More experience with plenty of speed will once again make the Knappa Loggers a state playoff contender in Northwest League football.
The Loggers are coming off a strong 2004 season, which included a win over Warrenton in the fourth week, the Warriors' first league loss since 1999.
Knappa (6-1 in league) eventually finished second behind Vernonia and nailed down its first post-season spot since 2000. Unfortunately, the Loggers couldn't keep pace with Nyssa in a 17-0 first-round loss to the Bulldogs.
"I don't know if we're stronger than we were last year, but we have quite a few kids with an extra year under their belt, especially in the backfield," said Knappa coach Darrel Ferguson.
The League"I definitely think Warrenton is tougher this year," Ferguson said. "They've got some good players. Vernonia may have taken a step back by losing Travis (Gwin), some of the linemen and (quarterback) Eric Schmidlin.
"I would have to say Warrenton and Clatskanie (as the top two teams). Warrenton's in the top two every year.
"Another team that scares everybody is Portland Christian. They can tattoo you for a lot of yards.
"Their quarterback is back, and I thought he was as good as I've seen.
"Neah-Kah-Nie has (Jake) Jordan, and he's a game-breaker; and Corbett will be better than they were last year."
The OutlookWhile the Loggers lost some key potential returners (Tony Tischer, Steve Brandon, Joe Strickland), they still have plenty of talent coming back - enough to nail down third place in the NWL, and maybe even make another run at second.
"As coaches, we feel that we're battling for that third playoff spot," Ferguson said. "We lost a lot defensively, but I think we can score some points."
The PlayersSenior Sean Ferguson returns as the starting quarterback, with sophomore Gary Aho as a running back and No. 2 quarterback.
Steven Maki (Sr.), a second-year player, "is very fast - one of the fastest kids in the league," coach Ferguson said. "Maki is flat fast, but after 15 yards, Steve Bokor (Jr.) eats up anybody. He's real fast and would beat anybody over 100 yards.
"Skill-wise, with Sean, Bokor and Maki - the last time we had something like that was when we had Mike Oien in '96. We haven't had a couple running backs, speedwise, like we have now."
Also back is Donald Pitts (Sr.), Brian Montgomery (Sr., moved to tight end) and Derek Wall (So.), who will quarterback the junior varsity team.
Knappa lost all-league linemen Dana Barendse, Casey Bushnell and Andrew Kost, but see the return of seniors Jacob Bushnell, Gary Newberry, center/nose guard Robert Rankin and Jordan Shear.
Astoria graduate Ronnie Kelly will be working with the Logger linemen through September.
Knappa was experimenting with a Wing T formation in the pre-season.
"We won't run it until we feel comfortable we can run the thing," Ferguson said. "The weakest spot on the team right now is the offensive line, and we'd run a Wing T to put some deception in the backfield, because we have some under-sized linemen.
"We still run the fly and the Power I well, and if our line can come together and play on the same page, we're going to score quite a few points this year, just by having two backs on the field who can break it from 99 yards away."