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New coach, new approach for Chiefs

ROGUE RIVER — When opportunity knocked, Ryan Riggle answered.

Riggle, a 38-year-old emergency room nurse, takes over the Rogue River football program after predecessor Beau Canfield won only one game in two years.

The former Eastern Oregon University defensive end has no high school coaching experience but led the middle school football program in Rogue River for the past two seasons.

"Part of the reason I took this on is I enjoyed the opportunity of coaching some of these kids the last few years," said Riggle.

Prior to moving to the Rogue Valley with his wife and family for a lifestyle change in 2010, Riggle lived in Lewiston, Idaho, for 10 years. When the position became available, Riggle was encouraged to apply by parents. Riggle recognized the significance football had in shaping his life and wanted to provide that to others.

"Some kids only get this opportunity in high school," said Riggle. "I wanted to be there for the kids and give them a program."

With only four seniors out of an initial turnout of 25 players, Riggle has not set his expectations too high for the Class 3A school. Rogue River will play an independent schedule made up of freshman and junior varsity squads, smaller schools and back-to-back eight-man games against Riddle to end the season.

"It's the first time in my career I'm not going to measure success with wins and losses," said the La Grande native. "It's how we play as a team, how to handle adversity, how they do in school and how they treat others. Those are the concepts that not only make good young men but also helps with football."

Riggle plans on continuing with the spread veer option offense of the past.

The Chieftains return six starters on offense, including beefy senior linemen Dean Nelson (6-4, 260) and Thomas Welch (6-0, 260) and sophomore center Gabe Echaide (6-3, 280). Welch, who attended a football camp at Southern Oregon University this summer, has worked hard in the weight room and has taken on a leadership role.

"I think the potential is great all the way across the line," said Riggle, "but until you get in pads, it's hard to get any realization."

First-year player, junior Jaden Bliven, is being looked at for the quarterback spot. Riggle believes Bliven has the skills — executing the option and throwing the ball well — to fill the position effectively.

"He can naturally put the ball where he wants in a catchable manner," said Riggle. "He has quick feet and is one of our fastest players."

Jimmy Scarantino, a starting receiver last year, is being moved to tailback. Jacob Tambellini and Welch will see time at fullback..

"We have some guys that are good at going up and getting the ball and bringing it in," said Riggle. "I have no problem passing. It just depends what we see in practice and on film."

Defensively, Riggle will use a conservative approach and stress the fundamentals of tackling.

Riggle hopes his linebackers will be the playmakers behind the big front line of Nelson, Echaide and newcomer Robert Reeder. Tambellini returns with a year of experience at middle linebacker and Scarantino, who is aggressive and has good instincts, is being moved from cornerback to linebacker.

One of Riggle's biggest challenges is to create the cohesiveness needed to produce a winning football program.

"I like the team concept," explains Riggle. "I want to focus on making these guys feel positive about themselves. This game teaches us so much, especially dealing with adversity."

This season will be a major learning experience not only for the Chieftain players but for Riggle himself.

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480, or email fsilow@mailtribune.com

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Rogue River quarterback Jaden Bliven (left) and fullback Jacob Tambellini are ready for the start of the 2015 campaign. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Welch