Rogue River charts new course with Sturdevant
ROGUE RIVER — As a high school football standout at Ashland High in the late 1980s, Aaron Sturdevant saw first-hand what it took to build a champion.
Playing for legendary coach Jim Nagel, who led the Grizzlies to 16 state playoff appearances, three state titles and five state-title appearances between 1985 and 2000, Sturdevant, an all-state guard and linebacker, observed the blueprint: old-fashioned hard work, discipline, highly-organized practices, goal-setting for every player, a commitment to the weight room and building a family-like atmosphere among the players and coaches.
“I was fortunate to be a part of a highly successful, well-run program,” said Sturdevant, who took over as head coach at Rogue River High this year. “My plan is to come in and establish those same routines and protocols.”
There are similarities between the Ashland teams of yore and the current Chieftains. The Grizzlies lacked a winning tradition prior to Nagel’s arrival in 1983 and the school was among the smallest in the state compared to other schools in its classification. Ditto for Rogue River, which has secured only three state playoff berths in school history and none since 2002. The Grizzlies became the Little Engine that could. Can the Chieftains?
Less than a week into fall practices, Sturdevant’s influence was already apparent.
“I’ve learned more in four days than I did all of last year,” said Ethan Devish, a 5-foot-8, 200-pound senior lineman. “The practices are way more organized. We’re hopping from station to station. The coaches are going into a lot of depth in terms of fundamentals. There’s no standing around.
“I’m always listening to (Sturdevant).”
Devish said he also noticed a positive connection with the coaches.
“They’re trying to build our confidence and they’re stressing the importance of bonding as a team,” he said. “It’s a fun atmosphere.”
Sturdevant, a gregarious man who serves as the school’s athletic director, knows that revitalizing a football program is a step-by-step process. He has only 24 players in uniform, although 10 juniors and 10 seniors lend maturity and physical strength to the squad.
“I’m really going to be roaming the hallways once school starts and recruiting some freshmen and sophomores to turn out,” he said, noting he had only three of each in uniform when practice began Aug. 16. “Our numbers in the lower grades are a big concern right now. We’ve got to address it.”
Although Rogue River doesn’t have enough players to field a JV team, Sturdevant plans to implement an extra quarter on game nights to provide the underclassmen game-like conditions.
“Even if we’re giving them only 12 to 15 snaps, it’s a big deal,” he said. “There’s no substitute for getting out there between the lines in game-like conditions.”
One component the Chieftains have in their favor is senior leadership. The group recently met at Sturdevant’s home for a barbecue and made it clear that their legacy would be to give 100% effort every minute of every day they were on the field.
“That’s big,” said Sturdevant, who is Rogue River’s third head coach in as many years. “They’re the ones setting the tone of who we are and what we can become.”
Leading the way is quarterback Charlie Smith, a 5-9, 175-pound senior who’s been a part-time starter the past two seasons. Smith also figures to be one of the Chieftains’ top defenders at outside linebacker.
“He’s an incredibly athletic kid with a strong arm,” said Sturdevant of Smith. “He’s our team captain and our leader.”
Sturdevant thinks Smith will be a perfect fit for the spread offense that he’s installed.
Other Chieftains to watch include Devish, a quick, versatile lineman who’s capable of playing center and guard, and fellow linemen Perrin Nelson, Josiah Dearinger, Joshua Watson, Theo Long and Christian Moody. Nelson is also penciled in for duty at fullback and will flank Smith at linebacker.
Sturdevant wants all of his linemen to know more than one position.
Junior Demetrius McWillie could blossom into Rogue River’s top running back, while senior Alleric Cosgrove could emerge as one of the top receivers in District 4. Sophomore receiver Ousten Ellis and junior tight end/fullback Sam Haag have also shown good potential as pass catchers.
Throughout the summer, Sturdevant has had at least 10 youngsters toiling in the weight room. The coach hopes to double or triple that total next year. There will be charts on the wall, detailing records for different lifts. It is here that champions launch their roots and form a brotherhood, Sturdevant said, noting that Nagel told him and his middle school teammates in Ashland, “If you guys commit in the weight room, you’ll win a state title.”
“It was a five-year journey, and it happened,” said Sturdevant, recalling Ashland’s state championship in 1989, when he was a senior. State titles followed in 1991 and 1998. “If you put in the work, good things happen.”
The Chieftains are a long way from being a league title contender, let alone a state title contender. They’re penciled in among the lower-tier teams in District 4. But with a new foreman, the rebuilding project is underway.
Aaron Sturdevant (first year)
ASSISTANTS: Shawn Smith (running backs/defensive backs), Jack Cosgrove (receivers/ defensive coordinator), Wayne Nelson (defensive backs), Derek Nelson (quarterbacks/ linebackers), Andrew Gifford (defensive line).
2020-21 OVERALL RECORD: 0-2.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR:
Rogue River Opponents
24 Lakeview 8
16 Culver 19
18 Brookings-Harbor 42
20 La Pine 34
6 Lakeview 21
22 Glide 13
28 Illinois Valley 26
0 Lost River 24
26 Reedsport 20
Rogue River; Opponents
6 Bandon 68
30 Glide 47
OFFENSE (7): Quarterback Charlie Smith (5-9, 175, sr.), lineman Josia Dearinger (5-10, 200, jr.), lineman/fullback Perrin Nelson (5-10, 190, jr.), lineman Theo Long (6-1, 190, sr.), lineman Joshua Watson (6-1, 230, sr.), lineman Ethan Devish (5-8, 200, jr.),receiver Alleric Cosgrove (6-1, 175, sr.).
DEFENSE (7): Linebacker Smith, linebacker Nelson, lineman Dearinger, lineman Long, lineman Watson, lineman Devish, defensive back Cosgrove.
