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Illinois Valley buoyed by change of scenery

Illinois Valley didn't win a football game last season and is only 1-19 in coach Ray Yarbrough's two years.

If ever a turnaround was in order, it's in Cave Junction, and there are plenty of reasons to think it will happen.

IV dropped from the Class 4A Skyline Conference, where it was the smallest school, to the 3A/2A Southern Cascade Hybrid, where it's the largest.

And realignment comes at a time when the Cougar gridders bring back nine starters on each side of the ball, including third-year quarterback Roger Hults.

"We could do real well," says Yarbrough, a 1995 IV graduate. "It all comes down to depth. Are we gonna stay healthy? If we can, then we can really shake something up. I'm not going to predict how many we're going to win, but we're gonna win some football games. We're not gonna be O-fer."

His optimism isn't based on the change in leagues as much as in the offseason commitment by his coaches and players — from fundraising to weight-room workouts to summer camps.

"I hope that reflects onto the football field during game day," says Yarbrough, "and I know it will."

Illinois Valley's last win came on Oct. 10, 2008. It defeated Phoenix, 20-13. The Cougars have since lost 13 straight. They get a chance to end the skid Friday at home against Brookings-Harbor.

If it happens, Hults figures to be a big reason. The senior is like a coach on the field — he'll correct a play called by Yarbrough if he thinks there's reason — and he's made big strides the past two years.

He tended to shy away from contact as a sophomore, then last year became the team's leading rusher as well as passer. Those skills remain, but his leadership qualities have blossomed.

Hults stays late to work with younger quarterbacks and even took his offensive linemen out for pizza, not necessarily a gesture common among teenagers managing their funds.

"He worked all summer as a cook at Taylor's," says Yarbrough of a popular restaurant in Cave Junction.

Still, given the beef up front, Hults must have shelled out a pretty penny.

Augastine Duarte is a 270-pound senior center, and with guard Andrew McLaughlin (210 pounds) and tackle Matt Brock, a 230-pound sophomore, they make a formidable wall.

Hults should have time to find his talented receivers, led by brother Fred — "I don't know that you can know a teammate better than your own brother," says Yarbrough — and Tyler Robbins, who is close to both boys. Slotback Curtis Paulson will also be running route, and he's attracted college attention from summer camps, says the coach. Zach Anderson is another returning receiving option.

Running backs Anthony Becker and Gabe Miller will compete for time.

Defensively, the Cougars run a 3-3 stack, with a couple "spurs," a cross between linebackers and safeties, on the flanks.

Linebackers Fred Hults, Robbins and McLaughlin will be the heart of the defense. Safety Roger Hults, the QB, brings his play-reading ability to the secondary. And nose guard Duarte will clog the middle.

Duarte was injured in the opener last season when he was hit in the back and missed the rest of the year.

"I don't know that we have a kid who's more excited to be back on the football field than him right now," says Yarbrough.

And if Yarbrough's prediction is correct, imagine how excited he and his teammates will be when that first victory comes.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com