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Crater reloads for another run

CENTRAL POINT — Most of the pundits in Midwestern League football circles are surely projecting some major slippage at Crater High.

It’s understandable. When you’ve lost 24 seniors from the previous season, including a two-way, first-team all-state player and one of the best quarterbacks in school history, and 15 of 22 starting positions off a team that went 11-1 and advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals, a comparable performance seems inconceivable.

But Comets coach John Beck isn’t about to wave a white flag.

“Our skill level isn’t as down as people might think,” said Beck, entering his 13th year at the Crater helm. “Last year’s senior class really set the bar high and the kids we have back are determined to keep it high.

“We’ve got another big senior class (25) and now it’s their turn to lead the way. The attitude, demeanor, work ethic — those things haven’t changed.”

Just how far up the Midwestern League standings the Comets can climb — a top-three finish would lift them back into the state playoffs — might revolve around how quickly and competently they find someone to replace the graduated Matt Struck, an all-league quarterback a year ago.

Ethan Scott, who posted a 7-0 record while quarterbacking the Comets’ junior varsity as a freshman last season, and senior transfer Chase Warren were battling to emerge as the starter in August workouts.

Beck describes Scott as quiet, unflappable, quick and a good decision-maker.

“He’s kind of like a young Joe Montana in terms of his poise,” said Beck of the sophomore. “He’s got the long hair and everything.”

Warren, meanwhile, left Crater for North Medford two years ago. Now he’s back.

“He hasn’t been on the field for a couple years but he’s gone to a lot of camps, throws the ball well and is pretty polished,” said Beck. “We’ll see how this all sorts out.”

Whether it’s Scott or Warren calling signals — it’s logical they could split time in the early games — they should take comfort seeing a massive and experienced line stationed in front of them. Center Sean Bartlett (260 pounds) and tackles Will Hutson (275), Nakoa Kahaulielo (250) and Kooper Edwards (270) all bring starting experience to the field.

Hutson won the top offensive lineman award at the Southern Oregon University camp.

“Our linemen on both sides of the ball are experienced and aggressive,” said Beck. “They’re all pretty dang good.”

Beck might be wise to unleash his behemoth linemen in a power-run game. Punish the opponents with smash-mouth football and control the clock.

“Too boring,” said a chuckling Beck, who has had the Comets in a no-huddle, up-tempo spread look for several years and has no plans to change course.

At running back, senior Jace Godley has shined throughout the summer as the Comets attempt to replace first-team all-state standout Cavin Gillispie. Sophomore Tony Flores, a 5-9, 195-pound power back, should also see action.

“He’s really improved, really come on,” said Beck of Godley, who also will line up at linebacker. “He has great vision and balance. We were so loaded at that position last year that he didn’t get a lot of carries. But he’s going to see the ball a lot now.”

So will slotback/defensive back Austin Kramer. A speedster who advanced to the state track meet in the 100 meters last spring, Kramer has looked especially impressive at safety this summer. He emerged as the top defensive back at a camp at Boise State in June, Beck said.

Kramer, who also figures to be Crater’s top receiver, is being recruited by several schools in the Big Sky Conference, Beck added, but may wind up in the Ivy League at Cornell University, which has been recruiting him for football and academics.

Jake Ireland also returns as a top receiver. Senior Bryce Cwiklinski and junior Cade Weaver could also emerge as capable pass-catchers.

Other standouts on defense are expected to be ends J.T. Gill and John Ale and safety Shay Hall. The 6-2, 260-pound Gill and the 6-1, 260-pound Ale were first-team all-conference performers last season, and Gill earned first-team all-state accolades.

Crater will have all new faces at linebacker. Godley, seniors Markus Bennett and Garrett Stacey and sophomore Logan Lowder are top candidates.

For the second straight year, the Comets believe they have the best kicker in the Midwestern League. In 2015, it was Jason Santoni. Now, it’s Levi Kuhlman, a junior who Beck said thumped a 60-yard field goal in a recent practice and boomed six kickoffs into the end zone.

If the Comets go through some growing pains, they’ll do it away from home. Their first four games and six of their first seven are on the road.