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EAGLE POINT — The spread no-huddle offense firestorm swept through Eagle Point the same way it has just about every other prep football town on the west coast over the past four years.
But this season, the Eagles are going against the grain, eschewing those color-coded wristbands and theatrical hand signals in favor of a more traditional approach.
The downside is, the Eagles will be running less plays this season than they've been running the past several years. But, explains fifth-year head coach Jacob Schauffler, sometimes less is more.
"By going to (the wristbands), you can put in stuff really fast, but kids lose the overarching themes of the offense and defense, and that was hurting us," he said. "We haven't been able to put in as much this season, but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing because they understand the schemes better."
After riding a late-season offensive surge to a third-place tie in the Midwestern League last season, the Eagles will be trying to better that this time around with a roster whose strengths appear to be speed and strength, if not necessarily size.
Three of Eagle Point's four returning starters on offense are receivers, including a pair of six-foot seniors in Kyle Zerger and Caleb Ash plus junior Carlos Flores, who led the team in both catches (14) and receiving yards (210) in league games last year. Running the show will be returning quarterback Jorge Quintero, a junior, who mostly will be asked to hand off in a multiple offense that Schauffler expects to be run-oriented. No big change there — last year, Quintero passed for 603 yards and four touchdowns in seven league games.
Running backs Jakob Combs, a senior, and Seth Arena, a junior, will get the bulk of the hand-offs in a tag-team system. Combs, the projected starter, was Eagle Point's second-leading rusher in MWL play last season, gaining 708 yards on 117 carries.
"We're going to run the ball," Schauffler said. "We'll mix it up, but we're going to run the ball more than throw it, and we'll be a play-action type team. And I think that's what's going to make us a really good, efficient passing team. We're going to be really efficient and teams are going to have to respect that."
That's the plan anyway, but executing will require some heavy lifting by an offensive line Schauffler admits is undersized.
Sophomore Nick McMahan will start at center, twin brothers Ryan and Aaron Marsh, both seniors, are the guards and junior Austin Holmes will protect Quintero's blind side at left tackle (the battle to start at right tackle is ongoing). At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Holmes is the only one who tops 200 pounds.
"They're really undersized, but all of them are extremely quick and all are strong for their size," Schauffler said. "They've done a really good job in the weight room."
Defensively, the Eagles, who return five starters on that side of the ball, will employ a bend-but-don't-break philosophy and a base 4-3. Linebackers Peyton Dole (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), Ash (6-0, 195) and Dylan Henderson (5-8, 170) return, along with lineman Ryan Marsh (6-0, 195) and cornerback Jesse Sattler (6-1, 160).
Schauffler has been impressed with the speed, especially at linebacker, where Dole, Henderson, Ash, Bryson Baker (6-2, 200), Flores (5-11, 190) and Taylor Mitchell (5-7, 160) will take turns running down opposing ball carriers.
"I wouldn't say they're a small group ... they're not small. But they all run really well," Schauffler said. "This is going to be the fastest defense we've had since I've been here. We're going to stunt, slant, blitz — we're going to use our strength defensively."
The Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the Midwestern, but expect more after coming within an eyelash of second place last season — a 35-34 loss to Springfield in week 6 ruined any chance of that.
The stakes in the 5A regular season will be higher this year. The top eight teams in the final OSAA power rankings qualify for the 16-team playoff bracket, while teams nine through 24 will face off in a play-in round to determine the other eight playoff representatives (the higher-ranked teams will host).
Marist once again is the league's clear favorite, but Schauffler expects his Eagles to be a factor.
"Our goal is to win the conference championship," he said, "but the Midwestern League is going to be better this year, from top to bottom. There are probably five teams capable of winning the league or finishing high and I think we are going to be one of those teams. And it's going to be tight."