The Astoria Fishermen didn't exactly break new ground last year, but they did accomplish some things that don't happen very often for the purple and gold.
Under the direction of Cowapa League co-Coach of the Year Howard Rub, the Fishermen made their first state playoff appearance since 2000, and won a post-season game for the first time since 1998.
It won't be easy, but the Fisherman are well-stocked to reel in another state playoff season.
The LeagueRub sees the Cowapa race as "very competitive."
"I think a good football team will end up on the outside looking in this year. Maybe two good teams. The teams that are going to represent the Cowapa League in the playoffs are going to be real solid and competitive.
"Scappoose has won five out of the last six titles, so you're crazy if you don't pick them to be one of the elite teams. Banks has had some recent success, and they return a lot of good players.
"Most coaches would put those two teams at the top of the list, with the rest of us trying to bridge the gap between where we're at and where they've been. I think that gap is getting bridged, so it should be a competitive race."
The OutlookAstoria is one of several teams in the Cowapa League riding the playoff fence.
And last year's state playoff experience - in addition to rejuvenating the program - makes the Fishermen a favorite to return.
"All these juniors and seniors who return from that experience want to make sure that happens again," Rub said. "We've had a little taste of it, and we'd like to taste it again."
The Players"We don't have a ton of seniors (12), and only six actually finished last season with us," Rub said. "We picked up some guys who have played in the program in the past as freshmen and sophomores, and for whatever reason didn't play last year."
Mike Mund (Sr.) returns after spending last year on the injured list; Bryce Rieck (Sr.) is back and so is Ryan Renauld (Sr.).
Astoria also picked up Cyrus Heick (Sr.) from the soccer program. The former goalkeeper will likely line up at tight end and defensive end.
At the skill positions, "We have a lot of competition. In some regard it may be hard to get everybody the ball if we're healthy and happy," Rub said.
Among others, Astoria has senior Andrew Ellsberg and juniors Brent Culver, Andy Murray and Joey Dursse, who has transferred back into the district. Fullback Josh Ray returns for his senior season.
"When you talk about everybody putting the team first, that's going to have to be the concept, because we can't have guys pouting about how much they're touching the ball," Rub said. "We have too many guys who can do good things with it."
Three QB optionsAt quarterback, Astoria has three candidates - seniors Kye Johnson and Syd Lane and junior Nathan Stinnett.
"Any three could be our starter," Rub said the first week of practice. "Each of them has flashes of brilliance. It will just be the guy who ends up being the most consistent throughout."
Nick Alfonse (Jr.) and Travis Wesely (Sr.) return at receiver, and will be joined by first-year player Matt Nunnally (Sr.). A strong junior class includes Adam Koehnke, Tony Robinson and Justin Tikkala.
The one area of concern, Rub said, is up front.
"Overall, that's our untested group," he said. "We lost a lot up front on the offensive side of the ball, with Jeff Crowley, Bryce Harris, Dan Olsen and Taylor Birdwell graduating.
"The biggest question mark in my mind is to see how we can jell and perform up front offensively," he said, adding that " (Dylan) McMurtry and Olsen are big losses on the defensive side."
Returning guards Aaron Coy and Thomas Christensen lettered last year as juniors.