Strength in numbers will be the key Friday when the Taft High football team opens competition for the 2018 season with a five-team dress rehearsal at Voris Field.
“Our overall strength will be depth and experience,” Coach Jake Tolan said entering Friday’s 5 p.m. sneak preview. “Many players are returning with varsity experience under their belt.”
Joining Taft for Friday ‘s jamboree will be Newport (4-5, 3-2 Class 4A Oregon West), Tillamook (3-5, 1-4 Class 4A Cowapa), Coquille (9-2, 4-1 Class 3A Mountain Valley) and Toledo (2-7, 2-3 Class 2A Sunset).
Tolan and his staff are hoping a couple of impressive 7-on-7 summer camp showings and a wild 60-47 home victory over Jefferson to close out a 2-7 season last year will carry over to next week’s season opener at Harrisburg. Returning from that game are several key players Tolan succinctly described as bringing various coveted qualities to the lineup:
Quarterback David Jin: leadership and experience;
Running back Logan Gilleo: toughness;
Wide receivers Tyee Fisher and Logan McLendon, playmaking ability and dependability.
The four skill players will be tantamount in developing what Tolan hopes will be the emergence of a capable running game behind a more experienced line.
“Offensively, we want to be more consistent and have the added ability to run the ball,” he said.
Tolan said newcomers JJ French and Kam Kessler promise to add speed, toughness and aggressiveness to the ground game when they join Jin and Gilleo in the backfield. Kessler will also play wide receiver (and safety on defense).
They’ll combine to benefit from a new-look “veteran” front line comprised of Victor Carrasco, Elin Fitch, Tyrese Hellman and Chris “Biz” Byrum, who Tolan called “bright spots so far this preseason.”
“Every year, the positions with the most questions going into a season are the offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “This year, our line is further along and is looking good going into our jamboree.”
Improvement on defense will also be a key for the Tigers, who surrendered the most points in Class 3A play last season (459 or 51 per game).
“We want to be more aggressive and tackle well,” Tolan said.
In addition to Class 4A Corbett and Madras, Taft will move to a new 12-team “super conference” that includes seven teams (Amity, Blanchet Catholic, Clatskanie, Dayton, Rainier, Scio and Willamina) that reached the 16-team Class 3A State playoffs last year. The Tigers, who went 0-5 in the West Valley League, will play in a six-team sub-division comprised of Amity, Clatskanie, Dayton, Rainer and Willamina.
“Last year, due to our youth and inexperience, every opponent in the league gave us competition,” Tolan said. “But year to year, Dayton and Amity are two teams that we circle on our schedule as games we know that are going to be difficult.”
Taft opens its season Friday, Aug. 31, at Harrisburg. The Eagles, of the Mountain Valley Conference, reached the quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs last season, where they lost to eventual State champion Cascade Christian after defeating West Valley League member Amity 42-34 in the first round.
“Our numbers are up, and our depth and team speed has vastly improved,” Tolan said. ”Our kids have worked very hard this offseason. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”
All games 7 p.m.
*Denotes league game