Positions prime for the picking


Madras High School football squad a wide open race for spots as season begins

by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - A group of Madras High School defensive linemen swarm to the ball carrier during Monday's practice at Madras High School.As far as Madras High School football coach Rick Wells is concerned, every starting position on his team is open right now.

Oregon high school sports teams could officially start practice Monday, and the 2013 edition of the White Buffalos gridders is one full of solid players, Wells said.

Even with players going to offseason camps, Wells still isn’t ready to give anyone a label from a position standpoint, but is rather focusing on what the group can do collectively. Following the team’s first practice Monday evening at Madras High School, Wells was more than pleased about how the team did.

“The effort today was very good, and that is our No. 1 covenant,” Wells said. “A lot of things are moving fast for some people, but that happens on the first day.”

While the team can only work in helmets and shoulder pads for the first few days, and the contact is to be kept at a minimum, it didn’t stop some of the guys from getting their licks in while they could.

And bucking a long standing trend engrained in the culture of organized sports, Wells doesn’t use conditioning as a form of punishment. He said if the team runs hard during a conditioning drill, they will “earn more.”

by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Madras' Jered Pichette tries to outrun a defender during Monday's practice at Madras High School.“It’s a bit of a reverse idea behind it, but conditioning is what makes you better,” Wells said. “Our goal is to become a championship team, and in order to do that we need to be conditioned. The guys did a great job earlier in practice and the effort was there.”

As far as offense goes, Wells said this year’s team will be one of his deepest. There isn’t anyone he would called “exceptional at this particular point,” he said, but he has plenty of guys with enough experience that will see some time.

“We’re going to have a lot more people contribute this year than we have had in years past,” he said. “We have some people with varsity experience, but not that many, but we have some kids with a lot of lower-level experience that has been very, very good.”

One of the big problems Wells has, while he said it was a good one to have, is to find spots for all the guys. Since there are only 11 on each side of the ball, the load is going to be spread out, and whoever is in the game at a given moment is going to have to bust his tail.

“We’ve got three or four guys who will carry the ball, a couple that will play quarterback and about five or six that will catch it,” he said. “We’re two deep all across the offensive line, so it’s a nice problem to have, and that’s why I’m excited about this year.”

During the summer camps, and in the practice session on Monday, the Buffs’ offense has been working out of a shotgun spread set, similar to what they did last year with all-conference performers Steele Haugen, Devin Ceciliani, Jack Fine and Joe Hisatake, but those skill position players, along with linemen Kody Turner, Nick Picard and Merlin Tom (all being all-conference players in 2012) have graduated, leaving big shoes to fill.

The Buffs return just one player that made the all-conference team last season, junior Cody Shepherd. Shepherd was named an honorable mention defensive back last year, but was working at linebacker during defensive drills Monday.

Speaking of defense, Wells said he’s going to find a group of players that doesn’t take plays off.

“We’re going to find 22 guys that will fly to the football and play hard, and I think we have that,” Wells said. “There are some people that have more experience than others, but we’re going to have a lot of guys that play.”

In drills, the Buffs have been utilizing a “nickel” linebacker, which is just an extra linebacker typically used in pass coverage, along with strong and weak side linebackers. They have also been using a four-man defensive front, which leaves two cornerbacks, a free safety and another player that’s labeled the “rover” for pass coverage and secondary run support. Rovers are a defensive back and linebacker hybrid of sorts, that essentially is the strong safety in pass coverage, but also comes up to stop the run like a linebacker.

With construction set to begin soon on the new football stadium, the Buffs will have to play their three home games at Culver High School this season. Wells said he feels bad for the seniors and that it’s unfortunate they don’t get to play their last season on their home field, but overall he said it hasn’t been an issue with his guys.

“Give us 100 yards, and we’ll play,” he said. “For our fans it’s a little bit rough, too, but like I said, give us a field, and we’ll play hard just like we would anywhere else.”

Sharing the field with Culver High School’s program also means the Buffs will have just one game underneath the Friday night lights — which also happens to be homecoming. They will play the North Marion Huskies in the Tri-Valley Conference and home opener at 7 p.m. Sept. 27.

The two other home games will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, an Oct. 5 tilt against Molalla and an Oct. 19 showdown with TVC powerhouse Gladstone.

With the hunt for starting and back-up position as wide open as they’ll ever be, Wells preaches to his players about the opportunity they all have right now, and that the ones that show the most effort and best decision-making during practices will get playing time.

“We had guys last year that we knew would start before the season started,” Wells said. “That’s not the case this year. Right now, truly every job is open. It’s a wonderful opportunity for those guys that didn’t get to play a lot, and to me that’s really cool.”

Madras opens its season on the road at 7 p.m. Aug. 30, in Stayton.