Last year's youth has become this year's experience for the Knappa Loggers, as they prepare for the 2003 football campaign. And that's one positive for a team that struggled through a winless league season in 2002.
The Loggers were young last year, and the blue and gold will be green again this year. With only two seniors on the roster, they'll be one of the youngest teams in the Northwest League.
Knappa FootballCoach: Darrel Ferguson (11th year)
2002: 2-7, 0-6 NWL
Players to watch: Brent Brockey, Sean Ferguson, Jake Owings, Brandon Wing.
Key losses: Austin Hunsinger, Justin Lambert.
Outlook: Getting close, but still a year away from challenging Clatskanie and Warrenton.But despite being young in age, the Loggers are just fine when it comes to experience, because most of the youngsters on the roster already have a full season of varsity football under their belt.
And while on-lookers may be more concerned with who isn't there than who is, head coach Darrel Ferguson has a roster full of talent, that by 2005 could be competing for a league championship.
For the present, more size, strength and experience should definitely help the Loggers to more wins.
"The biggest thing for us was the kids' lifting weights all year," said Ferguson, as he enters his 11th year at Knappa. "They're twice as strong as last year, and we're much faster than we were a year ago. A lot of that is just the weight-lifting and all the stuff we did in the off-season."
Ferguson will run a simplified defense this year, while the Logger offense will look much the same as it did last season. Only now the players running it will know what they're doing.
"We'll run mainly the fly like we did last year," he said. "We kind of learned it last season, and we didn't run it very well. We'll run some different variations of it - going from no backs and still running the fly, to having a single back and running it."
And what better name to run the fly than Brandon Wing, who enters his junior season with the Loggers. Wing's backfield mate will be sophomore Sean Ferguson, giving Knappa one of the quickest backfields in the league.
"Our backfield is much better than it was last year," coach Ferguson said. "Wing will do a lot of running - he's our main fly-back. Then we'll run more power I than we ran last year, too. We're moving (junior) Dana Barendse to fullback, and he will be as good as anybody in the league this year."
Handing the ball to Wing and Ferguson will be senior quarterback Brent Brockey, a very capable signal-caller who didn't even play high school football until last season.
The offensive line - a weakness for the Loggers the last two years - is no longer a weakness. Knappa's front five, plus junior tight end Doug Graham, can match up with just about anybody's front five in the league.
The group includes senior guard Jake Owings, junior tackle Casey Bushnell, sophomore center Robert Rankin, junior tackle Andrew Kost and sophomore Nick Bryan, who will also start at middle linebacker. Even freshman Tyler Palek could see time.
When Brockey throws the ball, one of his primary targets - in addition to Graham - will be sophomore Donald Pitts, who saw a lot of action as a freshman in 2002.
Defensively, the Loggers "were trying to coach an NFL defense last year with basically a JV team," Ferguson said. "It just didn't work at all."
Last season, Knappa's defense was run by assistant coach Thor Ware, who left the Loggers two months ago to become the varsity football and baseball coach at Rainier.
Ware's system was a little beyond the reach of a group of ninth- and 10th-graders.
"He even had us coaches confused," Ferguson said. "We'll be going back to what we were doing the year before. Last year, we checked every formation. It might be OK if you have a real good team that did it forever, but ... we'll be a much better team defensively this year."
When Ware left for Rainier, he took with him his son Chris, who figured to play a prominent role for the Loggers.
Said Ferguson, "I guess you can't lose something you never had."
Leaguewise, the NWL looks to be dominated by Warrenton, as it has for the last three years.
But after the Warriors, "there are some teams that are down," Ferguson said. "Neah-Kah-Nie and Corbett are down, Portland Christian only had 26 kids out for football ... Clatskanie just had 35 kids out, which is unheard of at Clatskanie.
"It will be pretty tough for us to beat Warrenton or Clatskanie, and even Portland Christian will be a battle," he said.
The Loggers will face tough nonleague games with Willamina and Monroe, an 8-1 state playoff team a year ago.
And "We'll see Amity's offense when we play Willamina," Ferguson said. "Even though they don't have the personnel to run it like Amity runs it."
And the goals for the Loggers in 2003? Pretty simple, Ferguson said.
"Our goal this year is to go 5-4," said Ferguson, whose team finished 2-7 in 2002, 3-6 in 2001. The Loggers are 1-12 in league over the last two years. "We have to try and win five games this year, and I think we can. We're going to have to win a game we're not supposed to.
"The main thing is to be competitive. I don't think Warrenton will go out and take it to us in the first quarter. We'll be competitive."
And with many of their key players heading into their sophomore seasons, they'll be even more competitive in 2004 and '05.
"It's going to be enjoyable coaching this year, and we've got some good kids coming back next year," Ferguson said. "The core of our team is going to be back."