Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
The easygoing nature and quiet demeanor off the football field for South Medford's Anthony Gomez serves as a unique contrast to his persona once he dons the pads for the Panthers.
When he's on the gridiron, there's really nothing nice at all about Gomez — unless you're lucky enough to be his teammate. Everyone else, beware.
"You better have your head on a swivel when he's around because you never know when he's going to be right underneath your chin strap," warns South Medford head coach Bill Singler.
"He loves the physical part of football, he's kind of old-school," adds the coach. "Where football is going now to mostly a glorified 7-on-7 (passing league), we're kind of a throwback team right now just because of necessity, and that's what he is and the kind of style he plays with on both sides of the ball."
At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Gomez simply is a wrecking ball when it comes to his style of play.
He served notice in the season opener by knocking two West Salem players woozy — one of them sent airborne — in his role at outside linebacker.
Against Thurston in the Southwest Conference opener, he ran over a prospective tackler as a fullback in such a vicious fashion that the defender crumpled on impact like an accordion.
In last Friday's 30-21 win over Roseburg, Gomez helped clear a path for tailback Christian Bowley to run for 162 yards and threw in 63 yards of his own for good measure.
"In that Roseburg game last week, a couple blocks that he made were unbelievable," says Singler. "You could see our sidelines just amp up watching him get underneath somebody's pads and just jack 'em. He just loves the game of football and loves to play physically, and I'm glad he's on our team."
So, too, are the rest of the Panthers (2-4, 2-2 SWC), who face a big test Friday at Grants Pass (4-2, 3-1).
And Gomez, who started playing football at age 5, is pretty happy as well by the reaction he gets for his physical style.
"Words are indescribable when I run or block and do something like that; It's pretty awesome," says Gomez, who also runs track. "It's the best feeling I can have. I like to hear the fans go crazy and like the feeling of when people pump me up even more and help me get fired up."
Gomez plays with such reckless abandon, he actually knocked out himself and his opponent while crushing the kick returner on a special teams play as a sophomore.
That combination of speed and power has served him well over the past two seasons as one of the leading tacklers for the Panthers, but he's also added a new twist as a senior with his role in the backfield. Despite getting only two carries — touchdown runs of 2 and 1 yards — in South Medford's opening two games, Gomez enters Friday's game at Mel Ingram Field as the Panthers' leading rusher. He has run for 440 yards and six touchdowns on 43 carries for an average of 10.2 yards per attempt.
"He's done a great job for us, mostly as a defensive player for the last two years but this year he's really adding to the repertoire as a fullback," says Singler. "And I'll tell you, it's just made us a better football team because we have an inside presence with the run game. When you watch this guy run with his physical aggression, it's been a great thing and our football team really draws a lot of energy watching him run."
The only downside to Gomez's role on offense is it has taken away some of his time on defense, where he really loves to throw his weight around.
"It was pretty hard at first because defense is my main thing," he says of the transition to offense, "but I'm just trying to help the team to get better. It was a big change but I've figured it out and I'm trying to work both ways now more when I can."
Injuries to tailbacks Bowley and Josh Hall, along with a more patient offensive approach to take the pressure off junior quarterback Craig Contreras, set the stage for an increased need for Gomez on offense.
"It's made us a better football team during the tough times here with him there and us not being able to be at full strength," says Singler. "Running the football has really been a good salvation for us and I'm just really proud how he's stepped up and how he runs. I think the best football is still ahead of him."
Whether that's the case or not, the affable 18-year-old simply relishes his time on the gridiron and takes a no-nonsense philosophy to the sport he loves.
"I just work hard at what I do and I guess I can put my mind to anything," he says of his success at South. "Win or lose, I just like the play of the game. I just like the feeling that you have when you're on the field, it's something else."
As is Gomez.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry