Fall classes have yet to begin at HRV, but the members of the football team have already been doing plenty of chemistry homework.
Feelings of hope, excitement and redemption are all prevalent on the roster during the early season as the Eagles prepare for a shift of conference and a shift in attitude.
After a disappointing 2001 campaign, which saw a talented yet volatile Eagles squad underachieve and finish 3-6, coach Mitch Sanders and his troops are determined to remain focused and make their first year in the Intermountain Conference one to remember.
“The best thing about this group is that they work really well together,” said the fourth-year head coach, who welcomes back 13 seniors, including signal-caller Jarrod Fogle and wing back Jacobe Krizman.
“Last year’s team probably had the most talent I’ve coached here at HRV, but we didn’t make the playoffs,” he said. “I think it all comes back to team chemistry, and that may be the main thing that separates this year from last.”
Sanders and his coaching staff have been most impressed with the team’s attitude and work ethic during the first three weeks of practice, and believe that their smash-mouth brand of football will thrive in 2002 with large, experienced lines on both sides of the ball.
“We’re going to be very good up front this year,” Sanders said. “The lines are going to be very solid and also very deep. With guys like Nate Dethman, Tommy Owyen, Matt Cody and Danny Phelps leading the way, we plan to see a lot of big holes on offense and very few on defense.”
Also joining the fray in the trenches this year will be senior tight end/linebacker Jared Gidley, junior Jorge Lujano and sophomores Zach Royal and Dago Rivera.
The primary beneficiaries of the beefed-up line will be Krizman and junior Ryan Flory, who will handle most of the carries on offense, along with senior newcomer Sam Murillo and senior returnee Chris Searles, who missed 2001 due to injury.
Junior fullbacks Nigel Bond and Luke McCarthy will help the wings break through the line, while tight ends Gidley, Dominic Buttaccio and Noel Thomas will look for passes in the slot. Speedsters Krizman and Flory will also offer deep-threat options for Fogle.
“I really like our receiving corps this year,” said the second-year starting quarterback. “Our offense is going to be pretty explosive this year, and I’m confident that when I throw the ball up there, these guys are going to catch it.”
Fogle said he has worked diligently to strengthen his arm during the offseason, and has also increased his speed and quickness by working out every day.
“Everyone on this team has been working out hard since last year,” he said. “We want to be No. 1 in the conference. That’s always been our goal, and now that we’re seniors, we want to do everything we can to make it happen. We’ll do anything we have to this year to win.”
That seems to be the overriding attitude of this senior-led group.
“We’re shooting high this year,” said Cody, who will play guard on offense and outside linebacker on defense. “The IMC title is our goal, and if we play to our ability and work together, we know we can get there.”
The two most daunting IMC teams are perennial powers Pendleton and Bend, but Crook County, Redmond and Mountain View have also been traditionally very strong.
And, although Cody and the Eagles haven’t seen most of the IMC teams head-to-head, they are confident going into battle with what they have this year.
“Unity is our biggest strength,” he said. “When our first team is in there, it flows very quick and very clean. We need to step it up a million times more, though, to get where we want to be. But we believe in ourselves.”
Coach Sanders is no less enthusiastic, and believes the team has already shown enormous promise in the early going. Starting lineups were ironed out at last Friday’s Centennial Jamboree, and a few changes will be evident.
On the defensive side, Krizman will shift from safety to middle linebacker, and will be joined by Gidley and Cody on the outsides.
Junior Rocky Level will step in as the team’s strong safety, while Murillo will likely play free safety.
“Sam has really impressed us,” Sanders said of the former JV soccer star. “He runs sideline to sideline and has showed a lot of heart. He’s all over the field, which is what we need at that position.”
HRV will take on long-time rival The Dalles at 7 p.m. this Friday at Henderson Stadium in the season’s first game (see preview on this page). Benson of Portland will visit Hood River on Sept. 13, and the IMC conference season will kick off Sept. 20 on the road against Summit of Bend.