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Tornado braces for opening tussle

Like most of his peers, North Medford football coach Steve Turner is ready for the real deal.

Summer camps, fall practices and controlled jamborees, those things are all nice.

But nothing compares to when the official football season kicks off, as it will Friday night for the Black Tornado and the rest of the Rogue Valley football teams.

“That’s what everybody waits for — the first week of the football season,” said Turner. “Some of us have been waiting for a long time. We’ve been practicing for a long time. The jamboree was good but it’s also nice to get into the regular season and really get this going.”

What awaits North Medford, however, will be a fired-up McNary squad that was stunned 55-27 in last year’s season opener and likely will be looking to atone for that drubbing. That kicked off a winless run through nonconference play before the Celtics righted the ship and went undefeated in Mountain Valley Conference play to win the league title.

“They finished the season on a big-time high note by beating some great teams and they have high expectations for this year,” said Turner of the Celtics, “and I believe they’ve been pointing toward North Medford to rectify early season issues that they had last year. We’re expecting them to play their best game.”

“I know they have a whole lot different attitude about coming to play the Black Tornado this year,” added the second-year Tornado coach, whose team will host McNary at 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium. “I really believe they overlooked us last year. They kicked North’s butt the year before at the varsity level (40-20) and at the JV level and they just thought it was going to be an easy game. It’s not going to be that way this year.”

In Friday’s other Class 6A season openers, South Medford plays at Centennial and Grants Pass is at Oregon City.

At the 5A level, No. 7 Crater opens Friday at No. 2 Wilsonville in a marquee clash, while Eagle Point is host to 4A Klamath Union and Ashland plays at Willamette.

Class 4A Phoenix and 3A third-ranked Cascade Christian meet at 7 p.m. Friday at U.S. Cellular Community Park and, in a top-10 3A clash, No. 10 St. Mary’s opens at No. 4 Amity.

McNary boasts a pair of elite Oregon players in 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior linebacker/running back Junior Walling, who has committed to Oregon State, and senior quarterback Erik Barker (6-4, 220).

North Medford expects to counter with a lineup that Turner believes is deeper at the skill positions than a year ago but also has question marks — albeit positive ones — when it comes to playing time since players haven’t exactly separated from one another to make for a traditional starting lineup.

“We don’t have a set 11 defensively,” said Turner. “We’ll probably play 18 or 19 kids.”

The same goes on offense, where senior Brennan Stults (6-3, 202) and junior Colby Neron (6-0, 185) will share quarterback duties, according to Turner, against McNary. Stults started seven games last year before suffering a shoulder injury, and Neron took over for the final three games. Stults completed 35 of 66 passes for 567 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions in a run-dominated offensive scheme, and Neron was 10-for-27 passing for 147 yards, one TD and three interceptions.

“Both our quarterbacks are better than they were last year, by a lot,” said Turner. “There just isn’t any separation between them right now. We still feel good about whoever’s going to be behind the center.”

“They’re both ready to go,” he added. “They both have been in varsity games so it’s not like we’re throwing out there somebody who has never played a varsity snap before. They both have done some great things and I expect both of them to play well.”

Helping move the chains will be a deep running back corps that includes senior Josh Baptiste, juniors Garrett Henderson, Devin Bradd and Brad Reed, who can also play fullback with juniors Jayden Sandusky and Devin Blankenship and senior Travis Ebert.

Seniors Jett Carpenter and Devyn Grafton provide good experience on the perimeter.

SOUTH MEDFORD AT CENTENNIAL: South Medford ranked eighth in winning percentage (89-50, .640) in a recap recently that evaluated the top 33 Class 6A programs since the classification was formed in 2006, and Bill Singler has seen just about every form of his team’s makeup during that time.

This year’s Panthers are a lot like last year’s version, with almost the entire lineup turned over but largely to seniors making their debut as varsity starters.

“On both sides of the ball we’re going to be kind of a work in progress,” said Singler, in his 22nd year.

Centennial, on the other hand, boasts a host of returners from last year’s season-opening 28-7 loss to South Medford. Seniors Kyle Fitzgerald (quarterback), Alex Ibarra (tight end/linebacker), Daniel Leyva (fullback/linebacker) and Baily Sparks (lineman) lead the charge for the Eagles.

South Medford will turn the offensive reins over to senior Toren Tuttle, a 6-2, 175-pound transfer from Class 4A North Valley. Tuttle has shown promising flashes since coming to the Panthers last spring so Singler is excited to see his continued growth moving forward.

Senior Austin Boster proved his playmaking abilities one year ago as a receiver and in special teams, and the offensive line gets a boost from returners Jacob Hermant (5-11, 240) and Gio Rios (6-1, 230).

Seniors Mason DeVries, Isaac Dillon, Zach Miller and Jamal Parnell give the Panthers solid options in the backfield, while seniors Justin Josephson (defensive line) and James Duane (outside linebacker) help anchor an athletic defense.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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