There's no need to remind the Astoria Fishermen (but we will anyway) that their last win came on Sept. 22, 2001.

The 21-14 victory over La Salle was the last time the Fishermen won a ball game. And no, the 15-game losing streak has not been fun.

You can put a positive spin on it, call it "building character" or a "learning experience," but the last year and a half has been downright painful and sometimes embarrassing for the Fishermen.

Astoria Football glanceCoach: Howard Rub (4th year)

2002: 0-9, 0-5

Players to watch: Stefan DeLoff, Sean Fabela, Mike Gallegos, Ryan Kelly.

Key losses: Orlando Andujar, Austin Covell, Dan Koehnke, Garrett Long, Luke Ness.

Outlook: Think positive: 2nd place, Cowapa League."We're not dwelling on it, that's for sure," said Astoria coach Howard Rub, as he enters his fourth year with the Fishermen. "It's the kind of thing that you don't have to say that everyone's aware of."

Rub took the Fishermen to the state playoffs in 2000, his first year at Astoria, and the Fish and their fans are excited to get back to the postseason.

"When you endure what we endured last year, everybody is real anxious for that first game to get here," he said. "We all feel like we have something to prove. When you have 20 returning lettermen and five returning coaches, everybody's pretty much on the same page."

While there are no "worst to first" predictions - as long as Scappoose is in the league - the Fishermen are ready to move up the ladder.

Whether they move up two, three, or even four spots remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The Fishermen have seen the last of the Cowapa League basement.

Various preseason predictions have Astoria finishing anywhere from second to fourth.

While it doesn't hurt to have a 6-foot, 5-inch, 315-pound transfer on the roster, the Fishermen have starters returning in virtually every area.

They all know the system, they know the past, and they're not afraid to face the future.

"We're so much farther ahead of the game than we were a year ago it's unbelievable," said Rub, who had a turnout of close to 70 players. "We've thrown some new wrinkles at 'em, but they've picked it up real well.

"The key thing is that the guys we have coming back did a great job in the off-season, building their bodies. They've really worked hard.

"(Seniors) Nate Alfonse, Nate Jump, Eric Nielson, (and juniors) Jeff Crowley and Bryce Harris have done a good job of improving themselves athletically."

It's no coincidence that every one of the above players is a lineman. Astoria's return to the land of the winning will start up front, where the Fishermen will average somewhere around 300 pounds on the offensive and defensive lines.

Added to the list will be senior Dustin Gietl, who didn't play a lot last year, but "he will be in the mix to get more playing time," Rub said. "You like to have your 6-5, 310-pound kid out there."

And then there's the gigantic Stefan DeLoff, the transfer from Georgia who grew up in the Astoria area, before moving away six years ago. DeLoff (who almost played for Knappa last year) has relatives in Knappa, and played for Logger coach Darrel Ferguson in the fifth grade.

"It's nice that he knew some of the guys from grade school, and it's been a real easy adjustment for him," Rub said. "Football's a unique game - you have to be athletic and know what you're doing. Stefan does, and he's going to be one of those transfers that will help you.

"Based on the fact that we have 20 returning lettermen, and Stefan transferring in, we certainly should be in the mix for one of the top spots in our league."

Of course - like last year - the Fishermen will be walking a thin line. A few injuries here or there, and that could put the comeback hopes on hold.

In this case, the Fishermen are hoping to get the injuries out of the way early.

Senior running back Ryan Kelly dislocated his right thumb the first week of practice and will likely miss the entire season, while junior halfback Mike Gallegos injured his right ankle and did not practice the remainder of the first week.

Both Kelly and Gallegos should have prominent roles in the Astoria offense.

"The key with Ryan is keeping him healthy, and the first day of practice, he dislocated his thumb," Rub said.

"Mike Gallegos rolled his ankle the first day, but when he's healthy, he'll be in there for sure. He's a great athlete. He will be returning punts and kicks as well."

Elsewhere, the Fishermen seem to have everything covered, with solid, experienced starters returning at every position.

Quarterback Sean Fabela returns for his senior season - "He looked great the first week, he's meeting our expectations, and that's real encouraging," Rub said.

Junior quarterback Keenan Borgardt has been recovering from a shoulder injury, but will back up Fabela when he returns.

Besides Kelly and Gallegos, the Fishermen have a host of runners in the backfield, including the A-Mac Attack - Andrew MacLean and Adam McAloney - along with junior fullbacks Mike Rieck and Cory Hissner.

Juniors Jeff McClellan and Matt Stineman will also be in the mix, as will senior running back/defensive back Digger Cokley, the state golf champion who hasn't played football since his freshman year.

There's no shortage of tight ends, with seniors Ryan Gallagher, James Jasper, Simon Merila, Joe Painter and junior Andrew Mattingly, although Gallagher and Merila are primarily defensive players.

There were some key losses to graduation, including Dan Koehnke, Garrett Long, Austin Covell and Orlando Andujar, while senior linebacker Luke Ness is suffering from a back condition that will not allow him to play football this year.

Astoria's defensive front will be tough with a lot of depth, as Dylan McMurtry and Painter will join honorable mention nose tackle Kodi Davis, along with Alfonse, Gietl, Jump, Nielson, Crowley, Harris and DeLoff.

The improved line play will "allow us to use more multiple fronts than we have in the past," Rub said.

The defensive line could also include juniors Jeremy Adams and Nate Horning.

There's a long list of players - some returning, some new - who expect to contribute this year.

Senior James Green, who transferred from Knappa last year, will see action in the secondary and at wide receiver; senior linebacker Kent Russell has looked good in practice, and McAloney returns for his third year at middle linebacker.

The secondary includes Cokley, Hissner, Gallagher, MacLean and Merila, along with Frank Febus and Darius Shirts.

First-year player Brian Hall, a senior, intercepted a pass on one of his first plays in scrimmage.

Offensively, Chris Freeman is a third-year receiver; running back Mike Roberts has been slowed by shoulder separation; and James "Rudy" Huddleston and Dan Olsen will provide depth on the line.

On special teams, Rub said there's a chance soccer player Philip Gaffney might pull double duty, handling the placekicking and punting chores in football.

Finally, the Fishermen will be looking to put fans back in the stands this year.

"It's been tremendous," Rub said. "I've been going around to businesses to solicit some advertising, and I can't tell you how much support we've received. It's another reason why this is a great place to coach."

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