The Mazama football team owns three straight undefeated seasons in the Skyline Conference and hasn't lost a league game since Oct. 25, 2013.
The Vikings return several strong players this fall, head coach Vic Lease said, but expectations are tempered. Mazama graduated the Skyline's offensive and defensive players of the year in Tyler Mclin and Josh Hammers, respectively.
"We'll be OK," said Lease, whose team went 7-2 overall and 5-0 in conference last season. "It's hard to continue that type of success, but we have some young kids stepping up."
Mazama senior tackle Cameron Hankins is "the real deal," Lease said, coming in at a generous 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. He'll serve as the anchor of the line and give plenty of protection to senior quarterback Brandon McVey, a two-year starter.
Senior halfback Braden Wright is a returning all-conference selection and senior split end/defensive back Trey Lopez is the most explosive player on the squad, Lease said.
Junior fullback Buddy Zakour (5-10, 210 pounds) makes for a special talent in Mazama's triple-option system.
"He can run the ball, he can block and he can catch," Lease said. "He's the total package."
Mazama opens at South Umpqua and kicks of its league season at Phoenix Sept. 22.
"(The Skyline Conference) is going to be better than it has been," Lease said. "The last few years I didn't feel like the conference top to bottom was very tough. There were two teams that were top-end 4A caliber football programs. At least half the league is quality (now), maybe more."
Seniors Austin Clayton and Daniel Bolduc and juniors Zach Farmer and Brandon Farris enter their third year starting together on the offensive line and will be tasked with creating a comfortable environment for sophomore Toren Tuttle.
Tuttle takes over at quarterback after an offseason battle with Gavin Tamblin was cut short when the latter suffered a fractured fibula at team camp. Tuttle was the JV quarterback last year and is the son of offensive coordinator Aaron Tuttle.
Senior Daniel Cram takes over at running back and packs a punch at 200 pounds. He will be heavily featured, along with darting junior Tanner Hale.
Christian Wytcherley provides a nice perimeter target at 6-foot-6, and the Knights will be adding an H-back in Austin Soler and Dawson Manni to provide more strength in the running game to go with their receiving traits.
Linebackers Cram and Manni expected to be freed up even more this year with the Knights’ switch to a 3-4 scheme, with Soler returning at middle linebacker and Wytcherley anchoring the safety spot.
Head coach Neil DeForrest said the Knights, who were second in the Skyline at 4-1 last year and finished 8-2 overall, expect to compete for one of the league’s three state playoff berths.
First-year head coach Alex Stork inherits a veteran squad with 30 seniors and a host of returners, led by third-year starting quarterback Kyle Hadwick, that should allow Henley to compete for a spot in the Class 4A state playoffs.
Hadwick (6-0, 180) is an elusive all-league performer who will have plenty of backfield help in powerful running back Will Conrad (5-11, 220). Paving the way for both will be returning linemen Logan Kappas (5-9, 215), Wyatt Quinowski (6-1, 215) and Garrett Campbell.
John O’Connor will play a versatile role as a slot receiver and running back to go with his duties at linebacker, where he will be joined by sophomore up-and-coming talent John Tacchini (5-8, 190).
Stork said he’s been impressed by the work thus far of defensive end Cody Seater (6-2, 200) and safety Connor Bryant (5-11, 180), with junior Hayden Rasica (6-1, 175) expected to have an impact on both sides of the ball and sophomore Heith Rasica (6-4, 190) showing enough promise that the Hornets will try to utilize some packages with him also at quarterback.
Stork, a former Klamath Union standout, most recently served as cornerbacks coach at Southern Oregon University last season and is Henley’s third head coach in four years.
All-Skyline senior linebacker Scott Coleman (5-10, 170) helps makes the Klamath Union defense the strength of the team.
The Pelicans also return senior cornerback Eli Riddle (5-7, 160), linebacker Sam Corely and lineman Tyler Heaten (6-2, 270).
Junior Izak Peterson (6-3, 200) has moved up from JV to win the quarterback spot. Peterson should give a boost to the KU passing game, which struggled last season. Corely will carry the load on the ground as the primary running back
At tackles, Heaten, an all-league pick, will be paired with junior Jager Hogen (6-4, 230). Senior Grant Ysen (6-6, 170) returns at wide receiver
Klamath Union coach Tom Smith is excited with the offensive possibilities of speedy sophomore Darius Holmes (6-2, 190).
With a good nucleus of returning players, first-year coach James Powers is optimistic the Mustangs will be improved.
Powers, a former, SOU player and 2002 graduate, had been on the Mustangs’ staff the four previous seasons and was an eight-year assistant at Eagle Point.
Senior dual-threat quarterback Ethan Hill (6-1, 205) gives the offense versatility and leadership. Seniors Nick Elmore and Garrett McNair provide experience at running back, and a trio of receivers, led by 6-2 Casey Copeland, offer reliable targets for Hill.
The Mustangs return only one starting offensive lineman, junior tackle Clancy Allen (6-2, 260), but Powers is encouraged by his options up front.
Defensively, Elmore and Copeland are the leaders at middle linebacker and defensive end respectively. Senior Garrett Marcoulier, injured and lost for the season early last year, should play a big role at linebacker. And Brycen Stevens, Cole Lawson and McNair all return in the secondary.