North Medford's triple threat
While they enjoy goofing around — often at each other's expense — North Medford's leading trio of receivers Eugene Ellis, Jared Evans and Tristen Holmes have proven to be no joke this season for the fifth-ranked Black Tornado.
In an unusual case of gluttony at the high school level, North Medford boasts three receivers capable of breaking a game wide open — and there's really no telling who is going to be the one that breaks your back until the ball is in the air.
"We don't look at it like we've got to go this one to Jared or anything like that," says North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell. "We just run our offense and we try to take advantage of what people give us. Whoever's number has come up has been pretty good. It's not like we're trying to go to one or the other, and I think that's been a real key for us."
"Normally you have one guy you go to in crucial times," adds Mitchell, "and if we don't know who that's going to be, I know the defense sure as hell isn't gonna know either."
If you go by numbers — and the receivers definitely do in their own personal competition — Evans leads the pack with 37 catches for 636 yard and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound target is modest enough to let his teammates offer up that nugget, although he follows that with a wry smile.
Then there's Holmes, who has 27 catches for 554 yards and six touchdowns, including game-winners against Sheldon and Roseburg that his peers willingly note may be the two most important receptions of the season.
And, of course, you can't forget about Ellis, who has 27 catches for 396 yards and five TDs but, according to his counterparts, is also responsible for their success because of his committed blocking on the perimeter.
"Even though I give them a hard time," says North Medford quarterback Troy Fowler, "I think they're the best receivers in the conference, and when you give them a chance to go get the ball usually something good happens. When you see Jared, Tristen and Eugene lining up against the corners we play, I have 100 percent confidence, obviously, that we have the advantage."
It's certainly played out that way this fall for a North Medford team that secured its first conference title and winning season since 2005 in dynamic fashion. The Black Tornado (8-1) enters the Class 6A football state playoffs on Friday on an eight-game winning streak as it plays host to Reynolds at 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium.
"We've been looking forward to this for three years so, obviously, we're pretty pumped when it comes to the playoffs," says Evans, whose team failed to get out of the play-in round last year. "We didn't get the chance my freshman year because even though we were undefeated they don't have a playoff for a freshman team. After missing out again last year, we're hungry for this chance."
Almost as hungry as each is for the football, although team goals and camaraderie override any good-natured competitions they have among the receivers.
"You always want the ball," jokes the 6-2, 180-pound Holmes, who was a second-team all-Southwest Conference selection. "Who doesn't always want it?"
But, as Evans tells it, the combination of the three receivers — along with the receiving threat out of the backfield of junior Nick Janakes and big-play ability of junior receiver Josh Hansen — is what makes the Black Tornado an offense capable of exploding for 407 yards per game.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if I was the only receiver out there I'd be locked down and double covered and not able to do any of what I've done," says Evans, who was a first-team all-SWC pick. "Having them out there also is what makes it explosive for our team."
It's the combination and not the individual parts that makes North's aerial attack so dynamic and lessens the pressure on each player, according to Ellis.
"We don't all play our 'A' game every game but when we don't, one of us steps up," says the 6-1, 190-pounder. "It's every other week with us and you never know what's going to happen because we all make big plays. I think it probably takes a lot of stress off of us knowing that there's more than one option out there."
And while each has a different specialty, Mitchell says the impressive aspect is all are exceptional athletes who play the position with a unique physicality — none more so than Ellis, although Mitchell proudly highlights Holmes' 270-pound bench press.
"Eugene is one of the best perimeter blockers I've had," says the coach of the all-SWC honorable mention pick. "He really is playing well for us. His numbers aren't as good as the other two but we've done a good job of spreading the ball around."
Fowler is responsible for most of the doling out of the football, and even he has no qualms going any direction. And for good reason, he says.
"Eugene's just an all-around awesome wide receiver," Fowler says during his receiver checklist. "He knows where he's supposed to be and even though he doesn't look like he has the best size and the best speed of the three of them, he has great hands and he knows what I want."
"And with Jared, he can just blow past people or can catch a bubble screen and truck kids," adds the junior QB, who set a school record with his 2,170 yards passing thus far. "Tristen is a guy that you just look for in the clutch and when you're in trouble because all those basketball skills he has come into play. If you throw the ball up to him he's going to get it. Really, I can't go wrong throwing it to any of them."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry