Few things have gone the way Jeff Olson had hoped for when he took over the reins at North Medford.

Few things have gone the way Jeff Olson had hoped for when he took over the reins at North Medford.

But even though the Black Tornado hasn't posted a winning season in either of his two campaigns as head coach, Olson says there is reason for optimism that North Medford is ready to turn the corner this time around.

Buoyed by the return of a handful of big-time playmakers, and spurred by a backs-against-the-wall mentality, the Black Tornado is primed to play spoiler in what stands to be an intense playoff race in the Southwest Conference.

"This offseason was really challenging," says Olson, whose junior varsity squad was 1-8 last year, "but as time progressed, how these guys haven't paid any attention to doubters and nay sayers has really been nice."

Making things easier has been the number of key players who have enjoyed success at North in sports like baseball, basketball and wrestling.

"There are so many things that go into a playoff team or not," says Olson. "Certainly you have to have talent, but you also have to have those intangibles, and I really feel that this group has those intangibles. And for me, that's crucial before you can have talk about any playoffs."

"Our focus is for those kids who have enjoyed success in other programs to bring those values and intangibles here," adds the coach. "I want to restore the pride to Black Tornado football. Obviously, people view that as winning, but I also want to feel good about what we're putting on the field."

Eight returning starters on defense and four on offense certainly help that feel-good experience, but another key is the Tornado is in its second year of installing a spread offense and Olson says the growth has been evident.

"We go into this season so much more experienced and advanced than we were a year ago at this time," he says.

Of particular importance will be the play at quarterback, where Jordan Ellis returns for his senior season. Ellis made the move from receiver to quarterback midway through last season and instantly gave North a legitimate run-pass threat. In four games as a starter, Ellis completed 67 of 107 passes for 880 yards and six touchdowns. He also rushed 77 times for 266 yards to rank first among all North ball carriers.

While Ellis' presence provided nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators, he's not the only quarterback threat the Black Tornado plans on unveiling this year. Junior Matt Maurer has pushed his way into the picture with his considerable toughness and rocket left arm.

"Both of them are going to take a lot of snaps at quarterback for us," says Olson. "It's not going to be where one guy is a mop-up guy, they both will be on the field."

How that will work is yet to be seen, but a possible rotation might be in order, where one athlete is at quarterback and the other at receiver at any given time.

"How it's going to pan out, I don't know," says Olson, "but they're two very gifted young men that need to be on the field. Jordan's got some shake and bake in his hips and Matt's no slouch either. He certainly can throw the football, and they're both going to create some problems for teams."

Ellis hauled in 23 passes for 226 yards and two TDs last year, while Maurer saw most of his time in the secondary but still hauled in three passes for 49 yards as evidence to his playmaking prowess.

Both players have also had considerable success on the basketball court, while Maurer is one of the top pitchers in the state.

Whoever gets the call on a given play or series will have the luxury of throwing to a pair of outstanding athletes in Isaac Silafau and David Formolo. Silafau, a 5-10 senior, was second on the team last year with 24 receptions for 340 yards (14.2 yards per catch) and four TDs, while Formolo started at cornerback as a sophomore last year and has big-play ability.

Another key figure this season will be tailback Colin Sowers, who burst on the scene against South Medford in the season finale last year and is primed for a breakout junior campaign.

"He's just a great competitor," Olson says of the 5-11, 180-pounder. "He knows how to win and expects to win and has good speed and some shake and bake in his hips, too."

Making it all work, however, will be a relatively inexperienced offensive line led by junior Robert Ross (6-2, 240) and senior center C.J. Mitchell (6-2, 205). Michael DeSoto (6-2, 215), Padraic Roberts (6-2, 200) and Bryant Hall (5-11, 200) round out a front line that expects to be a little more comfortable than last year's group.

"We're bigger than we were last year," says Olson. "Last year's group was a bunch of great young men playing out of position. This is a group of guys who are linemen and not guys we're asking to play out of position."

Defensively, the Black Tornado was so undersized that it had to use a 3-4 scheme that featured blitzing linebackers on nearly every down. With a little more size and depth at its disposal, North will adopt a 4-3 scheme that's more familiar to Olson and crew this time around.

Returning starters Hall and Mark Dickison are proven commodities at defensive end, with Ross and Cameron Tolentino (5-11, 305) expected to plug the hole inside.

The linebacker corps is solid thanks to the return of Kade Peden, while Kody Bonham moves from a down lineman position to a more natural spot in the middle of the defense. Gage Jacobson, Cory Haggans and Zac Willits help round out the athletic group of linebackers.

In the secondary, Formolo, Brock Heaton, Silafau and Sowers all saw action last year and will be aided by the emergence of cornerbacks Steven Peterson and Justin Severson and safety Brennon Clark.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com