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Buchanan navigates a tricky season

Banks football is struggling this year. That isn't news to anyone. What is news, however, is that a small but vocal group of Banks supporters are calling out head coach Ben Buchanan, suggesting that he has given up on the season and, in the process, given up on the team's 17 seniors.

Of course, Buchanan scoffs at the notion, as do the majority of Braves fans. After all, this is a coach with 37 wins and four playoff appearances in his eight-year tenure at Banks.

The main point of contention for critics seems to be that a number of sophomores and juniors have leapfrogged their senior counterparts on the depth chart, most notably quarterback Gabe Linehan, who earned the starting job at the expense of two older and more experienced players.

For Buchanan, the issue is a difficult one. This isn't college or the pros, where the most talented players earn starting jobs regardless of seniority. This is high school football - and small town high school football, no less - where priority typically goes to the team's upperclassmen, who have presumably come up through the program and paid their dues.

So where does a coach draw the proverbial line in the sand? When does it stop being about rewarding seniors simply for being seniors? When does it become about getting the best possible players on the field, regardless of age?

For Buchanan and the 2006 Banks team, that time is now. The Braves are 0-7 overall and 0-2 in Cowapa play, with perhaps only one more winnable game on the schedule. By even the most modest standards, this could be considered a rebuilding year for the Braves, who have just nine combined seasons of varsity experience on their 40-man roster and only one returning starter from last year.

With game experience in such short supply and losses piling up at an alarming rate, Buchanan's focus is two-fold - get this year's team back on track and also keep an eye on the future.

'The kids haven't given up and the coaching staff has definitely not given up,' he said on Thursday, prior to the Braves' 49-12 loss to Astoria. 'I have never given that impression to the kids. I'm just trying to find the best 11 kids I can on the field, and if that means putting underclassmen out there, then so be it.'

In the case of Linehan, it appears the young quarterback has become the scapegoat for a few frustrated fans. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, the 16-year-old Linehan has the frame, the arm and the DNA to develop into a top-flight quarterback. Even casual football fans will recognize that last name - Linehan's two brothers, Cole and Josh, both play Division I college football at Oregon and Oregon State, respectively; his father, Ron, played at Idaho under Dennis Erickson; and his uncle, Scott, is an NFL head coach with the St. Louis Rams.

It certainly doesn't take much deductive reasoning to see why Buchanan went with Linehan at quarterback - the sophomore has a virtually unlimited ceiling in terms of development. In two years, Braves fans may well be hailing him as the savior of the Banks program.

But such thinking still requires a pretty major leap in logic: that all three quarterbacks were on equal footing when Buchanan made his decision to go with the young gun over the more experienced signal callers.

'The quarterback position was narrowed down from three to one over a three-game period,' he explained. 'They all had a look. They were evaluated and we made the right choice.'

So maybe it's time for those few disgruntled fans to give it a rest and let these kids - sophomores, juniors and seniors alike - finish the season without anonymous sniping.

'These kids are doing a heck of a job keeping their chins up and battling,' said Buchanan. 'They are not quitters.'

And neither is their head coach.

Zack Palmer is the News-Times' sports editor. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..