The Butte Falls football team is on survival mode.
Ninth-year head coach Randy Stephenson, who played on the Loggers 1973 state championship team, faces a difficult dilemma.
With only eight able-bodied players available for the Logger season opener Saturday at Prospect and then defending state champion Camas Valley up next the following week, Stephenson isn't certain how his team will fare in the early going.
It wasn't until Wednesday that Stephenson was given permission by Butte Falls administrators to open the season with only eight players, knowing that number will grow to 11 for Week 2 and potentially higher after the coach roams the halls to convince more students to turn out for football.
"It's real good news," Stephenson said of some key mid-week additions. "That could've made our whole season because now that gives us 11 and we've gone with 11 before so I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be able to play this season. Hopefully we'll get more when school starts."
Stephenson has faced thin rosters before but has always cobbled a squad — and in some years a successful one at that.
Prior to the 2010 season, the Loggers went undefeated in league two straight years and had one loss in 2009 for a 23-1 district record over the three-year span.
Butte Falls avoided what could have been a major loss when top returning player, senior running back and linebacker James Ramirez, rejoined the team this week. The earliest last year's leading rusher could be eligible would be against Camas Valley on Sept. 8.
Stephenson said the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Ramirez brings much-needed experience, speed and power to a relatively inexperienced Loggers lineup.
Another Week 1 casualty is junior Colton Hanson, a two-way starter last year who had to miss the first week of practice because of work commitments. Hanson will be eligible for the Loggers' league opener against Camas Valley.
Two other returning juniors counted on for major roles have moved from the district to also put a crimp in Stephenson's early plans.
This leaves Stephenson with junior Cameron Marley and sophomore Alex Hunsaker as the Loggers standouts for Saturday's opener. Both will see action at running back and inside linebacker.
The only other player with significant experience is junior lineman Jared McGonagle.
"We're probably going to pass a lot," said Stephenson. "It's easier to pass block than run block. Jared McGonagle will do well on the line because he has two years experience but the rest of them are freshmen."
First-year player, junior Evan Givens, gets the call at quarterback. Givens has some throwing skills but his lack of experience might be a hindrance.
"Givens is a pretty good athlete but how well can he read defenses?" said Stephenson.
With only 53 students in the top four grades the student population has shrunk from 78 the previous three years. There are just 26 boys in the school.
Even so, Stephenson believes he could field a competitive team if the participation was there.
"The kids are discouraged because they want to play," said Stephenson. "I'd hate for these kids to miss a year because you can't get that back. I know they've tried to get some other kids to come play. It all comes down to how hard do you want to work at something."
Stephenson not only shows concern for the future of the football program but the school itself.
"It's a sad deal because football has been pretty big up here for so long," said Stephenson. "It's impossible because if you don't have kids you don't have nothing. We finally hit bottom and I don't see it getting any better in the near future."
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org