ROGUE RIVER — With three fewer players on each side of the ball, the Class 3A Rogue River football team might be hard to recognize when its players set up at the line of scrimmage this fall.

The Chieftains will transition from playing traditional 11-man football to the Class 1A-level eight-man style, which will be a welcome change for the school and players. Rogue River hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2009 and hasn’t won a game since late in 2013, just before the Chieftains switched from the Southern Cascade League to an independent schedule in 2014.

Rogue River is the smallest school in Class 3A — based on average daily membership — which has stunted player turnout.

The Chieftains will play in an unofficial league with independent Class 1A eight-man teams from Riddle, Bonanza and Crow.

"It’s hard when you don’t have as much participation going on and have nine freshmen on the field playing a varsity schedule,” said third-year Rogue River coach Ryan Riggle as he recalled the obstacles when he started in 2015. “This change will be better for the players and school.”

In his first year here, Riggle started the nine rookies with an offense led by freshman quarterback Derek Nelson.

With Nelson now a junior and the pair in their third season together, the Chieftains could see immediate success with a now-experienced squad powered by freight-train running back Jacob Tambellini.

“He just runs, and runs and runs,” said Riggle. "He has an engine like no one I’ve ever met before.”

The spread offense will feature veer and power packages with a healthy mix of read option, which should be enhanced by the eight-man style’s open field.

Opening holes for Tambellini, as well as change-of-pace running back Carson Smith, will be 6-foot 275-pound senior tackle Gabe Echaide and senior center Bill McVeigh. Sophomore Gabe Tambellini was recovering from a broken collarbone but was expected to be ready to start the season.

Nelson will get the ball into the hands of senior wide receiver Chris Wilkerson, junior speedster receiver Cameron Hooker and 6-foot-1, 225-pound tight end Ethan Canoe, as well as Tristen Spaeth.

Jose Chavez serves as a jack-of-all-trades. The 5-foot-10, 225-pounder can play fullback, tailback, wide receiver and on the offensive line.

“He’s really versatile and smart enough to know all the other positions,” said Riggle. “He knows what everyone is supposed to be doing on every play. It’s nice to have a guy like that.”

On the other side of the ball, the Chieftains will play a 3-3 defense with a double safety look, hoping to utilize the speed of their personnel.

The defense will be anchored by Echaide at nose guard as well as junior linebacker Caleb Barnwell and junior defensive end Spaeth. Wilkerson will also play linebacker and safety with the junior Hooker manning the other safety position.

Reach reporter Warren Blenkush at 541-776-4492 or wblenkush@mailtribune.com