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North aims to take next step

There was no mistaking the fact that Brian Reese was given a trial by fire last season.

Although he spent the previous summer guiding North Medford's football team, the expectation was that he would be the No. 2 quarterback come fall camp. All that changed when Matt Maurer decided to sit out the season.

And while the quarterback occasionally got burned, he mostly succeeded in withstanding the heat that comes with guiding the Black Tornado.

That experience, challenging as it may have been, should only serve to strengthen North Medford's chances this season in what should be a tight race in the Southwest Conference.

"Being thrown into a situation the way he was last year, I was very pleased in the way he handled himself," said Black Tornado head coach Jeff Olson.

The then-junior wound up completing 135 of 223 passes for 1,664 yards, with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the regular season. Most importantly, Reese was integral in guiding North Medford to its first appearance in the state playoffs since 2005.

As one of only two starting quarterbacks returning in the SWC, even more will be asked of the 6-foot, 180-pound standout this time around. The Black Tornado was pegged to finish fourth in the preseason SWC coaches' poll, behind Sheldon, South Medford and Roseburg.

"He's experienced most of what you can experience in a high school football game," said Olson. "Now he goes into a new role of being a senior starter, whereas last year people didn't know what to expect out of him. This year is different. People are going to be expecting more out of him this year."

While some might think Reese is being given the green light to air it out as much as possible, that's not exactly what Olson means. The Tornado is installing yet another offensive system this season, this time with the quarterback starting under center almost exclusively and with even more emphasis on a running game that is near and dear to Olson's heart.

"My background is that I want to run the football but we just have not run the ball very well," said Olson, whose team ran for an SWC-low 740 yards last year. "We've got to get back to that mentality to complement each other on both sides of the line of scrimmage."

Making everything go smoother on offense will be a sturdy bunch of linemen, led by returning senior tackles Drew Gibson (6-6, 230) and Marshall Bertrand (6-1, 255). Center Jordan Sparks (6-2, 225) and guards Marlon Campos (6-2, 285), Brenden Hyrst (5-11, 195) and Mitch Lesh (6-1, 230) round out the front line.

Gage Jacobson gradually increased his role at tailback last season and is primed for more action as a senior. Already a tackling machine at linebacker, Jacobson dashed for 153 yards and two TDs on 38 carries last year.

"He is a very good running back, we just didn't give him very many carries last year," said Olson.

Fellow senior Hector Alvarez provided another bright spot at tailback as last season wore on, finishing with 181 yards on 42 carries, while senior Jesse Hornbrook could be another difference-maker in the backfield after sitting out last season.

On the perimeter, North Medford returns its Nos. 2 and 3 receivers from last year in second-team all-conference pick Jeremy Scottow (32 catches for 326 yards) and Fiki Silafau (26 for 292).

Under Olson's guidance last year, the Black Tornado defense led the SWC in yards allowed at 280 per game and ranked second in points allowed (21.2 per game). With Jacobson, Hornbrook and Roger Keller at linebacker and a secondary filled with returners like Jonathan McUne, Cody Wedman and Dayton Gilinsky, Olson expects the defense to not miss a beat.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

North Medford quarterback Brian Reese looks to lead the Black Tornado back to the postseason. - Jim Craven