Tim Pflug left the St. Mary's High football program in pretty good shape when he stepped aside as the school's head coach following the 2003 season.

Tim Pflug left the St. Mary's High football program in pretty good shape when he stepped aside as the school's head coach following the 2003 season.

The Crusaders went 4-5 in Pflug's only season at the helm, and capped the campaign with a resounding 45-0 victory over Cascade Christian — St. Mary's only win over its archrival in the 13-year history of the series.

Pflug left St. Mary's to enter private business, then spent a year in Southern California, where he grew up.

But after four years, Pflug longed to re-enter the teaching and coaching professions, and when a position opened up at St. Mary's last spring, the school was quick to snap up the popular ball coach.

"I missed the kids, the Rogue Valley and my daughter, who's been here all along," says Pflug, who also was hired as the St. Mary's girls basketball coach. "It's great to be back."

This time around, Pflug faces a major rebuilding project on the gridiron. The Crusaders have limped to a 4-25 record since his departure, including a 1-9 mark a year ago.

But with seven starters intact on offense and five on defense, the outlook for 2007 carries hope.

"The main goal is to become competitive again and to earn some respect in our (Southern Cascade) league," Pflug says. "When I watch how athletic some of these kids are, I can't help but think we're going to win some games."

Pflug's first order of business was to get his team in shape.

"These kids definitely weren't in condition the last two years and they know that," Pflug says. "Nobody likes to run, but these guys have bought into how important it is to play at a high level on every snap."

Senior quarterback Max O'Sullivan, a three-year starter, will fuel what could be a potent offense in Pflug's spread attack.

"He's had to run for his life the last couple years, but this year we're determined to protect him and allow his athleticism to come through," Pflug says of the 5-foot-11, 185-pound O'Sullivan. "We want to give him time to run and throw because Max can make things happen."

Fullback Brian Adesman, halfback Tony LaMonaco, wide receiver Chase Farthing, guard Sean Naumes and tackles Cody Nelson and Kevin Kelly also return to a St. Mary's offense that averaged just 9.9 points last year.

"Adesman and LaMonaco are very athletic and Farthing has that natural ability you can't coach," says Pflug, noting that all three skill players weigh at least 185 pounds. "We'll go with mostly a two-back set and three wideouts and spread the ball around."

The offensive line will be fortified by center Jeff Jensen and 6-2, 205-pound freshman tackle Derek Martin.

"That kid would run through a wall for me," Pflug says of Martin. "He's only a freshman, but he's going to contribute right away."

The strength of the defense could be the front wall, where nose guard Ben Kline and tackles Franco Console and Logan Brooks return as starters.

Pflug also is optimistic about a linebacker corps that's headlined by Adesman and 5-8, 175-pound junior Ben Fry, whom Pflug says "would destroy people if he were bigger."

"He's just a tough kid," adds the coach.

The defensive backfield will be led by O'Sullivan at free safety.

St. Mary's opens its season Saturday against North Douglas, which also won only one game in 2006.

"I'm excited to be back in the coaching saddle and love the attitude this team has showed throughout fall camp," Pflug says. "I was a little concerned about that coming in, but the kids have bought into developing a strong work ethic."

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, ore-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com