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South's season off to a sour start

For the majority of his 29 years as a head football coach, he's won.And won.

During Larry Walker's 18-year tenure as head coach at St. Mary's HighSchool (1967-85), he won seven Class 2A state titles and produced a 171-22-3record.

In 11 years as South Medford High's only head football coach, Walkerhas compiled a 75-39 record. But he has suffered through four consecutivelean years, tied primarily to a lack of numbers and talent at a school thatstarted out as a prep football power in 1986 after the split of MedfordHigh into North and South.

Through 29 years as a head coach, Walker has 27 winning seasons. Barringa dramatic turnaround, the Panthers will give him a third losing seasonthis year.

In recent years, Walker has grown to understand a new facet of coachingthat he had never experienced: losing.

It's hard on me, he says. We're getting better eachweek. But the problem is, so is everybody else in this league.

If we were in about half of the other leagues in the state, wemight be a playoff contender. But this league is just too good.

South Medford senior quarterback Steve Bechler, who was three inningsfrom winning the American Legion World Series baseball title for the MedfordMustangs just over a month ago, says the adjustment from winning in baseballto losing in football has been tortuous.

I hate to lose, he says. I even hate to lose videogames.

It's hard to get used to this after the success I have had in baseball,says Bechler, who beat eventual World Series champion Sanford, Fla., inone game and led the Mustangs to an 8-4 lead through six innings of a secondand decisive game. Bechler had to leave the second game and Medford's bullpencouldn't hold on as the Florida team rallied for an 11-8 victory.

That still haunts me a little, says Bechler. But losingin football is even worse. People think we are really bad, but we aren'tthat bad.

The Panthers hope to prove that Friday night in front of a crowd expectedto approach 6,000 at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Going into the North game, they are going to think we're terrible,says Bechler. That may help us.

I have a lot of friends on that team and I would like to beat themagain. After we beat them last year I got to share a great moment with someof my best friends. I want that again.

This season, one of Bechler's best friends will match up against himin the battle of starting quarterbacks. K.C. Rumrey has been a long-timebaseball teammate of Bechler.

We've been at each other and playing with each other in baseballfor a long time, says Bechler. The last time I saw him was inBoise after the (Northwest) regionals. He was going home because he hurthis hand, and the rest of us were going on to the World Series.

I told him I hoped he would feel better and I wished he was goingwith us. I said, `I'll see you on the (football) field in a few weeks.'He said he couldn't wait.

North Medford will try to improve its record to 2-2 and stay in playoffcontention, while South Medford (0-3) will be looking to salvage some respectand pick up its first win of the season and its second straight victoryover North. The Black Tornado leads the series 6-5.

It's hard to tell how good North is, says Walker. Theyhave won one game and lost to the two best teams in the league (Roseburgand Ashland).

Walker says South Medford's defense must concentrate on trying to containRumrey.

He's their best football player, says Walker. You haveto stop him, or he will kill you.

We have to put a lot of pressure on him. If you don't do that,sooner or later he will get you. They seem to have several adequate runningbacks and a pretty good offensive line. But K.C. has to be our main concern.

Walker says the Panthers are young and lack depth.

It's a cyclical thing, says Walker. We are alreadycoming back with about 40 freshmen players out this year. We worked hardto get those kids out for football, and it's going to be a pretty good class.

Walker says his approach to coaching and teaching remains positive.

They may decide to run me out of here as the coach, or I mightdecide to give it up, says Walker, who teaches chemistry and physicsat South. But I don't feel that way right now.

I like coaching. I'm still doing it the same way, as far as I know.I will never quit teaching. I like to teach and I love kids.

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