It would be easy for an uneducated football fan to look past the Hood River Valley Eagles in the Intermountain Conference this year.
The graduations of 13 seniors, including nine of 11 offensive starters, is enough to leave any coach guessing. But if you’re HRV coach Mitch Sanders, the answers are already becoming apparent.
“So far we have been very pleased with the play of our entire defense and our linemen on both sides of the ball,” said Sanders, whose 2-0 Eagles will open IMC play Friday at home against the Summit Storm.
“We still have a lot of little things to work on, but when we control the ball the way we have, we’re going to win games.”
The Eagles have already received an early-season nod from OregonLive.com, being picked to win the league. Defending league champ, Hermiston is in second, and 2002 playoff team Pendleton is in third.
After that, it’s a bit of a toss up. Crook County has a re-tooled offense to surround senior quarterback Chad Swindle, with running backs Justin Barden and Matt Bliss combining to score eight touchdowns in the Cowboys’ first two games.
Meanwhile, Hermiston enters the league season with an unproven quarterback, senior Jake Burns, along with a brand-new offensive line. But they also return a 1,000-yard rusher in Justin Ramirez.
Likewise, Pendleton will rely on its ground game, with most of the carries being handled by returning 1,000-yarder Chase Berry. Fullback Sean Orr and wideout Kipp Curtis are the Bucks’ other two offensive weapons.
Mountain View is also getting some attention in the early season predictions. After a strong late-season run last year, which landed them in the playoffs, the Cougars are hoping to squeeze into the top three.
Redmond, Summit and Bend could provide some resistance along the way, and Sanders knows none of HRV’s opponents will allow them to lose focus.
“We have to be ready every week,” he said. “There are no pushovers in the IMC.”