Defending champion North Valley rebuilds

MERLIN — Todd Willaman may have to find some bailing wire and duct tape to help out a rebuilding project that is North Valley High School football.

The Knights face major reconstruction after losing 16 of 22 starting positions from last season's team that went 8-2, won the Skyline Conference with a 5-0 record and lost narrowly to Ontario in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

The last time North Valley endured such high turnover — 2010 — they managed to win only one game.

Willaman hopes the success many of his players encountered on last season's JV team — it went 7-2 — will parlay into victories in 2013.

"How that translates is difficult to predict," said Willaman. "Teams like Phoenix, Henley and Mazama were playing a bunch of young kids (on varsity) last year, and so that played to the advantage of our JV kids.

"But it's nice that our guys are hitting the varsity level with a running start. We had a lot of guys flying around and playing with great intensity on that (JV) team last year."

The first phase of Willaman's restoration plan is quarterback, where senior Cole DeCourcey, junior Robbie Stalford and sophomore Gary Jantzer are battling for the starting job.

"They've all done some good things," said Willaman, "but we need more consistency."

Whoever wins the signal-calling prize can take comfort knowing that most of North Valley's experience is along the offensive front, where center Joseph Calzada and guards Matt Bishir and Travis Gray return as starters. The Knights' other returning regular on offense is wide receiver Nathan Rusk.

Senior running back Kyler Smith, whose fireplug frame (5-foot-7, 185 pounds) makes him tough to bring down, returns as the team's leading rusher. Junior Jordan Hannah, himself a load at 6-0, 200, also expects a lot of work.

Calzada, who earned second-team, all-Skyline honors last season along the defensive line, spearheads an eager but inexperienced defense.

Linebacker looks like the strength of the defense as Gray, Rusk and Sean Cole return at that position with Hannah pushing hard for playing time.

Senior free safety Austin Jackson leads what could be a highly competent secondary.

"We need some guys to step up, to re-establish our identity," said Willaman. "We've got a lot of guys battling for spots."

Fortunately for the Knights, they've got four nonleague games before meeting Mazama in their Skyline opener on Sept. 27 in Klamath Falls. Perhaps by then, their house will be in order.

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