There's lots of new things happening for Cascade Christian High.

There's lots of new things happening for Cascade Christian High.

After winning the school's first state football championship in 2006, Cascade Christian has moved from the Class 2A to 3A level because of its increased student population. This year the Challengers join the Sunset League.

That's not the only change for the private Jackson County school.

Cascade Christian has relocated from Jacksonville to a nearly six-acre school campus off Biddle Road. The Challengers, who will be coached by Andy Maurer in his 17th year, have also changed their home field from the V.A. Domiciliary in White City to Crater High's Dutch Meyer Stadium.

Cascade Christian offensive and defensive coordinator Brandon Boice says success in athletics has helped fuel the school's growth. The Challengers also won the state 2A basketball championship last school year.

"All the credit has to go to the kids for the standard being raised," says Boice. "They wanted to turn this program around in making it a football school. Now we're a viable option for the kids in the Rogue Valley who want to get a good Christian education and compete at a high level."

The Challengers should be able to compete at the higher classification. Last year Cascade defeated two of its Sunset opponents — Gold Beach and Bandon — and both of those schools advanced to the state playoffs.

"Gold Beach is without a doubt one of the best teams in the state at the 3A level," says Boice about the Panthers, who lost to Santiam Christian in the 2006 state semifinals. "We stole one from them on the road last year. They are a very sharp program."

The Challengers will have to replace a talented group of skill position players and rebuild the defense. Of the 33 players on last year's varsity roster, 17 were lost to graduation or other reasons.

The strength of the offense will be a big line that returns six starters.

Senior tackle Jacob Ayala appears to be the most talented of the group. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman has college potential.

"(Ayala) is a strong kid who gets off the ball well," says Boice. "He's going to have to play both ways, which he did not have to last year."

Others returning on a line that will average 250 pounds are center Nick Zimmers, guards Ryan Palmer and Mathew Bohn, tackle James Humphries and tight end Justin Duchien.

"Having them back gives you some cohesiveness," says Boice. "They work well together, but they're going to have to elevate their play to compensate for the lack of experience at the skill spots."

Junior wingback Daniel Kinney provides the Challengers with a reliable option in its run-oriented double-wing attack. Kinney was the team's leading rusher as a sophomore, and will also start at linebacker and handle both the placekicking and punting chores.

"He's going to be very busy," says Boice. "He's a strong kid emotionally, but to be fair to him we're going to have to spread it around."

Sophomores Colton Cochran and Jake Gettman are the top quarterback prospects. They split time on the JV last year.

"They both bring some athleticism and good arms," says Boice. "We have to see who can step in and take ownership of the offense."

While the offense appears to have the components in place, defensively the Challengers are much more unsettled with just three starters returning.

"We were a defensive team last year," says Boice. "That's what won it for us. We're really going to have to play catch-up."

Linebacker Ben Heidegger is the Challengers' top returning defensive player.

"Ben has a great nose for the football and is very fast," says Boice. "He's without a doubt our quarterback on that side of the ball."

Heidegger will team with Kinney to give the Challengers a strong linebacker corps.

"Our goal is to get one of the three league playoff spots," says Boice. "If we make it to the postseason in the 3A, we'll feel we're taking that next step establishing ourselves as a successful program. We're at a pivotal point coming off a year like last year. The kids are confident in what we can do."

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail fsilow@mailtribune.com