The injury bug hit the South Albany High football team hard after a 2-1 start in 2018.
Of the players who opened the schedule as starters, 14 were lost to season-ending injuries at some point. The RedHawks dropped the final six games by an average score of 45-6.
The motivation to be better, coach David Younger said, showed in averaging 60-plus players for summer workouts and as well as the work put in so far in the early weeks of practice.
“We’re not used to losing like that, and I think they want to erase that taste that they still have in their mouths,” Younger said. “I think that’s part of what drives them.”
Lineman Christian Caspino said his senior class desires to make memories it wants to remember and have a great season.
“We want our teamwork to push through,” added senior quarterback Hans Laufer, a first-year transfer quarterback from Keizer’s McNary High who began taking on a leadership role soon after he arrived at South last spring.
Younger says Laufer, the Celtics’ second-string QB last year, has been a leader on and off the field and that his new teammates look up to him.
Laufer said it was his goal to help lead the team.
“Just to be able to really get these guys on the right path and get them to a good season this year,” he said. “So far everybody’s doing a good job of pushing themselves and pushing each other.”
The RedHawks participated in last week’s Philomath jamboree and open the regular season Friday at Dallas, one of two teams South defeated last fall.
Last year’s devastating injuries and lopsided defeats that followed were difficult. But it provided varsity opportunities for young players who otherwise likely would not have had them.
Junior lineman Spencer Sadowsky is one example of that. The RedHawks anticipated him playing primarily on the junior varsity, not as a Friday night starter.
“But because of injuries he was forced to step up and play center for us,” Younger said. “That’s not his natural position. He’s naturally a tackle. That’s where we have him this year and he’s much more comfortable there.”
Sophomore Matthew Cobb joins Caspino and Sadowsky as returning starters on the offensive line. Junior Austin McCormick has accepted the move to center, allowing the RedHawks to get their best 11 on the field.
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Junior Knightin Tomaz will start at right guard, while senior Caleb Harrelson and junior Jonas Skovil will be key reserves.
“We know each other pretty well,” Caspino said. “We learn from the past and we’ve been through the bad already. I hope this year we can have a good year.”
Younger says the strength of the team is its senior leadership. The large summer participation numbers allowed South to get a lot done, particularly in work on the run game.
Laufer believes the team is strongest on the offensive line, where he has seen strong unity and chemistry.
“I think our hogs up front are going to be the ones fighting it out every single play and giving they’re maximum effort,” he said. “That’s going to allow for the running back to find a whole and get yardage.”
In turn, the hope is that there will be more time for the quarterback to find receivers.
Sophomore Tyler Seiber returns as a starting running back. A lower-leg injury derailed his freshman season.
Younger says he’s fully recovered. His offseason included a spot on the varsity baseball team.
“He’s got a lot of experience in pressure situations,” the coach said. “We’re excited to give him the ball any opportunity we get.”
Also carrying the ball will be senior Gage Jones.
Jones will play nose tackle and Seiber at outside linebacker on defense, and each will help spell the other on offense.
“Gage has been doing a good job stepping in as the backup running back,” Younger said. “It’s fun to watch his growth from last year to this year.”
The RedHawks have junior Kyler Thompson as a returning starter at wide receiver. Also seeing time at that position will be sophomore Devin “DJ” Jones and junior Isaiah Gilliam, expected to be a downfield threat.