PROSPECT — The horses are there in the backfield for coach Mike Gordon and the Prospect football team.

PROSPECT — The horses are there in the backfield for coach Mike Gordon and the Prospect football team.

Now it's a matter of finding someone to open the gates at the line of scrimmage and let them run.

The Cougars are coming off a two-win season — one of which was the result of a Paisley forfeit — but are optimistic for better things with a returning quarterback and two solid running backs.

"We're actually OK in the skill positions," says Gordon, who enters his 18th year at the school. "We're a little young in the line, so it depends on the how the line develops, and the schedule is beneficial for that."

Prospect is in District 2, a nine-team league that includes the fusion of North Lake and Paisley. Most of the teams expected to challenge for the postseason are on the back portion of the schedule for the Cougars, meaning their young linemen could have a chance to grow and Gordon could have time to get the right pieces in the right places.

Prospect was hampered early in the practice regimen when one of its best players, returning running back Keanon Johnson, suffered a collarbone injury while diving to make a reception. He's continued to practice with the pain but was to see a doctor this week to determine his status.

With Johnson and Robbie Carper lined up behind returning quarterback Dakota Gordon, there are weapons to be put to use.

Carper will be relied upon in Johnson's stead. The former brings a shifty running style to the offense, while Johnson is a tad faster and a bit stronger. With Johnson slowed, Bobby Storts, a returning starter at offensive guard, has moved to the backfield. The move is double-edged, enhancing the backfield depth but reducing the strength of the line.

Dakota Gordon is the one charged with making the offense go, and he's prepared hard for the task.

The younger Gordon has attended a football camp — during a summer when he's gone to three basketball camps as well — and has weight and jumping workouts that have him in top physical shape.

"He's a pretty physical kid," says Mike Gordon.

And he's knows the game.

"His intelligence for the game is one of his strengths," says his father. "He's been around it a long time. Being a kid of the a coach, he's picked things up. He's a natural leader and nice kid. It's like having a coach in the huddle. If one of the kids has a question about the offense, Dakota knows the answer."

The training Dakota Gordon has undergone has improved his speed and strength. One area it's shown, says Mike Gordon, is in his son's ability to the throw the ball while scrambling from the pocket.

"Having the ability to throw the ball accurately when you're running with it is huge in eight-man football," says the coach.

Up front, a freshman, Ryan Linson, will be counted on at center. He and guards Alois McHenry and Alex Tison will be pivotal to making the offense work, especially while Storts is in the backfield.

Even with his son's development, Mike Gordon would prefer to be able to run the ball successfully.

"The best way to win a game is to take the ball and grind it up the middle," says the coach, "4 yards and a cloud of dust. That way you demoralize teams."

Defensively, questions remain on the line, just as with the offense. But if Mike Gordon can get defensive backs Zakk Bennett, Carper and Johnson "in the right slots" with end Dakota Gordon, it has a chance to be a decent stop unit.

Prospect opens the season with an endowment game against Butte Falls Friday, then faces three teams — North Lake-Paisley, Camas Valley and Elkton — that are predicted to be in the bottom half of the league. Next comes Powers, the only team the Cougars defeated on the field last year.

"If we can't win a game early," says Mike Gordon, "it's only going to get tougher and tougher instead of easier and easier."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com