ROGUE RIVER — Marvin Grover's been on the sideline against Rogue River as an opposing coach, and he understands the program's struggles, including, at one time, a 17-game losing streak and an 0-9 season in 2006.

ROGUE RIVER — Marvin Grover's been on the sideline against Rogue River as an opposing coach, and he understands the program's struggles, including, at one time, a 17-game losing streak and an 0-9 season in 2006.

But the new man in charge at Rogue River, its third coach since 2005, doesn't buy into the notion that the Chieftains can't be winners.

"One of the things I would see every time we would play Rogue River is those kids fought hard with the desire to win," says Grover, 30, who spent time as an assistant football and boys basketball coach at Phoenix. "One of the first things I told the kids was that I believe the pieces are here to win. It's not completely a rebuilding process. It's not going to take five years. We can start winning and competing right now.

"Competing is the first phase of it. There's a difference between a 0-9 team that is getting blown out and the team that is going 0-9 and losing by a touchdown. The ultimate goal is making the playoffs."

The Chieftains haven't reached the playoffs since 2002 but should be more competitive this season as they'll move from the Class 4A Skyline Conference to the Class 3A Sunset League.

Rogue River struggled mightily in the Skyline and was just 2-23 in the last three seasons overall.

The enrollment numbers for Rogue River are certainly more comparable in the Sunset, and the Chieftains hope that reflects in results as well. Rogue River lost all five of its Skyline Conference games last season and by an average margin of nearly 40 points per game.

"It definitely helps going down to Class 3A," Grover says. "But it's not going to be a cakewalk. There are two teams (Gold Beach and Cascade Christian) that have won state titles two of the last three years in their respective levels."

The Chieftains return five offensive starters and six defensive starters. Grover says he was initially most impressed with the talent at the skill positions, which will bode well in his offensive plans.

Grover will employ the increasingly popular spread-option offense with a zone running scheme.

"We want to open it up and get points on the board," Grover says. "We want to get vertical with the passing game and spread defenses out."

Running the show will be 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior quarterback Jon Humphries.

"He's got a strong arm," Grover says. "He can step up in the pocket and throw it 40 yards on a rope."

Two return on the offensive line, including honorable mention all-Skyline performer junior John Jessee. Humphries will have targets in sophomore running back Rogue Burman, senior Eric Saites and junior Levi Watkins as well as wide receiver/tight end Chrystian Johnson, a converted tackle, and wide receivers Alec Pelliser and Anthony Miller.

Watkins and Johnson were honorable mention all-Skyline last season and many of the skill position players participated in area 7-on-7 passing leagues this summer.

"We've been pretty successful," Grover says. "It's been good to hear some of these coaches give compliments. People are going to be pleasantly surprised with the direction the program is going."

The Chieftains defensively return three linebackers in Jessee, Watkins and Saites. Also returning is Burman, an honorable mention all-Skyline defensive back. Grover intends to utilize that experience by implementing an attacking defense.

"We're going to be very aggressive," he says. "We're going to send four or five people, and our style on defense is we are going to get after it."

The schedule unfolds nicely for the Chieftains. They open at Yoncalla and at Chiloquin — the two teams Rogue River defeated last season — and play both Gold Beach and Cascade Christian late in the season.

"If you can get off to a good start and get successful early, that's only going to create that excitement, that confidence," Grover says.

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com