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Crusaders eager to step back into SCL

Jamie Young knew it would be a long haul revamping the St. Mary’s football program.

Numbers were dwindling and interest was waning at the school when Young took over as head coach in 2010, a season in which the team had to forfeit its final four games because of a lack of healthy bodies.

The following season, the Crusaders went to an independent schedule and have been without a league to call home ever since.

Until now.

St. Mary’s has re-joined the Southern Cascade League, a four-team group that includes long-time rival and defending Class 3A state champion Cascade Christian.

“We’re very excited,” said Young, who has led St. Mary’s to a 13-5 record over the past two seasons. “This is something that has been a goal all along since we had to cut the season short in 2010. The kids are excited, the coaches are excited and the administration is excited.”

As far as numbers, the Crusaders turned out 30 players this season — nearly double the turnout in 2010.

“We had only about 17 kids turn out that first year,” said Young. “That’s tough. Any injuries and you’re in trouble with that many kids. And that’s what happened.”

St. Mary’s has only five seniors on the team, and two of those are playing their first year of football.

“I think that speaks to what we’re trying to build here,” said Young. “Getting kids out for the first time — and they’re seniors — shows the level of excitement on campus.”

The road back for the once-proud program — eight state championship banners hang in the school’s gymnasium — started by finding success on the field. The Crusaders went 4-5 in their first season as an independent and posted 7-2 and 6-3 marks, respectively, the last two years. It also helped with the fairly recent addition of a weight room and a growing middle school program.

Getting back into a league is just icing on the cake for the rebuilding Crusaders.

“People have been really supportive of us and of me the last couple of years,” said Young. “It’s nice to have some kids genuinely excited to get back into a league.”

One constant through the previous three seasons for St. Mary’s has been quarterback Denton Edwards, a three-year starter returning for his final go-around. The 6-foot, 180-pounder will spearhead the Crusaders’ single-wing offense.

“He’s very athletic and has been very committed in the weight room,” said Young of Edwards. “He’s definitely stronger and faster and has a better understanding of the offense and how it’s evolved over the last few years.”

“Denton is a threat running the ball but has also really developed his passing skills,” added the coach.

St. Mary’s also returns six starters on offense and seven on the defensive side.

Young points to an experienced offensive line — Riley O’Sullivan (senior), Josh Martin (junior) and Thomas Cox (sophomore) all return — that will make the offense run a little smoother.

“I see that experience as a definite strength for us,” said Young. “We have multiple formations we run out of that (single wing) and a lot of what we do is predicated on how effective those guys are up front.”

Sophomore Spencer McCabe and junior Tanner Smith return at running back for the Crusaders, while junior Ty Mulholland, playing his first year of football, will join them in the backfield.

On defense, St. Mary’s boasts strength at linebacker behind O’Sullivan, Edwards and McCabe, and along the line with Martin and juniors Connor Rimov and Alexey Wang.

The Crusaders do get some help in the scheduling department, with two of their three SCL games at home. St. Mary’s is considered the visiting team when it takes on rival Cascade Christian in the regular season finale at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

Young knows the transition back into league play won’t be easy but the timing is right for the program.

“We’re perfectly aware we’ll be playing at a different level of competition,” he said. “But we feel we can compete. We’re looking to seeing how far we’ve come.”

St. Mary's quarterback Denton Edwards warms up during a recnet practice. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH