Gladstone expects to contend in a balanced league

GLADSTONE - The Gladstone Gladiators are hopeful that a veteran lineup and a super tough preseason schedule will translate into a state playoff berth as they compete in the new 4A football classification in 2006.

The Glads have plenty of experience, with nine offensive players returning with starting experience and six defensive players returning with starting experience.

And they've certainly played a tough schedule, battling sixth-ranked Yamhill-Carlton, ninth-ranked Seaside and seventh-ranked Astoria in consecutive games.

And despite losing all three preseason games, the Gladiators have demonstrated that they have the potential to become a pretty good ball club. Jordan Aldredge rushed for over 100 yards and he and Joe Kociemba returned kickoffs for touchdowns in a 47-28 loss to Yamhill.

Seaside needed a late-game kickoff return to the end zone to steal a 28-21 win from Gladstone. Gladstone quarterback Mitch Foteff rushed for over 200 yards, as the Glads out-gained the Gulls by nearly 100 yards in total offense.

And the Glads out-gained the Fishermen - with 320 yards in offense - in last Friday's 50-27 loss at Astoria.

'The physical gifts are here,' said Gladstone first-year coach Jon Wolf. 'There is talent. We have kids that are good football players. They just need to believe in themselves, their teammates and their coaches. Believing that we can get it done will be a big part [of how successful Gladstone will be].'

Wolf says that his athletes are stronger because he's had a bigger commitment to off-season conditioning in the weight room.

'Last year we had maybe 10 players make 25 or more summer workouts,' Wolf said. 'This year it was more like 45.'

Gladstone's new league, the Capital Conference, appears to be very balanced. Stayton is the top team returning to the conference and the Eagles' were many people's preseason pick to win the conference. They made the Class 3A playoffs as the conference's No. 3 seed a year ago, and they've got a number of returning players.

But the Eagles have stumbled in preseason, losing to Philomath 20-19, Yamhill-Carlton 54-22 and to Sweet Home 8-6.

Sisters was the Capital Conference's top seed in 2005; Sweet Home was the No. 2 seed.

Cascade was ranked 14th in last week's Class 4A preseason poll.

'I've seen some film on Cascade,' said Foteff. 'And from what I've seen, they're a much slower team than we are.'

'Speed-wise, we're quicker than most [teams],' Wolf said.

Cascade has gone 2-1 in preseason, with a 24-19 loss to Seaside, and routs of Philomath (39-6) and Elmira (41-8).

North Marion is the only Capital Conference team that has made it through preseason unbeaten. The Huskies have wins over Taft (28-6) and Banks (31-8).

'I think La Salle will be our toughest competition,' said Foteff.

Staying healthy will be a key for the Gladiators. They've got a number of players who go both ways.

The Gladiators return two players who earned Tri-Valley League all-star honors a year ago, linebacker/fullback/punter Nick Cieloha (5-11, 210) and center/linebacker Drew McNall (5-10, 195).

Other starters returning to the Gladiators' offensive lineup include: Aldredge (6-1, 215 TB), Kenny Manley (6-1, 175, WR), Kociemba (6-0, 175, WR/kicker), Ryan Tracy (6-4, 255, OT), Devon Kennedy (5-11, 190, OG) and Foteff (5-10, 180, QB).

Manley, Kociemba, Foteff and Cieloha started on defense last season; Maxwell missed last year because of injury, but saw some starting action as a sophomore.

Kociemba, Manley and Aldredge have been starting safeties this fall. Cieloha has been starting at linebacker. Tracy and Tony Jackson (5-10, 190) return to start in the defensive line.

'I think the keys for us will be to have more take-aways than our opponents, that we stay healthy, and that we continue with a strong work ethic,' said Wolf. 'And we need to develop great team chemistry.

'I think we have a shot [at making the playoffs] if we have kids caring more about their teammates than themselves, and playing as a team.'

The Gladiators play at Estacada in this Friday's Capital Conference opener.

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