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Crater eager to restore winning ways

CENTRAL POINT — Humility and a quiet confidence are the watchwords in the Crater High School football locker room this fall.

The confidence comes from the Comets welcoming back eight starters on both offense and defense, along with perhaps the best defensive line that head coach John Beck has fielded since he took over the program in 2004.

The humility comes from three straight losing seasons.

“We’re taking a humble approach,” said Beck. “We know we’re not going to be mentioned as one of the better teams in our league or the state, and we’re fine with that. Our attitude is, we’re going to earn what we get on the field, one play and one game at a time.”

The linchpin of the Comets’ revival is senior quarterback Matt Struck, who hit on 168 of 283 passes for 1,815 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. Struck, who has been offered a scholarship to Western Oregon University, also ran for 157 yards and five TDs a year ago. He isn’t receiving nearly the attention of Springfield’s Trevor Watson, a four-year starter who earned second-team all-state honors a year ago, and that’s just fine with the Crater coaches.

“He’s done a lot in the offseason to get better,” said Comets offensive coordinator David Douglas of the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Struck. “Going over film, understanding our scheme … he has a much more cerebral approach to the game.

“He’s a kid with great skills and great character. He’s kind of an unknown around the state, but I don’t think he will be for long.”

Other than tight end, the Comets return all of their skill position players surrounding the strong-armed Struck. Senior Garret Dey, junior Jake Ireland and senior Spencer Cyr return at receiver and Cavin Gillispie, who rushed for 569 yards and nine touchdowns and earned first-team all-conference accolades in 2014, is back at running back. Tommy Winningham, who split carries with Gillispie and added 166 yards and three TDs, also returns, as does junior Jace Godley.

“We’ve had a rich tradition of receivers at Crater and this group is among the most talented we’ve had,” said Douglas. “Ireland is a big kid (6-4, 185) who can get up the field and make a big play. Dey is a hybrid player who can play inside or outside and Cyr is probably the fastest kid on the team.”

Douglas is also high on speedy junior Austin Kramer, who regularly will spell the other three.

At tight end, senior Kody Young is the starter and senior Jesse Merritt is in the mix.

“We’ve got seven or eight skill kids that we can rotate in there and still move forward,” said Douglas. “And that’s good, because we play at a fast pace.”

Guards Dan Butler and Marcus Carter are the only returning starters up front on offense, but quality and quantity are inundating the Comets between the tackles.

Junior Sean Butler is the established starter at center. Seniors Nakoa Kahaulielo and Terrill Gill are battling it out at right tackle while juniors Wes Huston and Kooper Edwards, a transfer from Eagle Point, are doing likewise at left tackle.

The 6-4, 250-pound Edwards, who also plays basketball, is drawing interest from Army and Oregon while the 6-2, 270-pound Gill is getting looks from Oregon State, according to Beck.

Defensively, Gill and John Ale will line up at tackle while Young and Bryson Campbell are the projected starters at end.

“We’ve never had this much depth in the line,” said Beck, noting the Comets have no less than a dozen juniors in the trenches and 28 on the team. “And these kids are strong. We held our own at the Southern Oregon team camp against teams like Grants Pass and Oak Ridge from (El Dorado Hills) California.”

Winningham and Gillispie are back at outside linebackers, Merritt returns at inside linebacker and junior Shay Hall comes back as a returning regular at free safety. Seniors Austin McDonald and Shaine Lukkes have the inside track at cornerback.

Beck has served as Crater’s defensive coordinator since he arrived at Crater 11 years ago, but he’s relinquishing the job this fall to long-time defensive guru Mike Johnston.

“I decided it was kind of a waste to have Mike around and not have him leading our defense,” said Beck, who is now coordinating special teams. “He’ll run a little more basic scheme and that’s good because the kids won’t have to think as much. They can just fly around and play.”

The Comets boast one of the state’s top kickers in senior Jason Santoni, who banged through a 55-yard field goal in practice a couple weeks ago and added a 52-yarder in a scrimmage. He’ll also handle Crater’s punting duties.

“Our league (Midwestern) is the toughest 5A league in the state, no one argues that,” said Beck, noting that Springfield and Marist reached the state semifinals last season and Ashland advanced to the quarterfinals. “But our goal is to compete for the league title. We’ve got most of our skill kids back and our line is as strong as we’ve ever had. But it comes down to who can execute and score points on offense and get stops on defense.”

And in the case of the Comets, without being flamboyant.

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Crater returns running back Cavin Gillispie, left, and quarterback Matt Struck to what figures to be an explosive offense. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Carter