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St. Mary's football on the crusade once again

Prep Notebook

Tim Pflug didn't have to think twice about taking over the head football coaching duties at St. Mary's High this fall.

Former coach Pete Zappas had instilled a firm work ethic, created a winning attitude and bumped up the number of participants last year, when the Crusaders won seven of their nine games while playing an independent schedule.

That self-assuredness has carried over to this season as St. Mary's has gotten off to a 3-0 start.

One of the variables in taking the job was that I saw a real commitment in the core group of players, says Pflug, who coached middle school football at St. Mary's the past five years. Pete showed these kids what it takes to win. It's made my job a lot easier.

— The Crusaders' schedule is much tougher than last season, when they defeated three Class 3A junior varsity squads and didn't line up against the best teams in the SCL. This year, St. Mary's will butt heads with SCL heavyweights Bonanza and Lost River and will renew its rivalry with Cascade Christian, which it has never beaten in football.

But Pflug believes his team can compete for a state playoff berth, something the school hasn't accomplished since 1994. (St. Mary's hasn't won a playoff game since 1986).

Absolutely, I think we can, he says. That's our main goal.

St. Mary's is led by 6-foot-2, 330-pound two-way tackle John Wing, a senior who is being recruited by Arizona State, Idaho and Dartmouth.

He's got very quick feet for a lineman, Pflug says. We run a lot of trap plays and John has unloaded on some people. He's sent several guys flying.

Wing and fellow tackle James Kelly ' no lightweight himself at 6-4, 245 ' have anchored an offensive line that has opened gaping holes for 6-1, 190-pound fullback Keith Butts.

Butts ran for 212 yards in a 19-15 victory over the Grants Pass JV two weeks ago and he's amassed 515 yards and four touchdowns in the Crusaders' three games.

He's like a bull with speed, Pflug says. We're a pretty physical team at our level.

The Crusaders' other marquee player is senior quarterback and free safety Mike Rust.

Pflug has continued to use the Wing-T offense that Zappas installed, although he has essentially handed over the offense to Mike Rust, Sr. ' the father of the quarterback ' while focusing his attention on the St. Mary's defense.

The Crusaders have allowed only 15 points and have posted two shutouts.

Last year I think the defense was a little too complicated for some of these kids who are just learning to play the game, Pflug says. I've simplified things and it looks like the kids are more relaxed in what they're doing.

Pflug has also focused on special teams, and the added emphasis is paying off. Placekicker James Kulig, for example, has drilled all nine of his extra-point kicks and booted three field goals, including a 35-yarder in the Crusaders' 31-0 romp over Riddle last Friday.

I take the philosophy that special teams represent one-third of the game and so we devote one-third of our practice time to them, Pflug says. We're thinking that might win us a game down the line.

St. Mary's may never reach its glory days of the 1970s and early '80s when it won 10 state championships, if for no other reason than the school's soccer program divides the athletes. Soccer wasn't available when the Crusaders won all of their titles.

But the school has regained its dignity on the gridiron, and you can bet that makes a lot of alums proud.

RYAN FIEGI WAS OFF TO a red-hot start as the South Medford quarterback, throwing for 640 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the Panthers' first three games.

But the 6-foot-5 senior will be a spectator for the rest of the season after breaking his clavicle in the Panthers' 34-6 win over Crater last Friday.

Fiegi suffered the injury after a collision with two Crater players while struggling for extra yardage in the fourth quarter.

That's really the first time he's been hit all year and it was kind of a fluke deal because he broke it when he landed on it, South Medford coach Bill Singler said. It's a shame ' Ryan was playing as well as any quarterback in this league.

Junior Jon Weaver, who quarterbacked the Panthers most of the summer while Fiegi was playing basketball, and freshman Kyle Singler will battle for the starting job this week as the Panthers prepare for Service, Alaska.

Fiegi should be fully recovered by the time basketball practice begins in November.

KLAMATH UNION'S Jenni Ritter was credited with winning the girls high school division at the Prefontaine Memorial Run in Coos Bay Saturday.

In fact, Ritter wasn't even on the Oregon Coast that day ' she was in Portland playing in a basketball tournament.

It seems the Pelicans handed Ritter's race number to Luis Morelos, a member of the boys team.

We failed to let the meet officials know there was a change, Klamath Union cross country coach Rob Coffman said. It was our fault and we're embarrassed about it.

The high school girls winner was actually Pelicans standout Katie Leary, who toured the 10-kilometer course in 39:35.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail