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Tornado, Panthers open their seasons Friday

For a season-opener, Friday's nonconference game between North Medford and Lakeridge at Spiegelberg Stadium holds its share of intrigue.

The Black Tornado welcomes back head coach Rod Rumrey, who retired after the 2000 season but refastened his coaching shoes when John Beck left for Crater.

North Medford enters the contest ranked No. — in the OregonLive website's preseason poll after going 12-2 last season and finishing as the state runner-up.

Lakeridge is no slouch itself under second-year coach Joe Bushman. The Pacers are ranked 12th in the OregonLive poll after going 7-4 last season and gaining a share of the Three Rivers League title.

A handful of other teams also make their season debuts Friday. South Medford travels to defending Class 4A state champion Tigard, Roseburg plays host to Willamette and Klamath Union travels to South Umpqua.

— Also, it's Rogue River at Douglas and Washougal, Wash., at Hidden Valley.

The Black Tornado welcomes back six starters on offense and three on defense, including second-team, all-state defensive tackle Lorenzo Arenas and third-team, all-state center Johnny Vaigafa.

North Medford has been picked to win the Southern Oregon Conference for the third time in five years, but Rumrey knows his team could be in for a dogfight against the Pacers, who feature a spread-the-field, high-octane passing offense led by senior quarterback Brian Carter.

I don't think we'll be able to stop their offense ' we're just hoping we can contain it and put some points on the board ourselves, Rumrey says.

Carter, 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, passed for more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Lakeridge also returns its two other top skill position players ' tailback Cole Magnuson and wide receiver Todd Olson.

I watched them on film and those three (Carter, Magnuson and Olson) were the ones that stood out, Rumrey says. I figured at least one or two of them were seniors last year, but they're all back. That's scary.

What makes them all the more worrisome for the Tornado is that they've had a full year to digest the run-and-shoot offense under Bushman, who took over the Pacers last season after spending five years at Central Catholic.

Bushman coached all-state quarterback Ryan Gunderson, who is now at Oregon State, and Michael Harrington, the younger brother of Joey Harrington, while he was with the Rams.

Carter isn't as big as Gunderson or Harrington, but he's developed a stronger arm in the off-season and seems destined for stardom.

He's a smart kid, he has good feet and he throws well on the run, Bushman says. And he's added a good 10 to 15 yards of distance to his throws since last season.

Center John Cranswick (6-0, 265, Sr.), a first-team, all-conference pick in the Three Rivers League last season, and guard Taylor Barr (6-0, 265, Sr.) anchor the Pacer line.

The game will match Lakeridge's finesse offense against North Medford's power attack.

If we let them put together a bunch of long, sustained drives, then we're in trouble, says Bushman, whose team beat Three Rivers League rivals Clackamas and Lake Oswego last season on the way to winning six of its final seven regular-season games. We need to get some three-and-outs and put our offense on the field.

The Tornado's firepower will come from quarterback Ben Running, tailback Josh Casebere and fullback Ryan Weisz making plays behind a veteran offensive line.

Running, a 6-3, 198-pound senior, played wide receiver last season but is ready to step in and lead North Medford's offense.

South Medford, meanwhile, embarks on what could be the toughest nonconference schedule in the state beginning Friday when it journeys to top-ranked Tigard.

On Sept. 10, the Panthers travel to 10th-ranked West Linn and on Sept. 17 they host No. 8 Lake Oswego.

Panthers coach Bill Singler shrugs his shoulders and offers a sly smile when people mention his team's killer schedule that also includes North Medford in week five.

Our attitude is to play these teams as tough as we can and see what happens, says Singler, whose Panthers went 5-5 a year ago. These first three games are going to get us battle-tested for the conference.

The Panthers return five starters on offense and seven on defense, including second-team, all-conference quarterback Jon Weaver, second-team, all-conference receiver Kyle Singler and second-team, all-conference linebacker Justin Meyer.

South Medford's biggest challenge is to get more physical up front, especially against a team like Tigard.

We've got the skill kids to be an upper echelon team, but we're not seasoned in the line, Singler says. But I think we've got the potential to be better than we've been.

Tigard rolled to a 13-1 record last season and beat North Medford 18-6 in the state title game. The Tigers must replace six starters on offense but their vaunted defense, led by all-state linebacker Mark Lucas, has nine starters intact.

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