It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
PHOENIX — Everything was going according to plan for the Phoenix football team.
The Pirates, after two years of taking their lumps, return the bulk of a now senior-laden roster. They have the linemen and skill position players and have experienced a limited number of turnover among the coaching staff.
This year, Phoenix could finally showcase what its once young, inexperienced roster has transformed into.
That may still be the case, but they'll have to do so without the straw that stirs the drink — quarterback Andrew Reynoso.
The senior tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee during a 7-on-7 league this summer and will be sidelined the entire school year while recovering from surgery.
"It's a tough one," said fifth-year head coach Toby Walker. "It was kind of a fluke deal. He wasn't hit or anything, he just stepped and fell on the turf and that was that."
Reynoso, a first-team Skyline Conference selection at defensive back and second-team offensive pick, brought speed and experience running Phoenix's triple-option attack. He has been at home resting since the recent surgery but should return to the team.
"It's a pretty invasive surgery," said Walker. "Once he gets back he'll definitely be on the sidelines and go on the trips with us."
"It's definitely unfortunate," Walker added. "These things happen. It is part of football."
While they will be without their key cog, Walker and the Pirates are comfortable plugging senior Justin McCreadie into the vacant quarterback spot.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound McCreadie played receiver and was the backup quarterback last season.
"He's a natural, vocal leader," Walker said of McCreadie. "He's starting to really take over at practice. I'm very proud of the way he's responded to this. He's taken it upon his shoulders and is moving us in the right direction."
McCreadie should have plenty of help in the backfield in second-team all-Skyline running back Tyson Morris. The 5-9, 195-pounder, who will be joined at running back by fellow seniors Aaron Pankowski and Zach Kentner and junior Tyler Hague, brings a mix of power and shiftiness to the Pirates' ground game.
The offensive line will be deep and experienced and should have no problem punching holes for the Phoenix backfield.
Senior tackles Walker Woodman (6-2, 215) and Ismael Rubio (6-0, 185) join guards Travis Treadway (6-0, 215) and Ovie Maheu (6-0, 215), and center Richie Davalos (5-6, 225) to form the potent line.
When the Pirates do throw, McCreadie will look to returning starter Jose Deras, a second-team all-Skyline pick a year ago. When Deras — who is a 6-2, 200-pound senior — isn't seeing the ball come his way, seniors Austin Jeandin and Logan LaBelle are able pass catchers, too.
"This core group of kids has been starting since they were sophomores," said Walker. "They've played a lot of football and have grown confidence and maturity over the last two years."
The loss of Reynoso will have an equal impact on the defensive side.
"He was our free safety," said Walker. "He was just as good on defense as he was on offense."
Walker, however, has been pleased with the progress over the last two years on defense.
"The kids are bigger, faster, stronger and are tackling better," said the coach. "The speed is better, the strength is better as they mature ... We've just seen a lot of improvement, which I expected as these kids mature physically."
The trenches is where Phoenix will have plenty of bodies. Woodman and Maheu bring experience, while sophomore behemoth Mao Tuimavave (6-2, 350), Max Potter (6-2, 225, so.), Brandon Isaac (6-0, 190, sr.) and Aaron Hutchinson (5-9, 185, jr.) provide the extra help along the line of scrimmage.
Morris, Pankowski, Rubio and Deras return at linebacker, while Kentner, Hague, LaBelle and senior Alonso Serna make up an improved secondary.
"We have seen a lot of improvement across the board," Walker said of his defense. "The secondary and front seven have come a long ways. (Defensive coordinator) Dave Jacobs has done a great job teaching them the fundamentals."
While the pieces may be there to make some noise in the Skyline Conference, Walker admitted the Pirates will have to cut back on the mental mistakes that have hampered them the past couple seasons.
"We got a lot better toward the end of last year," said Walker, whose team finished 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Skyline play. "Those mental mistakes and some of the small physical mistakes really cost us in some games early on. We need to eliminate those. But I like the direction we're headed."
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or email email@example.com