ROGUE RIVER — The numbers are steadily climbing for the Rogue River football team as the 2007 season approaches.

ROGUE RIVER — The numbers are steadily climbing for the Rogue River football team as the 2007 season approaches.

More importantly, the mood has also risen following a winless campaign in coach Steve Jenson's first year at the helm.

"That was tough," says Jenson, whose Chieftains went 0-9 a year ago. "That was definitely a long, long season."

Rogue River had 28 players turn out this time around, compared to around just 20 last year.

The small influx of players is a step in the right direction, suggests Jenson.

"We only have six seniors but we did get more kids out this time," Jenson says. "I feel that is a positive for this program. It shows that maybe we're building something. Slowly, but we're building something."

And with Rogue River set to move down to the Class 3A level after this season, Jenson feels his program is on the rise.

"That will help," says Jenson of the drop in classification. "It doesn't seem right that we're in a league with schools that are almost twice our size in enrollment."

In the meantime, the Chieftains must improve on both sides of the ball if they wish to halt a 17-game losing streak that spans over the last two seasons.

Most notably, Rogue River must shore up a defense that yielded a number of breakout performances by opposing offenses, including a 67-0 romp at the hands of Cascade Christian and a 67-6 spanking by Skyline Conference foe Phoenix.

Overall, the Chieftains were outscored on average 43-5.

But while the defense struggled, the offense also took its lumps.

Rogue River scored in double digits just once, managing 12 points in a lopsided loss to Henley in the season finale.

Leading the hopeful resurgence for the Chieftains is running back Joe Christie, one of six returning starters on the offensive side.

The 5-foot-9, 162-pound back will be one of Rogue River's primary weapons in the new fly offense, which was adapted over the summer at the Willamette University camp.

"We thought (the fly offense) was conducive to the type of kids we have," says Jenson. "We believe it will help us build our program."

Stepping under center for the first time will be Blake Reagles, who Jenson describes as a strong-armed senior.

"He has a heck of an arm," says Jenson of Reagles, a wide receiver last year. "He just needs to work on the mental aspects of that position."

Chris Burman (5-11, 195) also returns at a receiver position after starting last year at QB.

The Chieftains will be quick along the line, with senior center Mike Spark (6-0, 285) joining Josh Humphries (6-2, 230) to anchor a sophomore-dominated crew.

Some of those younger linemen that Jenson expects big things from are John Jessee (6-0, 205), David Craw (6-1, 215), Charles Waters (6-1, 225) and Christian Johnson (6-0, 190).

"We have a bunch of quick kids," Jenson says. "That's one of the reasons we went with the fly offense. We have lots of speed guys, we just had to adjust to that."

Also stepping to the forefront will be a pair of freshmen in Rogue Burman, Chris Burman's younger brother, and Christian Reyes.

The younger Burman (5-8, 155) rivals Christie as the fastest player on the team, Jenson says, while Reyes has displayed superior athletic ability for a first-year varsity player.

"(Reyes) got most valuable receiver at the Willamette camp," Jenson says. "That shows you what kind of athlete he is."

Defensively, the 6-6 Ty Darr lines up at defensive end to help shore up a line consisting of Johnson, Craw, Jessee and Waters.

Reagles, both Burmans and Reyes will roam the secondary, while Christie and senior Derek Knutson, a wrestler who decided to try out for football this year, highlight a strong linebacker core.

The schedule also plays out well for Rogue River this time around, with only two of the nine games coming on the road.

"I think we'll surprise a few people this year," says Jenson. "I definitely don't think we'll be winless again."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail kgoff@mailtribune.com