PROSPECT — Jimmy Slaton was motivated to stay in school because of prep football.

Slaton, an all-star on Prospect High’s most successful team in recent history, returns as the head coach.

“Football got me through high school,” said Slaton, a 2006 Prospect graduate. “I want to pass on the experience to younger kids. I’m trying to help out and be a positive influence.”

When eighth-year coach coach David Boekenoogen resigned in the spring, Slaton, a middle school assistant coach for three years, applied and got hired.

Slaton comes with a history of achievement. As a player, his 2005 Cougars went 8-2, finishing second to Days Creek in the Skyline A League. At 6-foot-2, 240-pounds, he was an all-league center and linebacker multiple years.

Only five players turned out for Slaton’s summer football camp, but the number swelled to 16 for the beginning of fall practice.

“I knew I needed at least eight to play, so I told them to go home and bring their friends,” said Slaton, who works as a local bartender. “If the kids go home and talk about how much fun they’re having, then their friends will want to come with them.

“Also, I coached a lot of these kids in middle school, so they know what to expect from me.”

Slaton inherits a bare cupboard from last year’s .500 team. Having only two returning starters and a large contingent of freshmen is not usually a formula for success.

But Slaton is not deterred: “My thinking is, if you play with everything you have, you can’t lose. You may not win the scoreboard, but you won’t lose.”

The Cougars’ returning starters are senior Shane Lawler and sophomore Austin Leopoldo.

Lawler is being moved to quarterback after playing running back last year. Leopoldo is a speedy wide receiver and cornerback.

“(Lawler) is extremely fast and can think on his feet,” said Slaton. “We’re definitely not going to be throwing the ball down the field. We’re going to try to control the ball. The best defense is a good offense.”

Lawler’s younger brother, James, and diminutive senior Brendan Raines (5-5, 122) look to be primary ball carriers.

“They’re both bounce-back runners and are ready to get hit again,” said Slaton. “With Brendan being so short, it’s hard to see him coming through the line.”

In practice, Slaton has turned the tables on the backs and linemen.

“I put the running backs at guard and the guards at running back to show them it’s not easy,” said Slaton. “If you don’t do your job, they can’t do their job. You may not be the one scoring, but you’re allowing it to happen.”

Matthew Nelson, a sophomore center, has the most offensive-line experience. The rest of the interior line will be made up of a group of freshmen and sophomores.

“The linemen have played together for me at the middle school level for a couple of years,” said Slaton. “They’re enthusiastic.”

Slaton looks for diversity on the squad.

“We’re going to use a bunch of players,” said Slaton. “We’re going to rotate them through and see who plays well with who.”

On defense, Slaton believes in a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy.

“We’re going to be unconventional,” said Slaton. “We’re going to force people to want to run on us. If you drive 80 yards in 10 plays, you earned it.”

Slaton acknowledges it might be a growing year for the Cougars, but the former Prospect standout is not conceding much.

“If our kids give me what they gave me in middle school, I think we can compete,” said Slaton. “We’re not going to roll over for anyone.”

— Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or fsilow@mailtribune.com