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by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Lake Oswego Lakers coach Steve Coury celebrated after last year's championship game. Coury is not letting his health concerns interfere with his team's chances to stay undefeated.The story for Saturday’s 1 p.m. Class 6A football state championship showdown between Lake Oswego and Sheldon at Jeld-Wen Field is the rematch of last year’s finalists.

The Lakers pounded the luckless Irish 47-14 in that one, and the losers surely haven’t forgotten.

But in the subplot somewhere is the health of Steve Coury, whose portfolio in a sterling 20-year run as Lake Oswego’s head coach is unparalleled in this era.

For nearly four years, Coury, 55, has been dealing with the effects of Behcet’s disease, a rare immune-system condition that attacks mucous membrane and often leaves the mouth and nose area full of sores and the body fatigued.

“It’s not something that will kill me,” Coury said Monday before the Lakers’ practice session, “but it’s something I’ve been battling. And there never are any easy answers to fix it.”

For three years, Coury would have an episode about every nine months lasting for more than a week. A year ago, it began happening more often. Three times, he was hospitalized due to the effects and put on IVs.

Seven months ago, Coury sought out a rheumatologist after a third attack in less than a year.

“It was really bad,” he said. “I couldn’t swallow my own spit. It beats you up.”

Coury was placed on a series of daily steroid treatments that have seemed to help. On Monday, as I interviewed him in the school athletes’ lounge, he looked great — or, I kidded him, as good as an ugly pug could expect to look.

“So far, so good,” he said. Steroid treatments “have kept it at bay. Haven’t had an episode in six months. (Doctors) are hoping this is it. I’m on the clock — watching, hoping.”

This malady is hitting Coury right when he is on top of the prep football world in our state. Lake Oswego goes into Saturday’s game with a 27-0 mark during the past two seasons. Since taking over the program in 1992, Coury has amassed a record of 190-56, including 40-16 in the postseason. The Lakers are working on a 48-game league win streak.

Though his teams have reached at least the state quarterfinals a remarkable 12 straight years, last year was Coury’s first state title. It was an emotional time for the Coury family, which includes son Stevie, a senior receiver on the title team who will walk on at Oregon State in January. Another son, J.T., was a member of the Laker coaching staff, and father Dick — a long-time coach in the pro ranks — was a volunteer assistant.

“I’m not sure anything ever tops the first of anything,” Steve Coury said. “In my situation, (last year’s championship game) was more about my son coaching with me, my son playing, my dad being there, my wife, mom and daughter in the stands. ... that was so cool. Once in a lifetime you do something for the first time.

“They’ll all be back for Saturday’s game, but it won’t be the same, it really won’t be. I love these kids as much as I loved those on last year’s team. I respect them. They’re going to be great friends of mine as life goes on. But the first time you do something can’t be beat.”

Coury prefers the focus not be on him or his health but on his players, who have done a superlative job moving into position to become the first repeat top-classification state champion since Jesuit in 2004 and ‘05. Quarterback Justin Ruppe has been amazingly efficient — 96 for 127 passing (75.6 percent) for 1,857 yards and 21 touchdowns with one interception. Tailback J.B. Holmes (1,101 yards and 20 TDs) leads the ground game, and “our defense is better than last year’s, I think,” Coury said. “We’ll see on Saturday.”

The Lake Oswego-Sheldon rivalry has become a classic. During the past 10 years, the teams have squared off eight times, with the Lakers winning five.

“We play (the Irish) every year, it seems like,” Coury said. “They feel the same way, I’m sure. We’ve had some great games. There is a great deal of mutual respect between the programs.

“You’re going to play the best in the end. I truly believe they’re the best. It’s going to be fun. Our kids are looking forward to it. We don’t get caught up in the rematch part of it — that’s probably more them than us because we happened to be on the winning end last time.”

Playoff success is the ultimate for those fortunate enough to emerge from the dozens of teams that begin practice in August with a state championship in mind.

“I felt it again last week for the first time,” Coury said. “It was like, wow. This is so cool for the kids, to see the jubilation, the satisfaction, the accomplishment written all over their faces.

“We’ve made it (to the state finals). This is what we’ve waited to do again, and here we are. It brought back memories. And here we go, playing Sheldon again.”

Coury lost three state championship games — in 2002, ‘04 and ‘08 — before winning one. He has always said his career wouldn’t have seemed unfulfilled had he never won one.

“People don’t believe I’m being sincere when I say winning is not nearly as important as all the things that lead up to it,” he said. “There is going to be a great team out there Saturday that will lose. If you ask me and thousands of people in Oregon who won it nine or 10 years ago, no one will know unless you were one of those.

“It’s more about the ride, about the experience. We want to win as much as anybody, including Sheldon. But it really isn’t the ultimate, though it will feel like it that day. If we are lucky enough to win it, it will be just a little more icing on the cake, but it won’t be the cake.”

Coury has always had the right perspective about that. Still, I’m glad he got the chance to experience victory in a title game a year ago — and even more happy his health issues are being addressed. There are a lot more lessons to be learned from the grandmaster of Lakerland.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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