North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
CAVE JUNCTION — The Illinois Valley football team was on the same page earlier this year, recording respectable showings at a 7-on-7 tournament and also at its own team camp.
As long as the metaphorical bookmark doesn't slip out of the novel, the Cougars should be in the running for one of the two Southern Cascade Hybrid automatic playoff berths, head coach Ray Yarbrough said.
Lakeview and Rogue River will also be gunning for that second spot.
Illinois Valley, which finished 4-6 overall and third in the four-team league last fall, returns six starters on offense and seven on defense.
Junior quarterback CJ Manning, senior left tackle Chase Robbins, senior center Cade Doyle and junior running back James Thompson headline the group.
Those players, along with the others, showed strength and some leadership when the Cougars hosted a team camp that saw North Valley and a few teams from Northern California attend. At a 7-on-7 tournament in Bend in June, Illinois Valley was the smallest school "by far" but held its own, Yarbrough said.
"We competed," he said. "I thought we had a good showing and were able to get some things installed."
Manning has started the past two seasons under center. He will again guide the spread offense.
"He knows what to expect from me and the expectations overall," Yarbrough said.
Robbins will make the drastic switch from wide receiver to left tackle. The 2012 SCH first-team defensive selection may have the best hands on the team, Yarbrough said, but at 6-foot-4 and 257 pounds, he is needed elsewhere.
"He has that sheer size," Yarbrough said. "He is an athletic, big guy."
Doyle is sound at center and Thompson shows great alacrity, Yarbrough said.
"James is the one guy who is always calling me," he said. "I expect some big things from him at running back. He's explosive."
Senior Julian Northrup was a two-way starter as a sophomore before suffering a season-ending knee injury his junior year. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder plays tackle and middle linebacker.
Yarbrough sees his team in the mix for the playoffs — as long as they all stay on the same page.
"I think we'll be right there," he said. "We are hoping to compete. We have a quality group of kids.
"Rogue River has given us some tough games. I think our conference could be really, really competitive."
Illinois Valley opens the season by hosting Class 4A Hidden Valley on Friday. Its league season begins on Oct. 18 at Cascade Christian.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com