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Crater looks to finish strong

CENTRAL POINT — Crater appears to have lots of ingredients for another run at the Class 5A football playoffs.

There are nine starters back from a defense that was among the best in the state.

There's speed and talent at every skill position, which should work nicely as the Comets open their offense with a spread attack similar to that run by the University of Oregon.

There's a brutal preseason schedule, commonplace the past couple seasons, that figures to prepare Crater for most any opponent it faces late in the season.

Sixth-year coach John Beck occasionally has to quell his own enthusiasm.

"It's an exciting group," he says. "I just don't want to get too excited."

But the most crucial ingredient might be the chip tucked under the Comets' should pads, and it's been there since last fall, when they lost several games in the final stages.

Included was the season finale in the second round of the state playoffs. Century, which had been stymied most of the way, marched 63 yards and scored with nine seconds left for a 16-15 win.

It's doubtful Beck has to remind his players what it felt like.

Sometimes he does, anyway.

"When you lose three games by a total of four points in less than two minutes total, yeah, that kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth," says Beck. "The kids don't want to let that happen again."

Crater has advanced to the playoffs three straight seasons. Last year, the Comets were co-champions of the Southern Sky Conference with Klamath Union and Ashland. They garnered the No. 1 seed to state on a coin flip, Klamath went as No. 2 and Ashland was left out.

Getting to the playoffs is nice, says Beck, but it's not the mission.

Crater has won only one of its four playoff contests the past three seasons.

"If you don't get the job done in the playoffs "¦ that's the real factor in our program," says Beck, "especially in tight games against good teams.

"When we need to motivate the kids, that's an easy thing to bring up, and they totally get it. They've put in more extra time this summer than ever before. The kids are very good workers. They have a good work ethic."

One of the reasons for the extra time is the installation of an offense that will take advantage of the speed and assets in the backfield and at the receiver positions.

For a roster of Crater's skill kids, consult last spring's state track results.

Receiver Kelley Beck won the 400 meters and was fourth in the 200. He was on the gold-medal 4x400 relay with football mates Jacob Ziegler and Devin Massey.

Two others, Ryan Sonday and Bryce Barden, ran legs on the fourth-place 4x100 relay with Ziegler and Beck.

And that doesn't include unanimous all-league receiver Josh Dalton or three-year starter Christian Massey — like Ziegler a slotback — who didn't run track.

"We're not going to have kids like that again," says Beck, who returns six starters on offense, including three linemen. "We have the most depth and speed quality kids we've ever had. Our quarterbacks are very capable of carrying the football, but our tailbacks are very good also. I feel it's going to be hard to take away all the skill kids we have."

Junior Tyler Turituri is the front-runner at quarterback. He's a shifty runner in a tailback's mode, but he's also grown as passer through the Barton Football Academy.

Wanna stop the run? Go ahead, says Beck.

"I hope teams load the box," he says. "That really opens up the passing game, and all our quarterbacks can throw the ball."

Devin Massey and Derek Cartwright, who are both good zone backs and dangerous in space, says Beck, are battling for the No. 1 running back spot.

The offense will get started up front with returning starters Zack Zelecki and Wayne Hoyt at the tackles and Rogan VanOrgen at guard. Hoyt and VanOrgen each go 260 pounds.

Defensively, Crater has everyone back except inside linebackers Kenny Fahndrich and Darrio Mobley, who were co-defensive players of the year in the SSC.

Chief among the returners is mammoth nose guard Michael Bishop, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound senior. A first-team all-conference pick last year, he's already received a scholarship offer from Portland State.

"Bishop's pretty good," Beck says, chuckling at the understatement. "He's pretty fast and he's pretty strong. We've never had a kid get an early offer, ever."

The secondary has more of those speed burners. Seniors Sonday (cornerback) and Sam Clark (safety) were first-team SSC. Cornerback Christian Massey was second team.

Ends Zelecki, a two-way second-team all-star last year, and Cory Slocum, "a stud" who has battled through knee injuries, says Beck, will help in the front.

All-league punter Devin Massey returns to those duties. Austin Segal will handle the kicking.

The Comets open with five nonconference games against the same opponents they played last season and went 2-3 against: Wilsonville, Shasta, Calif., Lakeridge, Jefferson and North Medford.

"It's a really, really challenging schedule," says Beck. "We've been through that the last couple years, so that's nothing new. The kids understand what's expected of them, what we need to do. We just need to prepare and get after it."

The Comets host Wilsonville Friday, then travel for two weeks before entertaining Jefferson and North Medford.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Crater's 321-pound Mike Bishop holds up 110-pound junior varsity player Stefano Sparacino at a recent practice. Bishop, an all-SSC pick last year, has received interest from Portland State. - Jamie Lusch