EAGLE POINT — Taking over a program that hasn't advanced to the state playoffs since 1997 is never easy, but first-year coach Jacob Schauffler has high hopes that a return to his former stomping grounds will help Eagle Point take that next step.

EAGLE POINT — Taking over a program that hasn't advanced to the state playoffs since 1997 is never easy, but first-year coach Jacob Schauffler has high hopes that a return to his former stomping grounds will help Eagle Point take that next step.

Schauffler, who graduated from Eagle Point High in 1997, inherits an Eagles program that has been entertaining with its all-out offensive style but unable to generate the kind of balance necessary for a playoff run.

Given his defensive background, Schauffler has high hopes that a few tweaks to the system inherited from former head coach Harry Hedrick will help get Eagle Point to the next level.

"We're going to be more balanced offensively, and I think that's going to help us, especially defensively," says Schauffler, who was a standout running back/linebacker in his days at EP.

Last year, the Eagles led the Southern Sky Conference in total offense at nearly 384 yards per game — but only about 87 yards of that came on the ground. Eagle Point will still take advantage of a short passing attack that has kept defenses on their toes, but Schauffler wants to revitalize the running game in hopes of limiting the number of possessions to level the playing field.

Senior Anthony Jose expects to get the bulk of the carries, with Brandon Davis also fitting into the mix along with quarterback Austin Marlia. Jose was the leading running back for the junior varsity squad last year and Schauffler has been impressed by his ability to hit the hole and elude tacklers.

Marlia saw limited action at quarterback last year, mainly serving as a running threat to complement the passing prowess of cousin Scott Erickson. Marlia carried 29 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns, but Schauffler insists the 5-9 junior is more than just a runner.

"He's a very versatile kid," says the coach. "He's an excellent athlete so he's going to be able to run or throw. We're going to move him around a lot to take advantage of those run-pass options."

Eagle Point's main option stands to be returning all-star Garrett Davis, who hauled in an amazing 100 receptions for 1,101 yards and 11 TDs last season. He also ranked second among ball carriers with 212 yards on 16 carries (13.3 average per carry).

"He's the rock," Schauffler says of Garrett Davis. "He's the one that's going to be consistent. Every single game we know we can count on having him."

As the primary weapon and known commodity returning from a team that put up nearly 30 points per game last year, Schauffler admits Davis is in for quite a challenge this time around.

"He's going to see a lot of double teams," says the coach, "but the thing about it is he's a good enough athlete that he'll still get the ball. He's our most dangerous kid, and we're going to get him the ball in a lot of ways this year."

While Garrett Davis may be the headliner, senior tackle Austin Rowley (6-1, 260) is the foundation for a trench war the Eagles hope to win this season. The all-conference standout anchors an inexperienced offensive and defensive line, along with senior center Andrew Dorman (6-1, 220), that will be put to the test in Schauffler's scheme.

"I think we're really going to be able to move with this group," says the coach. "We're going to do a lot of pulling and trapping and zone blocking to get the kids moving around."

The line stands to get a boost from Nik Beiter, a 6-2, 215-pound junior transfer from Cascade Christian. Beiter is already penciled in to one of the guard spots and at defensive end.

While the offense will be key, Schauffler's main goal is to shore up a defense that has finished at or near the bottom of the league standings for the past few seasons. Schauffler's defense at Phoenix High allowed just 7.1 points per game to top the Class 3A rankings in 2005, and his work at Rogue River High in 2002 helped the Chieftains to their first state playoff appearance since 1979.

The linebacker corps of returning starters Brian Martinez, Steven Josephson and Tommy Erhardt stand to make a big impact this season, and will get a boost from senior Jacob Goff.

Garrett Davis and Brandon Davis also return in the secondary, while the defensive line will count on Jeff Conley (5-10, 200), Daniel Miller (5-10, 210) and the return of Noe Quirarte (6-0, 210), after a one-year absence, to slow their opponents.

"Size isn't going to be one of our main points, but all our kids run pretty well, and I think they're going to be able to get to the football," says Schauffler. "That's a big thing because when you can get eight or nine kids to the football, that's huge."

But as optimistic as he is, Schauffler is also realistic that all good things take some time to develop.

"There's a lot of interest and support right now in what we're trying to do," he says. "It's not an easy fix or turnaround, but the kids are buying into what we're wanting to do. It's a step by step process and not something that can happen overnight."

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