ROGUE RIVER — The Rogue River football team is feeling extra motivated heading into the 2018 season.
The Chieftains are back in a league after four seasons as an independent program, meaning they’ve got a chance to qualify for the postseason.
Making the playoffs wouldn’t have even been a realistic possibility until last fall, when Rogue River enjoyed a 7-2 season as a Class 3A team playing an eight-man schedule. The three previous seasons, the Chieftains were 0-22.
After offseason reclassification, Rogue River is now back to the 11-man game as a member of 2A District 5 with Glide, Illinois Valley, Lakeview and Lost River. The Chieftains return nine starters on both sides as they gear up for their season opener against Myrtle Point at home.
“I know the kids are hyped up about it,” fourth-year head coach Ryan Riggle said. “They understand it’s a lot of work. It’s been one of their big goals and to put them in a position to have something to shoot for, I think that is a big motivator. The mentality or personality of our team is right where I want them to be. I want guys who can work hard, and they do.”
Offensive starters back for Rogue River include senior quarterback Derek Nelson, junior wide receiver Aiden Canoe, senior receiver Austin Gardner, junior lineman Gabe Tambellini, senior receiver Cameron Hooker, senior lineman Jose Chavez, senior tight end Ethan Canoe, junior lineman Brandon Gordon and junior running back Carsen Smith.
Nelson also plays linebacker, Aiden Canoe cornerback, Gardner safety, Tambellini linebacker, Hooker cornerback, Chavez linebacker, Canoe linebacker, Gordon defensive lineman and Smith safety.
Nelson and Hooker (the team’s leading receiver last fall) are fourth-year starters. Canoe led the squad in tackles in 2017.
Twelve 2A teams — two from each league — automatically qualify for the OSAA’s 16-team playoff bracket based on regular season and/or special district tournament play. Four additional teams will qualify for the bracket based on the OSAA rankings.
Until last year, Rogue River hadn’t recorded a winning season since 2009 and hadn’t won a game since late in 2013. Last year’s success gives the team confidence entering this new campaign.
The Chieftains’ only losses in 2017 came against Gold Beach and Crow.
Rogue River’s spread offense features veer and power packages with a good mix of read option.
“I’ve been working with these guys since they were in seventh and eighth grade,” Riggle said. “They know the system and work really hard. We had a great summer program and are excited.”
The Chieftains have a roster of 24. Riggle said he’d like to have a junior varsity team, but simply didn’t have the personnel.
“That is an issue,” he said. “We should have 25-30 kids, but the numbers just aren’t there. That’s an overall problem in football right now.”
Other returners of note are senior lineman Max Baines, junior running back/safety Caden Tognoni, sophomore lineman John Stanley, sophomore lineman Greg Smith and sophomore receiver/defensive back Mark Bandy.
Players new to the school are senior running back/linebacker Dyllan Houser, junior receiver/safety Michael Colbert, junior receiver/cornerback Diego Agosto and senior corner/receiver Aiden Norris.
Seniors Jaeger Dunnick and Tristan Spaeth (who is also a soccer goalkeeper at Rogue River), junior Ethan Walden, sophomores Brayden Hooker and William Decker and freshmen Caleb Garwood, Dylan Ferry and Allric Gosgrove are other players to watch.
Rogue River lost several key members to graduation, including tailback/fullback Jacob Tambellini, center Bill McVeigh, cornerback Chris Wilkerson and right tackle Gabe Echaide.
Chavez appears solid at center now, and Houser should help with fullback duties, Riggle said.
All in all, the Chieftains are right where they want to be.
“This is a great situation for us,” Riggle said.
Ryan Riggle (fourth year, 7-15).
Rogue River has played an independent schedule for four years. With a league to call their own, the Chieftains are aiming for the playoffs.
ASSISTANTS: Dwayne Nelson (offensive coordinator), Mike McCormick (defensive coordinator/offensive line/defensive line), Sean Smith (defensive backs/running backs), Jack Cosgrove (wide receiver/offensive strategist), Kim Tambellini (linebackers/offensive line/strength and conditioning).
2017 OVERALL RECORD: 7-2.
20Myrtle Point 14
40Siletz Valley 6
24Gold Beach 53
0Crow 1 (forfeit)
OFFENSE (9): Quarterback Derek Nelson (6-0, 200, jr.), tight end Ethan Canoe (6-2, 220, sr.), wide receiver Aiden Canoe (5-10, 180, jr.), wide receiver Cameron Hooker (5-10, 175, sr.), lineman Jose Chavez (5-10, 240, sr.), lineman Gabe Tambellini (6-0, 220, jr.), lineman Brandon Gordon (6-0, 200, jr.), wide receiver Austin Gardner (6-4, 210, sr.), running back Carsen Smith (5-10, 175, jr.).
DEFENSE (9): Linebacker Derek Nelson, linebacker Ethan Canoe, cornerback Aiden Canoe, cornerback Cameron Hooker, linebacker Jose Chavez, linebacker Gabe Tambellini, lineman Brandon Gordon, safety Austin Gardner, safety Carsen Smith.
Running back/linebacker Dyllan Houser (5-8, 185, sr.), wide receiver/safety Michael Colbert (5-8, 185, sr.), wide receiver/cornerback Diego Agosto (6-2, 175, jr.), cornerback/wide receiver Aiden Morris (6-5, 190, sr.), lineman Max Baines (6-0, 240, sr.), running back/safety Caden Tognoni (5-10, 170, jr.), lineman John Stanley (6-0, 240, so.), lineman Greg Smith (6-0, 185, so.), wide receiver/defensive back Mark Bandy (5-10, 160, so.), wide receiver/defensive lineman Jaeger Dunnick (6-2, 175, sr.), kicker/receiver/defensive lineman Tristan Spaeth (6-0, 185, sr.), lineman Ethan Walden (6-0, 250, jr.), running back/defensive lineman Brayden Hooker (5-10, 200, so.), wide receiver/defensive lineman William Decker (5-10, 170, so.), quarterback/linebacker Caleb Garwood (5-10, 180, fr.), fullback/linebacker Dylan Ferry (5-10, 175, fr.), wide receiver/cornerback Allric Cosgrove (5-10, 180, fr.).
Aug. 31MYRTLE POINT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7at Culver, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14BROOKINGS-HARBOR, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21at La Pine, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28at Lakeview, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5GLIDE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12ILLINOIS VALLEY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19at Lost River, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26REEDSPORT, 7 p.m.
Reach freelance writer Dan Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org