North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
PROSPECT — Three years have elapsed since they were quickly introduced to defeat.
The seniors on Prospect's football team went 0-8 as freshmen in 2009 before finishing 2-8 in 2010. A season later, that group made further advancements by going 3-6.
In their earliest days of aggravation, the Cougars' seven fourth-year players kept closely to their hearts a sentiment that their final season could offer something special.
Now that Season 4 — the latest and final chapter in their careers — has finally arrived, head coach Dave Boekenoogen said his seniors want to make the most of it.
But with only three state playoff berths available in a loaded District 2 league, will Prospect's best be enough?
"They've been talking for the last couple years about this year," said Boekenoogen, who also enters his fourth season as the program's leader. "They've got to walk the talk now. They've been knocking on the door — we want to bust this thing open."
The fourth-year players make up around 22 total players, which — for an eight-man football roster — is an abundance.
"I think we have some special athletes," Boekenoogen said.
Senior backfield mates Scotty Kennedy and Kyle Roe return to help boost the Prospect program, which has stabilized greatly since the Cougars ended a seemingly inexorable 28-game losing skid that began in 2006. The offensive stars, who helped end that nightmare stretch, will again be featured all over the field.
Kennedy is a relentless running back who was slowed by a lingering foot injury early last season. He is determined to make an impact in this, his final hurrah, Boekenoogen said.
Roe will operate as a utility guy after taking snaps in 2011.
Meanwhile, senior Kevin Baker moves from tight end to receiver.
Senior Boston Ehlers will play quarterback.
The team's other returning starter is senior Isaac Reynolds (center/defensive lineman).
Some other key players returning are seniors Shane Keaveney (lineman), Josh Larson (lineman) and Lane May (lineman) and sophomores Kevin Anderson (inside linebacker) and Darren Stillwagon (defensive end).
Boekenoogen has contended with challenges that go beyond strategy. Not all of his players live in Prospect, and many had to work during the summer. They were holding down jobs at places like lumber yards and mills, and many split wood and cut grass on the side, too.
"It's difficult to put together a summer program," he said.
When he had his group together, Boekenoogen put them through speed drills he crafted using knowledge he gained by attending University of Oregon football strength and conditioning clinics and also by listening to popular trainer Steve Kenyon.
"We'll try to get things going faster this year," Boekenoogen said.
In District 2, defending Class 1A state champion Camas Valley returns as the unanimous favorite, while Triad and new conference addition Hosanna Christian both projected highly in the preseason coaches poll.
Camas Valley, which was the state runner-up in 2010, went 14-0 in 2011. The Hornets return senior Lanakila Peck (5-11, 240 pounds), a first-team all-state guard and defensive lineman, and senior Eli Wolfe Jr., a first-team running back and defensive back who will replace Ryan Dancer (the state player of the year) at quarterback.
Junior Caleb Lindsey will be a top running back for Camas Valley, which lost seven seniors.
Triad is led by the returning backfield of junior quarterback Gabe Ovgard and junior running back Austin McGrew, both powerhouse players last fall. Senior fullback TJ Riblett is another player to watch for Triad.
Hosanna Christian, which went 6-2 as an independent 1A program last fall, will be paced by running back Garrett Esteb, fullback Shon Moses and quarterback Ryan Lockwood, who are all seniors.
Prospect kicks off the season with a home endowment game against Butte Falls on Saturday.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com