PROSPECT — The first goal for new Prospect head coach Kirk Mickelsen is restoring pride in a program that's fallen on hard times.

PROSPECT — The first goal for new Prospect head coach Kirk Mickelsen is restoring pride in a program that's fallen on hard times.

The Cougars finished 0-8 last season and were shut out in four games. They've won just one game in the last three years, excluding one forfeit, and own a 47-95 record in the last 18 years.

Mickelsen's plan is to infuse a new attitude and shed light on the most successful era in the program's history.

"In the early to mid-1980s, Prospect had great success," says Mickelsen, 40, a 1986 Ashland graduate who takes over for longtime coach Mike Gordon. "We're trying to build a bridge from those years to now. We're having the kids talk to those guys that were part of the winning tradition at Prospect.

"The attitude about football has to change and our expectation of our kids is completely different than the expectations that were set for them in the past 20 years."

That became evident in the summer months when Mickelsen says the school opened the doors to its weight room for the first time and attended passing leagues at Ashland and Crater.

"Our focus this year is getting us to believe in ourselves and take the little steps we can to be successful," Mickelsen says. "One of the toughest things in coaching is making kids believe they can win, and we are trying to do that. I believe we are three years away from being a really good football team, and this is a huge transition year."

Prospect started fall camp with 13 players and welcomes in a talented freshman class expected to make contributions, including quarterback Hunter Gallagher.

He takes over for Dakota Gordon, who transferred to North Lake for his final season. Gordon was also a first-team all-District 2 performer at defensive end.

Prospect's freshman class also includes wide receiver/defensive back David Demmelo and offensive linemen J.C. Korzack and Nathan Schultz.

"Those four, we are really expecting them to step up," Mickelsen says. "They are going to have to help us. We don't have the luxury of a freshman football program."

Sophomore center and defensive tackle Rilea Linson (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) is the team's top returning player. He made big strides in the weight room this summer, Mickelsen says.

"Where he goes offensively and defensively will greatly affect where we go as a program," Mickelsen says. "He is that good as a sophomore. He's got excellent feet for the eight-man game. He moves very, very well."

Senior slotback/free safety Keenan Johnson and sophomore wide receiver/linebacker Justin Rowe also return on both sides of the ball. Sophomore wide receiver Tommy Ryan also returns on the offensive side.

Chris Grieves, a 6-0, 180-pound senior transfer from South Medford is another expected to have a large impact. The running back and defensive end played his freshman season with the Panthers but not the last two years before moving to live with his father in Prospect.

"He's very athletic," Mickelsen says of Grieves. "He's going to make a difference once he gets his feet under him. He's already helped us turn this program in the right direction."

Mickelsen has helped in that regard as well. After attending Southern Oregon University, Mickelsen returned to Ashland and coached under Jim Nagel in the early 1990s. He was a graduate assistant at Western Oregon University shortly after that and later served as an offensive coordinator at Clark High School in South Dakota and at Worthington Community College in Minnesota. He left coaching for 10 years while a member of the U.S. National Guard and arrived in Prospect, home to his wife's family, in 2005.

"I'm very excited to be back in the Rogue Valley, and I really believe that we have the potential at Prospect to do some great things," Mickelsen says.

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