Expectations are high for veteran Phoenix
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Pirates enter the season with a stacked deck.
In addition to a large number of talented returning starters, Phoenix landed a big-time transfer — the coach’s son, Javan Gail.
It was a no-brainer to have Javan, a senior, transfer to Phoenix for his final prep season to play for his father.
“We’re trying to create a good experience for Javan and what’s best for our family,” said Phoenix second-year coach Jered Gail, who lived six blocks from North Medford High from 2003 before moving into the Phoenix district after taking the job.
Jered Gail, a Henley High and Southern Oregon University graduate, had a long assistant coaching stint at Grants Pass and was on the Black Tornado staff for four seasons before getting the head job at Phoenix in May 2016.
His 6-foot-2, 190-pound son remained at North Medford in 2016 — splitting starting quarterback duties with Josh Robbins, then taking over as the full-time signal caller when Robbins got injured.
“Javan brings some poise and ability to the table,” said the Pirate coach. “He adds a dimension to our team that helps a lot.”
The younger Gail is slotted to be a factor as a defensive back as well
Talk about improving on positions of strength.
If Gail gets the starting quarterback nod, it will be over two juniors who shared starting duties last year — Chase Courtney and Dylan Knudson — and he will be part of a defensive backfield that returns three of four starters.
Offensively, Phoenix wants to establish an effective running game as a foundation.
Junior Cori Romig will get the bulk of the carries as the Pirates’ primary ball carrier behind sturdy fullback Mason Firestone and an experienced line.
“Cori has worked on his physicality,” said coach Gail. “He’s got a whole year of being comfortable in our scheme. He’s good inside the tackles but even better outside.”
With Javan Gail’s presence, Knudson and Courtney have been put in the receiving mix, giving the Pirates some good options.
“Dylan is electric with the ball,” said Gail. “Chase is a possession receiver. He’s big and tall and can stretch the field.”
With five of the six positions returning on the offensive line, Jered Gail’s expectations are high.
“That’s a salty group of kids that have played a lot of football,” he said about tackles Ismael De La Torre and Seth Firestone, guard Matt Saurman, center Joey Price and tight end Jonathan Halligan.
On defense, the Pirates will need lots of improvement after giving up an average of 35 points a game a year ago.
Courtney and De La Torre return as all-league performers on a defense that has experience with eight returning starters. And coach Gail lauds the efforts of middle linebacker Mason Firestone.
“(Firestone) is the cog,” said Gail. “He’s nasty. He’s the maestro.”
Gail sees a commitment and focus with this year’s team.
“We have a group of seniors who have taken over the leadership role,” said Gail. “They have got the other kids to buy in. The kids are leading themselves and not looking to the coaches for all the leadership.”
The Pirates had 45 players at the SOU football camp, and coach Gail said they “held their own against bigger schools.”
“Defensively and overall, we’re months ahead of where we were last year,” said Gail. “Our returning kids understand the game, and we’re bigger, stronger, faster than last year across the board.”
“I’d be lying if I didn’t think we have a chance of competing for the Skyline championship,” added Gail. “That’s not out of reach.”
— Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org