North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
MURPHY — New school. New team. New town. New home.
But it's the same Jacob Schauffler.
Let go as the head football coach at Eagle Point High School last spring, Schauffler has landed on his feet as the new head coach at Hidden Valley.
The sting of his dismissal — the pain still runs deep — has been considerably softened by an eager group of players and a welcoming contingent of townsfolk in Murphy.
"I'm not going to lie to you, it's been hard," said Schauffler, who believes he was terminated at Eagle Point for participating in a teachers strike in May of 2012. "That's my hometown, and my wife and I had planned to spend the rest of our lives there."
Bryan Wood, Eagle Point assistant principal and athletic director, said in an article at the time the firing was "a football decision" and that the school wanted to head "in a new direction," but declined to elaborate further.
Schauffler's winning percentage of .428 (he was 21-28 over five seasons) was almost identical to his predecessor, Harry Hedrick (.438, 25-32 over six seasons), who left on his own accord following the 2007 season.
Hidden Valley officials wanted to know if there was more to the matter before hiring the affable Schauffler, but couldn't find a red herring anywhere. His references and credentials kept coming up gold, and three assistant coaches from the Mustangs' previous staff quickly joined him.
"These people I've met out here have been amazing," said Schauffler, who bought a home on the outskirts of Murphy early this month. "There's been great support. Everyone's excited."
The Mustang faithful may have to show patience, however, as Hidden Valley doesn't return a single starter on offense or defense from last season's squad that went 5-4. As many as seven juniors and one sophomore could be in the starting lineup on each side of the ball.
"We lack experience, but we have a lot of good athletes that can play at a high level," said Schauffler, who took 65 players to the Gold Beach camp in June and had more than 80 on the field for the first day of practice last week. "For most of these kids, they're going to be seeing their first varsity snaps, and that's a concern, but we saw glimpses of greatness at the Gold Beach camp.
"It's a process, but we think we can win our share of games."
Headlining the offense will be a group of young but gifted skill players. Quarterback Michael Hults, wide receivers McKinnon Bennett and Tyler Campbell and tight end Alfred Miles — all juniors — senior running back Jackson Howard and sophomore tight end Andrew Aguilar should find their way onto the highlight reel this fall.
Bennett, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound speedster and a son of former Hidden Valley standout and current assistant coach Bogie Bennett, can find the end zone from anywhere on the field.
"He's going to cause people problems because of his quickness, and he's strong for his size," Schauffler said.
Schauffler calls Hults, who guided the Hidden Valley JV team to a 6-2 record last season, "a real good athlete and an extremely good leader," while Howard seems destined for a big season if he can recover from a season-ending knee injury in 2012. Howard started several games as a sophomore two years ago.
Duke York, a 6-3, 275-pound two-way tackle, center/guard Randal Berg, guard/tackle Travis Noble and guard Isreal Morales lead the way up front. All are juniors.
Do-everything senior Jacob Fields, who can play quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back will fit in somewhere.
Defensively, York, Miles and Aguilar are expected to anchor the line, Bennett and Campbell will lead the secondary and Berg, Ty Markley, Brent Otteson and Joe Weber are penciled in at linebacker.
Logic suggests the Mustangs are a year away from emerging as a Skyline Conference contender, but Schauffler has a young team he feels good about.