Bulldogs look for competitive edge after last years winless campaign

by: PHIL HAWKINS - The Woodburn football program has seen a surge in numbers this summer. Second-year head coach Nick Federico said he hopes the participation rate continues to pick up as the Bulldogs prepare for their season opener on Aug. 30.The Woodburn High School football team is a bit of an enigma. The Bulldogs are trapped somewhere between the expectations that football should be the signature sport of any high school and the reality that soccer rules supreme in Woodburn.

The result is that the football team often must compete against a recruiting crunch, struggling to pull in athletes to fill out the roster.

But for second-year head coach Nick Federico, the team is starting to see a turnaround in participation. It began when he took over in 2012 and continued this summer up through training camp, which started last week.

“I’ve had great commitment during the summer, they’re very enthusiastic,” said Federico. “We’re going in the right direction, but these next two weeks will determine a lot.”

In the first week, the Bulldogs saw more than 70 boys come out to participate in practice without pads.

“We need 100 to be competitive at this level,” said Federico, who ultimately wants to have full varsity and junior varsity teams competing against the Bulldogs’ rivals in the Mid-Willamette Conference.

Last year’s team that went winless in conference for the first time since 2008 had just 40 athletes listed on the varsity roster, a number that’s more in line with schools at the 2A and 3A level.

But with such a big turnout three weeks before the first game, Federico is hoping to see a few more kids trickle into the program as the Bulldogs prepare for their season-opener at home against the Jefferson Democrats on Aug. 30.

With the team’s weak point being its lack of depth, Federico wants his inexperienced kids to see time at the JV level before playing with the varsity team. In previous years, he said, player development could get stunted from forcing freshmen and sophomores to play against 18-year-olds from power teams such as Silverton, West Albany and Crescent Valley just so the Bulldogs could field a team.

Sometimes it’s best to let them excel at the JV level before moving up to varsity, Federico said.

While the Bulldogs lack depth, the front end of the roster is filled with skilled athletes such as Camilo Guizar, Miguel Salinas, Michael Te and Nathan Bosquez. Most of the Woodburn skill players are fairly small compared to their Mid-Willamette counterparts, but the Bulldogs possess great speed on the outside, and Federico will use the coming weeks to determine how best to get his players the ball in open space.

by: PHIL HAWKINS - The Woodburn football team wants to build a 'lineman first' mentality to encourage athletes to play on the offensive and defensive line.“Our best athletes are going to have to touch the ball every time. We just have to be creative through the air or on the ground,” said Federico. “The next week and a half will determine our season, depending on how we gel, how we come together and what we do to overcome those obstacles.”

Paving the way for the Bulldogs will be senior Jon Uriarte, who, like his teammates with the ball, is small but extremely quick and athletic for his position.

“Him and Eric Davila — those two have been the two solid linemen,” said Federico. “We lack depth in our line, that’s what we’re going to lack, and those two have been to all the workouts, they haven’t missed a thing.”

The Bulldogs are building a culture to encourage its best athletes to move to the offensive and defensive line. At practices, teammates yell, “Linemen first! Linemen are first for everything!” when the group breaks for water. The “lineman first” mentality is one that the coaching staff has encouraged and the team has been quick to take up.

“Everyone wants to be a running back or a quarterback, but we can’t do a thing without linemen,” said Federico.

Expectations for the season are predictably low for a team whose high point in the last decade was a 5-5 season in 2011. Federico expects the team to improve on its 2-7 record from 2012 where the team won is opening games against Jefferson and Cleveland before going winless in conference. The Bulldogs face the same schedule again for this season, including its daunting league schedule, which featured three top-10 teams that advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2012 playoffs.

“I expect league wins. How many, I don’t know,” Federico said. “If we won two, the town would be ecstatic because that’s unheard of. Do I think that’s possible? Very much so. I think we can definitely do that.”

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