The practice fields behind North Marion Primary School echo with the intermingled voices of coaches and high school football players on a warm Tuesday night in July.
Just a few miles down the road, Woodburn High School hosts nearly a dozen schools for its weekly seven-on-seven football games. But the Huskies are opting for a more intimate training session alone on their home turf.
Part of that is due to the nebulous commitment to football in the heat of summer, when baseball is king at North Marion and many of the team's skilled players are dedicated to the popular summer Legion team. Others are participating in training camps for other sports, traveling with family or simply working.
"They're staying busy, and that's what's important to me," North Marion head football coach Doug Bilodeau said.
Whether it's running backs like sophomores David Page and Joe Ledesma fighting for a starting gig, backups like junior William Bishop looking for extra time to get better, or transfers like sophomore Dylan Dedolph developing chemistry with his future teammates, everyone who is out is there for a reason.
Bilodeau is not overly concerned with who can make it out on a weekday evening, though he is always pleased to see who is on board to making that progress. He knows that as the fall season approaches, the players will be there, working to earn or keep a starting position on Friday nights.
"Mostly key guys were there," Bilodeau said. "Guys want to be there, they want to get going, and when football starts, football starts."
Dedolph has been a welcome addition for the North Marion coaching staff this summer. A transfer student from Texas, Dedolph has shown a strong arm in summer practices, and will likely challenge last year's reserve quarterbacks Griffin Henry and Noah Wierstra for the opportunity to replace graduated all-state slinger Hunter Martin.
"We'll see what he's got when football starts," Bilodeau said. "He's got a good understanding of what we're doing, because he's a smart kid and we're glad to have him. We're glad to have any transfer who wants to play football. When you're a small school, two or three can make that difference."
Dedolph has the physical skills to play a variety of positions on offense, not just quarterback, and will likely be a strong asset to the Huskies on defense as a linebacker after playing defensive back in Texas. Where he'll ultimately play is very much up in the air depending on who all comes out when fall practices start on Aug. 14 and how each player's skill set meshes with the rest of the team.
Bilodeau is not against shaking up the status quo for North Marion if it creates a more balanced team on offense and defense. Last year, the Huskies moved two-year starting quarterback Tanner Scanlan to wide receiver and promoted Martin to the starting signal caller. The result: Martin was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the Oregon West Conference and both players went on to earn All-State consideration.
"It's a dance. It's a science. You've got to find out how that kid fits in," Bilodeau said. "That's the thing about our offense, it's flexible. We have numbers here, we can be in a wider set. If we don't have a tight end, we can do different things."
Such decisions are made every preseason and could mean the difference between a winning season and a trip to the playoffs or going home early. Once players report to camp, coaches have just two weeks to get them into shape, teach offensive and defensive plays and establish a depth chart. That's why these seven-on-seven practices, as informal as they may be, can be vital toward helping the coaches learn how each player fits into the overall scheme of the team.
Once training camp ends, the Huskies have one opportunity to see how well-oiled the machine looks at their annual jamboree, which they'll host on Aug. 25.
After that, every game counts, beginning with the team's non-conference home opener on Sept. 1 against last year's state championship runner-up — the Cottage Grove Lions.
"Hopefully by the first game after the jamboree we've made our final adjustments and said, 'OK, this is what we're going with and this is how we're doing it,'" Bilodeau said. "With a lot of young guys, it's going to take some adjusting."