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Something special going on at South

Stepping into Spiegelberg Stadium is a special moment for anyone who appreciates the history and grandeur that can be possible at the high school football level.

For South Medford High senior Matt Retzlaff, the moment is special indeed, but not just because the big house provides a grand stage on which to shine.

For Retzlaff, it's a time to remember family and cherish all the great memories that came well before he pulled on his first shoulder pads as a Panther. When you're the grandson of legendary Medford High football coach Fred Spiegelberg, whom the stadium is named after, it's hard not to get caught up in the nostalgia of it all.

Spiegelberg had his Black Tornado teams in the state championship game nine times, winning titles in 1959, '62, '69 and '77 and finishing second in '56, '58, '70, '73 and '80. In 31 years at Medford, he amassed a 253-62-10 record. The local legend passed away in 1996.

"This is my last year in my grandfather's stadium, and that's a huge deal to me," says the all-conference wide receiver and safety for South. "I think about it every time I go to practice or games there. It's a huge honor to be playing on his field, and every time I'm there I just say a prayer that I can do my best for him. I just wish he was still alive and watching me play. I play a lot for him on Friday nights."

Heading into his third year as a varsity performer, that effort by Retzlaff has been more than enough to garner the respect of his teammates and peers. He was the fifth-leading receiver in Southwest Conference play last year with 19 catches for 358 yards and three touchdowns and one of the team leaders in defensive involvements.

"Matt Retzlaff clearly is our rock of Gibraltar," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "Matt's definitely the vocal leader of our team and a guy who doesn't really come off the field as a key contributor on offense, defense and special teams. He's really worked hard and become one of the better players in the league."

With Retzlaff's leadership, and a host of key returners, the Panthers will be looking to stir things up in the race for the 2011 Southwest Conference title. South Medford finished fourth in a preseason SWC coaches poll but received one first-place vote and several nods toward the team's ultimate promise should all come together.

"It's dangerous out there, just dangerous," Retzlaff says in summing up a league dominated by title favorite Sheldon. "We're just going to give it our all, hope for the best and just leave it all on the field."

It's that last factor that has been preeminent for the Panthers since the conclusion of a 2010 season that saw four of South's five losses come by a touchdown or less.

"This is a team that I think is really committed," says Singler. "I think there's enough salty taste in their mouths from last year being so close to a very good year and coming up short by losing those four games by a touchdown or less. Their motto this year is to finish."

The Panthers certainly have the tools to get the job done, notably returning standout linemen Jimmy Ditty, Desmond Harrington, D.J. McGinnis and Wade Kerr, quarterback Jack Singler and tailback Denzel Mobley. Add to the mix an extremely athletic junior class brimming with speed and confidence and you have the makings for positive movement in Panther land.

"We're all a bunch of friends and we're willing to push each other to the next step and hold everyone accountable to keep on moving forward," says Retzlaff, whose older brother Ryan was also a standout two-way player and currently plays for Southern Oregon University.

Jack Singler showed signs of promise but was a little inconsistent in his first season under center, but he has been praised by coaches outside of the South camp for how much more poised and confident he's been leading up to his senior campaign.

"We've got some good receivers that can catch the ball and Jack just knows where to put the ball in the best place for us to make the catch," says Retzlaff.

Singler completed 73 of 144 passes for 1,023 yards, 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the regular season last year, with five of those picks coming in a 31-14 loss at Beaverton.

"It's hopefully a natural progression for Jack from his junior to senior year, just knowing you made it through the war and now you want to go back and do it better," says coach Singler.

Mobley's emergence as a valuable reserve tailback to bruising senior Kevin Gilmore last year should pay big dividends this year. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder provided a quick change of pace and was downright explosive in amassing 513 yards and four scores on 75 carries during the regular season. Gilmore, who has since graduated, wound up leading the league with 1,127 yards and 14 TDs.

"Where Gilmore could get us the 5 or 7 or 10 yards at a clip, Denzel has shown that if he gets through the linebacker area he can take it the distance," says coach Singler. "Denzel can plant and make a cut and if you don't get a handle on him he can take it a good ways."

That explosive nature carries over in a receiving corps led by Retzlaff that includes juniors Adrian Garcia and Max Farthing and seniors Daniel Jimenez and Jake McCoy, who was a starter last season for Ashland.

"We've got some receivers that can get down the field, which is great for us," says coach Singler. "I'm excited about the explosiveness of this team, whereas last year everything it seemed had to be driven down the field for us to score."

Defensively, Ditty and Harrington were key cogs to South's interior pursuit of the ball last year and will be supported by an athletic linebacker corps led by seniors Kirk Eastman and Arnold Sicairos and juniors Pat Alexander, Ben Casebier and Joel Goin.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Senior wide receiver Matt Retzlaff hauled in 19 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns last season for South Medford. - Bob Pennell illustration