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FOOTBALL '19: Eagle Point out to beat odds

Coaching a high school football team without an experienced quarterback is always a challenge. Imagine mentoring a squad whose starting signal-caller is wearing a gridiron uniform for the first time.

That’s the conundrum facing first-year Eagle Point head coach Erik Johnson. There are other concerns, such as a mere four starters intact from a year ago, the program’s best player transferring to North Medford before Johnson was hired in late May and a coaching staff that wasn’t finalized until August.

It’s been quite a summer odyssey for the 37-year-old Johnson since he left Ontario High in Eastern Oregon and headed to the Rogue Valley. But his calm, collected and confident personality has him thinking positively.

“A lot of what’s happened these past few weeks I’ve had no control over,” Johnson said. “But I can already feel this team coming together. The kids are getting more comfortable with me and the new staff. We’ve got 80 kids in uniform and a lot of them are good athletes.

“We plan on being competitive right away.”

Johnson’s first order of business was rounding up quality assistant coaches and, if he could find them, a familiar face or two around town.

Hiring longtime Eagle Point coaches Tyson Wolf and Joe Meerten to lead the freshman team met the criteria. Landing defensive coordinator John Oliva, who once coached with longtime Ontario and Eagle Point coach Harry Hedrick, was another home run.

Johnson reached out to Hedrick before he took the Eagle Point job.

“You come to these big life decisions and it’s nice to be able to contact someone like Harry, who had very positive things to say about Eagle Point,” Johnson said.

Johnson would have had a stellar anchor piece in running back Devin Bradd, one of the state’s top sophomores a year ago when he rushed for 1,350 yards and 21 touchdowns, including a school-record 281 yards and five scores in an 82-56 victory over North Eugene.

But Bradd was gone before Johnson arrived in Eagle Point.

So, the Eagles will persevere with just two returning starters on each side of the ball from last season’s squad that went 7-3 overall and 2-3 in the Midwestern League South Division, where they placed fourth: center Santos Godines and left tackle Tyler Gove on offense and safety Justin McElroy and cornerback Lucas Meerten on defense.

With no varsity caliber quarterback in sight when he arrived on the scene, Johnson turned to Kyle Kendrick, a catcher in baseball who’s new to the gridiron.

“It’s obviously a process but he’s catching on quick,” said Johnson of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior Kendrick. “He’s an athletic kid who can run and he’s getting better each day at throwing the ball.

“He gives us the best chance to win at the quarterback position.”

Look for the Eagles to run often behind the 5-9, 230-pound Godines and the 6-4, 250-pound Tyler Gove. Junior left guard Brenden Monroe (6-1,190) is also excelling in the trenches, Johnson said.

“My philosophy is to establish the run on offense and stop the run on defense,” said Johnson, who led Ontario to three Greater Oregon League titles and a berth in the state semifinals in 2017. “That’s what we’re going to hang our hat on, and it looks like we’ve got some solid kids up front to make that happen this season.”

Johnson runs a spread-type offense that incorporates components of the Wing-T. Look for the Eagles to run a lot of trap plays, counters and reverses, with play-action passes mixed in.

Godines has surfaced as a team leader despite his quiet nature.

“He has the experience, he can speak to that, and so we’re trying to get him to be more vocal, get his teammates lined up where they’re supposed to be,” Johnson said. “You can’t survive without team leaders.”

McElroy has emerged as the Eagles’ starting tailback while the speedy Meerten will serve in a utility role — lining up in the backfield or at wide receiver. The pair will also be formidable at cornerback on defense.

Other impactful defensive players figure to be Gove at nose guard and Monroe and Jared Dole at linebacker.

Given their circumstances — new coach, new quarterback, inexperienced players throughout, best player leaving — Las Vegas oddsmakers might list the Eagles as underdogs each time they took the field this fall if Midwestern League matchups were up on the board.

Eagle Point plans to buck the odds.

EAGLE GLANCE

HEAD COACH: Erik Johnson (first year).

Johnson led Ontario to a 28-28 record after taking over in 2013, earning at least a share of the Greater Oregon League district championship during his past three seasons. The Tigers reached the 4A semifinals in 2017.

GENERAL INFORMATION

ASSISTANTS: Trampis Waite (offensive coordinator), John Oliva (defensive coordinator), Josh Graves (offensive line), Nate Helwig (JV head coach), Oliver Herazo (defensive line/JV), Jory Foulon (freshman), Tyson Wolfe (freshman), Joe Meerten (freshman).

2018 LEAGUE RECORD: 2-3 (fourth, MWL).

2018 OVERALL RECORD: 6-3.

PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Tied fourth.

2018 RESULTS

Eagle Point; Opponents

35; Klamath Union 28

40; Redmond 8

48; Springfield 7

27; South Eugene 43

52; Ashland 17

40; Churchill 61

20; Crater 65

82; North Eugene 56

62; Willamette 46

RETURNING STARTERS

OFFENSE (2): Center Santos Godines (5-9, 230, sr.), left tackle Tyler Gove (6-4, 250, sr.).

DEFENSE (2): Safety Justin McElroy (5-8, 175, sr.), cornerback Lucas Meerten (5-9, 165, jr).

OTHER NOTABLES: Quarterback Kyle Kendrick (6-2, 180, sr.), running back Gabriel Hupf (5-8, 160, jr.), guard Brenden Monroe (6-1, 190, jr.), linebacker Jared Dole (6-1, 180, jr.).

2019 SCHEDULE

Sept. 6; KLAMATH UNION, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13; REDMOND, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20; at Springfield, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27; at Thurston, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4; SOUTH EUGENE, 7 p.m.

Oct. 11; at Ashland, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18; at Churchill, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25; CRATER, 7 p.m.

Nov. 1; NORTH EUGENE, 7 p.m.

Eagle Point quarterback Kyle Kendrick, a senior, is new to the Eagles’ program. Here he takes a snap in a jamboree last week at North Valley High in Merlin.