. The weight room was a big part, and I got faster in that, too.”

Hulst says that he doesn’t sit down with kids and talk about how much weight each player should gain in the offseason. Daines did it on his own.

The extra weight should help him when running the ball, too. Daines rushed for 1,045 yards on 189 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. Equally impressive is the fact he did not fumble the ball.

“I think it’ll help me get and edge on my opponent’s so I can break away from a big run,” Daines said of his extra pounds.

Gluch, for one, is grateful for having a 1,000-yard rusher behind him.

“If I’m struggling passing, it’s easy for me to hand it of to Ryan and he’ll get four or five yards at a time,” Gluch said. “We’re going to pound the run until they stop us, and when they do, we’re going to air it out. It makes life easier when you have a good guy like that.”

Daines can run and catch as his numbers bear proof. He was Gluch’s top target a year ago, amassing 447 receiving yards. Westby’s No. 2 receiver was Devontae Spears, who had 298 yards.

With good numbers, depth, talent and motivation, the Norsemen believe they are ready to make a run.

“I feel like we’re right at the top with G-E-T,” Gluch said.

Zach James can be reached at Zachary.James@lee.net or via Twitter @ZacheryWJames