BUTTE FALLS — Football fever is widespread in Butte Falls. And rightfully so.

BUTTE FALLS — Football fever is widespread in Butte Falls. And rightfully so.

The Loggers return much of the nucleus from last year's team that went undefeated in the regular season and made its first state playoff appearance since 1993.

Enthusiasm for the upcoming season is rampant in the small Jackson County community in the shadow of Mount McLoughlin.

"There's a lot of expectations up here after going undefeated in league last year," says fifth-year coach Randy Stephenson. "I hope we can live up to them."

The Loggers will have to replace the production provided by District 2 player of the year Joey Knighton, who was a team leader both offensively and defensively. And the Loggers are a little thin in numbers, with only 11 players on the roster.

But Stephenson has lots to be confident about.

"The team we have right now, position for position, is the best team I've coached," says Stephenson. "We're more well-rounded. We don't drop off much if we have to put a sub in."

Butte Falls will get a stern test the opening game of the season Friday at the 16-team Dufur Invitational, which attracts some of the top eight-man programs in the state for a three-day football festival. The Loggers play 2007 state runner-up Crane at 4 p.m.

"We're going to use it as kind of a measuring stick to see where we're at," says Stephenson. "If we can play them tough, we're going to play everyone tough. We can see what we're up against statewide."

The Loggers have a strong foundation with senior guard Josh Sutfin, who was a first-team all-district player on both sides of the ball.

"(Sutfin) is smart and strong," says Stephenson. "We can run behind him on offense and people don't run to his hole very often."

Kevin McCann, a 230-pound guard, and end Josh McGonagle also return as starters to give the Loggers an experienced front. David Mallory, who saw action last year, takes over at center.

"It's almost the same identical line as last year," says Stephenson. "They know the blocking schemes real well. I think we're going to be OK."

Harley Casillas and Josh Dyck provide the Loggers with a potent one-two punch at running back. They both have good speed and are dangerous as pass receivers.

"(Casillas) is quick and changes direction in a hurry," says Stephenson. "Dyck is more of a power runner. He puts his head down and goes."

Junior quarterback Codey Myers proved to be an able passer in 2007 and Stephenson is going to expand his role this year.

"Codey throws the ball well in all aspects," says Stephenson. "He has good touch and can throw long. Last year we used him just to pass. We're going to line up in the shotgun some and run the option. We want to give opponents another look."

Speedster Chase Ellis provides a tantalizing wrinkle for Stephenson. Ellis, who started in the defensive secondary and led the team in tackles as a sophomore, will get an opportunity to be a game-breaker on offense.

"We want to try to get the ball in Chase's hands in the open field and let him do his thing," says Stephenson.

The Loggers allowed just four teams to score in double figures last season. Stephenson thinks this defense can be even better because of quickness.

Sutfin and McCann give the Loggers the size and toughness on the defensive line, while McGonagle fills the inside linebacker spot. Ellis and Casillas man the secondary.

"It's nice to have all these returners because they know what to do," says Stephenson. "These kids have played in the system so long, there's not a lot of teaching going on, just some fine tuning."

And to the Butte Falls' faithful, that sounds like a winning tune in 2008.

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