Lineman Christian Moody (5-11, 230, jr.), quarterback Gavin Dabrowski (5-11, 145, so.), receiver Ousten Ellis (6-0, 180, so.), running back/defensive back Alex Aguilera (sr.), lineman Logan Basharel (jr.), receiver/defensive back Josh Brown (sr.), tight end/linebacker Dylan Ferry (sr.), receiver/defensive back Weston Foor (jr.), running back/linebacker Nolan Giovannetti (so.), receiver/defensive back James Jones (sr.), running back/defensive back Said McWillie (jr.), receiver/defensive back Levi Rolfe (so.).
Sept. 3 BONANZA, 7 p.m. (canceled)
Sept. 10 OAKRIDGE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 BANDON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Reedsport, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 ILLINOIS VALLEY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 LAKEVIEW, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Coquille, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 HARRISBURG, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Glide, 7 p.m.
DISTRICT 4 ROUNDUP
Coquille is a heavy favorite to win not only the District 4 title but also make a run at a state title.
Running back/linebacker Gunner Yates headlines a veteran squad that went 4-1 in the spring, losing only to 4A Douglas. Yates, the son of former Reds Devils and Southern Oregon University standout Griff Yates, rumbled for more than 1,000 yards in the abbreviated spring season and later starred in the Les Schwab Bowl, tallying a touchdown and an interception in helping the South team to a 31-8 win over the North.
The 6-0, 200-pound Yates figures to pile up huge rushing numbers this fall in Coquille’s Wing-T attack as the Red Devils return four of five starters along the offensive line, led by 200-pound guard Patrick Adams and 220-pound tackle Tom Riley.
Bone-rattling linebacker Hayden GeDeros headlines the defense.
Coquille’s only question mark is at quarterback, where three candidates were vying for the starting spot as fall practice began.
Bandon has made the state playoffs the past three seasons and could pose a threat to Coquille if they can generate steady play at quarterback. Braydon Freitag excelled at the position for four straight years before yielding to Wyatt Dyer in the spring. He, too, has graduated.
Running back/linebacker Copper Lang (6-3, 180), receiver/defensive back Denver Blackwell (5-9, 160) and two-way lineman Johnny Helms (6-0, 215) are among the best players at their positions in District 4.
Burns native Ryan Moss takes over the Lakeview helm after spending seven years as an assistant at Alaska power Kenai Central High.
The Honkers’ strength could be up front, where 220-pound tackle Julian Cimity, 235-pound guard Shane Vance and 182-pound guard Morgan Ludwig, a state placer in wrestling last year, form a formidable threesome.
Gavin Patterson, a 5-11, 215-pound senior who has also spent time in the trenches, will move to running back in the Honkers’ ground-and-pound approach.
Moss hopes that sophomore Benny Alves will emerge at quarterback to keep opposing defenses honest.
Glide appears to have the premier receiver/cornerback combination in District 4 in seniors Colby Busich (6-4, 170) and Dylan Ackerman (5-11, 155). Both are three-year starters and three-sport athletes, and each was a major contributor on Glide’s baseball team that won the unofficial 2A/1A state title last spring.
The Wildcats boast another three-year starter in senior Braxton Dill (5-11, 165), who will take over at quarterback and patrol the defensive backfield from his strong safety position. Dill is also ticketed for duty at outside linebacker.
Senior Jaden Rondeau (6-1, 230) will anchor the offensive and defensive lines.
Daryl Watson has been promoted from assistant to head coach. His first order of business was to get his players in the weight room and foster a tougher, more physical mindset that was missing in the spring when Glide lost four of its six games. If the Wildcats can toughen up in the trenches they will make a push for a state playoff berth, Watson believes.
Coach Aaron Skinner says his Illinois Valley squad is “starting from scratch” after not fielding enough players to participate in the spring.
In order to make the best of a small roster — the Cougars had only 18 players in uniform on the first day of practice, with nearly half of them freshmen — Skinner will implement a ground-oriented, double-wing offense in hopes of controlling the ball and the clock.
IV has ample size up front to keep the chains moving with junior Riley Denlinger (6-3, 320), senior Austin Parker (5-9, 250) and senior Aaron Miller (6-0, 240) leading the charge.
Senior quarterback Sam Hess (6-1, 175) will orchestrate the offense while Miller will anchor the defense from his linebacker post.
Reedsport is in a rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Bill Shaw, who guided Elkton to four state-playoff berths in eight seasons before becoming an assistant at Reedsport in the fall of 2019.
Reedsport won just two games in 2019 and went 0-6 last spring, but everyone returns. Senior tight end/middle linebacker/punter/kicker Derek Johnson, a 6-3, 190-pound, four-year varsity performer, might be the team’s most valuable player.
Athletic, cerebral junior Gabe Foster, a pitcher and starting shortstop in baseball, returns at quarterback and could blossom. Other Braves to watch include senior running back Keannen Knogle, senior offensive guard Michael Joy and senior offensive tackle Avery Brandon.
If nothing else, the Braves will be feisty on defense. Identical twins Aaron and Adam Solomon and hard-nosed Jose Martinez all finished as state placers — Aaron Solomon won the 106-pound title — for Reedsport’s state champion wrestling team last year. The Solomon brothers will man the cornerback positions while the 5-7, 140-pound Martinez will line up at defensive end.
If Reedsport needs any additional intensity, they can lean on defensive coordinator Lynn Fults, who came out of retirement after many years as a Braves assistant. He was on the staff when Reedsport won the 1990 Class 4A state title.
2A DISTRICT 4 COACHES POLL
1. Coquille 36
2. Bandon 31
3. Lakeview 24
4. Glide 23
T5. Rogue River 13
T5. Illinois Valley 13
7. Reedsport 7
First-place votes: Coquille 6, Bandon 1.