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Madras thinking playoffs

White Buffalos return bulk of skill players, linemen

by: Photo By Joe McHaney - Madras High School senior Devin Ceciliani (right) returns for the White Buffalos, and is arguably the most explosive offensive player in the Class 4A Tri-Valley Conference this year, along with senior teammate Joe Hisatake (running back).

Madras football is on the rise.
   The White Buffalos enter this year on the heels of advancing to the post season for the first time since 2005, and now second-year head coach Rick Wells and his players want more success.
   "We have some good returning players, but more importantly, they're unselfish and want to win as a team," Wells said. "We're starting to see the football culture change around here, and I have high hopes for these guys."
   Madras, which finished 2-3 in Tri-Valley Conference play, earned a play-in game at Banks last season, but the White Buffalos were eliminated by the Braves and finished 4-5 overall.
   "We have a very tough league," Wells said of the TVC that produced the state champion (La Salle) last season. "Right now, we're worried about beating Stayton Friday, and not so much about winning the conference."
   Madras returns two of the most skilled and explosive offensive players in the TVC in senior wide receiver Devin Ceciliani and senior running back Joe Hisatake, who averaged nearly five yards per carry.
   "Our whole line returns, and offensively, I think we will be pretty strong," said Ceciliani, who reeled in 789 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn TVC first-team honors last season.
   With offensive weapons like Ceciliani and Hisatake, new starting quarterback Steele Haugen, who takes over for graduated Andrew McConnell, has options at his disposal.
   "I feel pretty confident, and we have some players that will make my job pretty easy," Haugen said. "Our line is working very hard and I'm confident with our offense."
   Haugen will also target Jack Fine, Rodney Mitchell, Aaron Phillips, Triston Smith, Devin Thompson, Cody Shepherd and Stephen Leader-Bowles through the air.
   "We have a lot of different guys who can get the ball, but they're all unselfish," Wells said. "Teams are going to defend Joe and Devin because they're so skilled."
   Up front, Madras returns four offensive linemen from last year's squad in seniors Merlin Tom, Nick Picard, Wyatt Rodin and Kody Turner. All four possess decent size and experience for the White Buffalos.
   "We've been playing together since the seventh grade and we work together," Picard said. "I think we get along a lot better than we have in the past as a team, and I think we're going to do pretty well this season."
   On defense, senior Anthony Albritton and Vernon Jackson Smith will anchor a defensive line that will rotate eight players.
   "Anthony is so strong and athletic," Wells said. "He will wreak havoc and can do a lot of things for us."
   Hisatake, Cody Shepherd, Ethan Short, Aaron Phillips and Jaren Willington will anchor the line backing core for the White Buffalos.
   "Several of our young guys are really stepping up at linebacker," Wells said. "Our guys will swarm to the ball and a couple have the natural instinct to get to the ball that you just can't teach."
   The White Buffalos' secondary may be the strongest part of the defense, according to Wells. Smith, Mitchell, Fine, Ceciliani, Haugen, Shepherd and Leader-Bowles will see most of the minutes.
   "Devin is so strong no matter where we play him, and I think we're very good in the secondary," said Wells of Ceciliani, who was named a TVC second-team free safety last year and reeled in seven interceptions.
   Madras opens nonconference play at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 at Stayton. The White Buffalos host Redmond Sept. 7 and begin TVC play Sept. 28 at North Marion.
   "Stayton is a perennial playoff program," Wells said. "If we don't show up ready to play, we will be in trouble," Wells said. "Considering it's the first game of the season for both teams, there will be mistakes made on the field; we just hope to make fewer and walk away with a victory."
   Stayton graduated 14 seniors from last year's team that went 5-6 overall. The Eagles, coached by Greg Nolan, defeated La Grande in the play-in round, before dropping to Douglas in the first round of the state championship bracket. Madras graduated seven seniors from last year's team that ended with a 63-34 loss at Banks.