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Eagles entering optimistic

EAGLE POINT — The No. 1 objective for the Eagle Point High football team this season is to make the state playoffs, third-year coach Jacob Schauffler said.

That shouldn't be much of a problem, considering EVERY team will qualify for the postseason under Oregon's new all-inclusive state-playoff format.

What Schauffler truly meant was he wants his Eagles to soar as majestically as they did in the 1990s, when they made three straight playoff runs and, competing against the state's largest schools, emerged as the state runner-up in 1995.

"There's a lot of optimism in our program right now," said Schauffler, a standout running back on those powerhouse Eagle teams of the '90s. "We finished the season strong last year and we've got a lot of kids back.

"We've got a chance to really surprise some people."

The Eagles return seven starters on offense and eight on defense from last season's squad that won four of its last seven games, including impressive victories over Hidden Valley and Ashland to close the campaign.

Eagle Point's strength could be up front, where center Manny Valdovinos, guard Brian Strong and tackles Tyrone Holmes and J.T. Rogers return as starters. The quartet averages 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, with road graders Valdovinos (5-10, 275) and Holmes (6-4, 245) leading the charge.

The veteran line, coached by former Eagle Point offensive coordinator Jef McClellan, figures to further fortify a running game that averaged nearly 250 yards per game last season.

Primed to orchestrate Eagle Point's spread-option offense is senior quarterback Shane Bluhm, who moved to Texas last summer but returned in time to log a little duty in 2009.

Bluhm possesses good size (6-2, 210) and a good arm, which Schauffler plans to utilize.

"We'd like to throw it more this year, be more balanced," he said. "We've got a strong-armed quarterback and most of our receivers are back."

The returning pass catchers are Aaron Foster, a second-team all-conference selection a year ago, Loren Nesberg, Jake Shaffer and Ian Morris. Also in the mix this fall is 6-7 junior Zach Reed, a basketball player who may collect a few jump balls on the gridiron.

The Eagles also are deep at running back. Garrett Snow, a 6-1, 225-pound slasher, will get the majority of carries but Schauffler won't hesitate to insert speedy sophomores Caleb Ash (5-11, 190) and Jakob Combs (5-8, 170).

"Snow is the strongest, Ash is the fastest and Combs is a shifty runner who makes people miss," Schauffler said. "They're a good combination of backs and we'll use them all, in different situations."

The defense will be anchored by Holmes, who will line up at end, tackle Mario Rivera and linebackers Nesberg, Snow and Johnny Wilkerson, who started the final three games last season as a freshman.

Leading the secondary will be the lanky Reed, who will roam the field at free safety.

The Eagles will start at least nine juniors and a couple of sophomores, but Schauffler won't even discuss 2011 just yet. Virtually all of the juniors saw quality minutes last season, he noted, and are ready for prime time.

"We had 10 of them in our starting lineup the last game of last season," he said.

They'll need to be battle-tested, considering a challenging schedule that includes Mountain View, Churchill, Marshfield and Marist. Those four teams, which the Eagles meet over the first five weeks of the season, went a combined 36-11 a year ago, with Mountain View reaching the Class 5A state quarterfinals and Marist winning the 4A state championship.

The state's new alignment puts Eagle Point with Ashland in a league of two, which places more emphasis on that matchup since the winner will automatically advance to the second round of the state play-in games in November.

But as far as Schauffler is concerned, the Eagles are in the Midwestern League with the Eugene-area schools. Eagle Point plays all six of the teams in that conference, and when it comes time to selecting the all-conference players, he said the Eagles will be included in the Midwestern mix.

"That stuff is beyond our control," Schauffler said of the realignment. "All we can control is what we do on Friday night."

And help turn what happened in the past to the present.

Don Hunt is a freelance writer who lives in Meridian, Idaho. Reach him at dwhunt15@yahoo.com

Eagle Pt. quarterback, Shane Bluhm pitches to a runner during practice. -- Photo by Andrew Kemp