A couple of personnel changes might go a long way in determining the shape of the Skyline Conference football season.
Klamath Union lost first-team all-conference running back Jonathan Munoz, who transferred to Mazama. But not to worry, the Pelicans' backfield welcomed in a transfer of its own, Gabe Ovgard of Triad.
Ovgard was the Class 1A state champion in the 100 and 200 meters and the long jump, but speed isn't the only thing the athletic senior brings to the table.
"We were wondering, can he hit and do all that," said Klamath Union coach Tom Smith. "He can hit. He's a load. Once you catch him, he's pretty good at hitting."
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder will play running back and receiver.
In track last season, he had best times of 11.00 in the 100, 21.90 in the 200 and went 22-61/4 in the long jump. He also threw the javelin more than 150 feet.
Ovgard played eight-man football at Triad.
"It was tough for him, coming from Triad, where he had lots of friends and lots of success," said Smith. "He wanted something that was a little more challenging. He is a nice addition, I'm not going to lie. He's not only an incredible athlete, but he's an incredible kid."
The change from eight-man to 11-man ball took some adjusting for Ovgard.
Smith told him it's the same thing, there's just more traffic to negotiate. His speed will help him do that.
"It's very noticeable," said Smith of Ovgard's extra gear. "That's another level when he gets the ball. You can see the defense's wheels clicking for a certain speed, and he's faster than what was anticipated. He's very explosive."
The Pelicans (8-3, 4-1 Skyline in 2012) have very few returning starters, yet they were selected as the league favorite in a vote of coaches.
It was a close vote, with KU, Mazama and Phoenix each garnering two first-place votes.
For the Pelicans, senior quarterback Ben Mitchell (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) is back, as are senior running back/outside linebacker Eric Navarro (5-9, 180) and senior defensive tackle Mike Denarsky (5-11, 250).
Mitchell has had a "pretty decent summer," said Smith. "I think you'll see a much more polished quarterback this year. He's working hard to be a student of the game."
Navarro was the starting running back to begin last season, but he broke a hand in the season opener and missed the rest of the regular season, returning for the playoffs.
That's when Munoz stepped in and became an all-conference runner.
Last year's large group of seniors had played a lot since their sophomore season. The group behind them gets to show its stuff now, and Smith will use the first four nonconference games to evaluate all of them.
"I expect huge growth in those four games," said the coach. "Even being young, I could see us being in the top three (in the Skyline)."
With Munoz in the fold at running back, Mazama (2-8, 2-3 in Skyline in 2012) has someone to operate behind a large offensive line.
Senior Ronnie Rose, a three-year starter, is 6-foot-2, 280 pounds and "is really something special" at offensive and defensive tackle, said first-year Mazama coach Vic Lease.
The other tackle, junior returning starter Mitch Saunders, is 6-3, 300.
Also along the front are senior guard Edgar Rosales (6-0, 250), junior center Michael Edwards (6-1, 270) and junior guard Brandon Tron (5-11, 215).
"We're big," said Lease, "and the cool thing is, we're big and fast."
Munoz, a powerful runner at 6-0, 205, fits in nicely.
Dallas Devry is the starting quarterback.
Mazama has won only four games the past two seasons and has only had one winning season in the past nine.
Lease is on the sidelines for the first time in four years. He was the vice principal and athletic director at Lost River for three years. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Santiam for 10 years.
Henley (2-7, 1-4 Skyline in 2012) also gets a new coach, but he's no stranger to the Skyline Conference.
Wayne Amos was the head coach at Klamath Union for 13 years and has coached for 28 years. He became vice principal and athletic director at Henley this summer.
He'll try to improve on the Hornets' records of 2-7 overall and 1-4 in the Skyline from last season.
"I think it'll be fun," said Amos. "I'm looking forward to it. I kind of missed it, that's why I got back into it. It's kind of like riding a bike. When you get back into things, it kind of comes to you."
Henley has about a half dozen returning starters on both sides of the ball, said Amos, noting that the 2012 team only had three seniors, "so there may be more."
Amos is instituting a spread offense, the third system the Hornets have had to learn in four years.
Josh Overstreet is at quarterback. Other key returners are wide receiver/linebacker Kelly Greif, defensive back Ryan Settle and wide receiver/defensive back Cody Dykstra.
Amos said Henley could be in the middle of the league hunt if the Hornets pick up the system and they stay relatively healthy.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com