In the world of football, experience is everything.
Experienced players are familiar with the system and know what the coaches expect. They know their teammates, have poise under pressure and understand how to help their team win. They know what to do and when to do it.
In a word, experience wins championships.
Head coach Mitch Sanders is hoping the adage comes true for his Hood River Valley Eagles.
The team begins the 2001 football season Friday night in Bend against Mountain View.
"This is a huge year for us," Sanders said. "There's a lot of excitement surrounding this team. The whole community is expecting big things."
And why shouldn't they?
This year's squad has as much experience as any team in the Mt. Hood Conference. With 15 returning starters, including four all-conference selections, the Eagles are one of the more battle-tested teams in Oregon state.
Coming off two straight state playoff appearances, Sanders expects his senior-dominated team to rise to the occasion and get past the first round this year.
"We have very high hopes for this season," Sanders said. "We don't only expect to go to the playoffs, we think we can win a few games."
Sanders will put the ball in junior quarterback Jarrod Fogle's hands to run the double-tight, double-wing offensive system the team has employed since Sanders took over the head coaching duties in 1999. Fogle won't be asked to carry the offense, however.
That responsibility falls on senior tailback Wes Martens, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, earning him a spot on the all-conference team. Martens is regarded as the fastest player on the team, and has spent a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason.
Another offensive standout is senior fullback James Maher, who joined Martens on the 2000 all-conference team with an honorable mention, and will shoulder much of the blocking load in the backfield. Sharing time at fullback is senior Nathan Nash, a two-way starter who will open holes with his burly 230-pound frame.
"We play a smash-mouth brand of football," Sanders said. "We have a very explosive offense and we like to play physical."
Sanders said that for the running game to succeed, the Eagles will greatly rely on their offensive line, anchored by senior left tackle Miguel Silva (5'7", 246 lbs.), center Zach Lucas (6'2", 219 lbs.), junior guards Matt Cody (6'0", 200 lbs.) and Nate Detman (5'11", 200 lbs.), and junior right tackle Tommy Owyen (6'4", 292 lbs.), a two-way starter who plays nose guard on defense.
"Owyen is starting to turn some heads among college scouts," Sanders said. "He has great feet for a big kid."
Junior tight end Ryan Goe will also be called upon to help guide the offense, but will miss the first game due to injury. Senior tight end Justin Jones will step in on the right side to stabilize the position until Goe returns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles will rely on their front-line depth and all-around athleticism to squash the opposition.
Senior middle linebacker Nathan Nash, a first-team all-conference selection in 2000, is expected to dominate the center of the field, while junior Jared Gidley and senior Kyle Slining will provide strength and experience to the outside.
Junior defensive tackle Danny Phelps and senior defensive end David Fox will do their best to not allow the opponents' rushing game reach the secondary. According to Sanders, the stout 181-pound Fox is the best tackler on the team.
"Fox has the typical linebacker's body, but we prefer athleticism over strength on the line," Sanders said. "That kid can flat-out hit."
The defensive secondary is led by strong safety Martens, who will start on both sides of the ball for the first time this season, and free safety Jacobe Krizman, who Sanders calls "pound-for-pound our most physical player."
At the corners, senior returning starter Isidro Bello and first-time starter Cody Cataldo will be in charge of keeping the conference's wideouts in check.
Special teams will be left in the capable hands -- or feet -- of two of HRVHS's premier soccer stars, kicker Jordan Thompson and punter Joel Stenberg. Sanders is more than thrilled that the two footballers decided to join the team.
"Thompson gives us a huge advantage because he can kick the ball into the endzone on kickoffs," Sanders said. "He'll have a future if he works at it."
Sanders also likes Stenberg's leg because he can consistently punt the ball 30-plus yards and rarely mis-kicks.
The Eagles are hoping that these two secret weapons will help propel them to a conference title and a third straight state tournament berth.
But the entire team must do its part if the Eagles are to overcome the formidable likes of Central Catholic and Gresham.
"We're going to have to play our tails off this year," Sanders said. "But I'm confident with all the returning starters and the hard work they've done in the offseason."
Experience really does mean everything.
Just ask the coach.