EAGLE POINT — If you're going to build a football program, what better way to start than in the weight room?

EAGLE POINT — If you're going to build a football program, what better way to start than in the weight room?

"This year, we have kids who actually look like football players," says second-year coach Jacob Schauffler, an Eagle Point alum who is trying to get his team in the state playoffs for the first time in a dozen years. "Hopefully, that will pay off on the football field."

Eagle Point is coming off a season in which its record was nondescript — 1-3 in the Southern Sky Conference and 3-7 overall — but the Eagles were in a crowded playoff picture on the final night of the regular season before a loss to Ashland upended them.

Now, after a year of doggedly getting his players and other school athletes in the weight room, Schauffler, who graduated in 1997 from EP, expects his young team to be in the mix again for the postseason.

The Southern Sky gets three playoffs spots this season as opposed to two last year.

Spearheaded by Schauffler and assistant coach Josh Wolfram, Eagle Point established a couple of athletic weight-training courses in its curriculum. The football players took advantage.

They also were encouraged to participate in other sports, particularly track and field, to keep their fitness up throughout the offseason, and many were involved in speed and agility sessions after school.

To cap it off, more players used the weight facilities in the summer to stay in condition.

"They not only put in the time in the summer, but they didn't lose it over the summer," says Schauffler. "Almost all the football players were in those classes. That was a change that helped us immensely."

There was room to grow, too, as the Eagles will rely on a number of younger kids to contribute.

There are as many sophomores as seniors and juniors combined on the varsity. The underclassmen enjoyed success in junior varsity ball, losing only two games, both to Crater by seven points.

Schauffler likes the team's depth, even if the players are young.

"We're really trying to build from the ground up," he says. "Our freshman numbers are great again this year. It takes time to build overall depth across the board, but we're much more competitive, and that will make us better in general. The kids are learning how to compete, and that's what we want."

The offense has not lacked firepower in recent years, and that shouldn't change with the return of senior quarterback Austin Marlia, who received honorable mention in all-conference voting last year.

The return of running back Steven Josephson and wide receiver Josh Wilson will help, but the Eagles' lone returning starter on the offensive front is center Daniel Miller.

Three of the offensive returning starters also return on the defensive side, where there are a total of five starters back.

"We're not to the point where we can platoon, yet," says Schauffler.

The offense lost its biggest play-maker in wide receiver Garrett Davis from last year, but the receiving corps goes six deep and should give Marlia targets.

If he gets time from a line that could start as many as three sophomores, he'll know what to do.

"Austin made a lot of plays last year for us," says Schauffler. "He'll make more plays this year. He's taken over a good leadership role in the offseason as far as what he's doing with the other guys."

The playbook has ballooned in order to give Marlia more option plays to make with his legs.

"He's one of our best athletes, and that will make him more versatile on the field," says Schauffler.

Josephson blossomed in the backfield as the season evolved and has worked hard on his quickness and ballhandling. He's also one of the top linebackers in the league, having earned second-team accolades a year ago.

Aaron Foster, a junior, steps up from the JV unit and should make a splash. A hybrid running back-receiver, he's a perfect fit in the H-back position.

Trent Kaiser, a "scatback" type, says Schauffler, will also get his hands on the ball.

In addition to Josephson, safety Marlia and cornerback Wilson, defensive returning starters in the Eagles' 4-3 scheme are cornerback Kaiser and nose guard Mario Rivera.

Foster and Taylor Marasco, a junior, are expected to help Josephson form a solid group of linebackers.

Big sophomore Tyrone Holmes (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) will bolster the front with Rivera.

The defense has good speed, says Schauffler, but the focus has been on being more physical.

"That's one of the things Eagle Point has always been known for, whether we have big kids, small kids, whatever," says Schauffler. "We're just trying to bring back that physicality."

The preseason schedule is a mixed bag. The Eagles should compete favorably with Skyline teams Hidden Valley and Henley, allowing their younger players experience.

Other contests against Crescent Valley of Corvallis and state-playoff teams from last year, Mountain View of Bend and Madison of Portland, enhance the challenge.

"For us, it's a fair nonconference schedule, but it's pretty tough," says Schauffler. "We're going to get tested, but we'll also have the opportunity to play kids and figure some things out before we get into league.

"We've got a lot of sophomores fighting for starting positions. If we can get those guys playing well by the time league starts, we'll be right in the (postseason) mix."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com