St. Mary’s ninth-year coach Jamie Young has seen the ups and downs in the Crusaders’ program — from dropping to a nonleague schedule for three seasons beginning in 2011 to reaching the state playoffs for the first time in 22 years in 2016.
St. Mary’s went through a learning process last season and posted a 3-5 record with an inexperienced squad. A one-point loss to Lakeview in the final game prevented a second straight trip to the playoffs.
Young has a positive outlook entering 2018 with a talented group of returning players led by all-state senior running back Gavin Rajagopal.
St. Mary’s will face a degree of the unknown with a realignment of its Class 3A league. And the caliber of play is expected to be higher.
The Crusaders and Southern Cascade League traditional foe Cascade Christian will join Brookings-Harbor, Douglas, Hidden Valley and South Umpqua to comprise a new District 2 South Division.
“We want to be a program that competes on a high level year in and year out,” said Young. “One of the things impressive about this team is they’re genuinely excited about the season and their new opponents. They won’t be happy just showing up. They’re starting to believe they can be a pretty good football team.”
Rajagopal, who rushed for 1,474 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, is a good reason.
“Gavin has really good vision on the field looking for different avenues for some non-traditional type cuts,” Young said. “When he’s making cuts, he’s moving forward. Gavin truly believes he can score every time he has the football.”
And with numerous 40-yard-plus runs last year, that belief is not without basis.
But what gives Young such optimism is the Crusaders won’t have to solely rely on Rajagopal.
St. Mary’s has the luxury of returning 10 starters on offense.
“Everything has been accelerated,” Young said. “The degree to which our kids are executing is far ahead of last year. They know what it’s like to play a high school football game.”
Aidan Young, the coach’s son, leads an undersized line that is big on execution and technique.
Young, a senior guard, has started since the final game of his freshman season. Juniors John Beattie (center), Connor Walker (tackle) and Nate Thickett (tackle) return as starters for a second year.
Aliiloa Keo-Wailehua took over at quarterback midway through the season because of a shoulder injury to Cody Conner. The junior Keo-Wailehua, nicknamed “Brother,” has put in the offseason effort to hone his skills.
“He’s worked on his mechanics and his arm is stronger,” Young said. “Brother moves around in the pocket well and makes good decisions throwing,”
Not only will Conner fill the backup quarterback role, but the coach wants to get the senior involved in the offense.
“He’s an athlete that needs to be on the field,” said Young.
St. Mary’s will have depth at wide receiver with Jake Sieg, Alex Heycke, Jake Reynolds and John Covington. Additionally, all-SCL tight end Cobey Aldrich is a dangerous target.
“We want to be as balanced as we can,” said Young. “We’re confident we have a lot of kids we can go to and spread things around.”
The strength of the Crusaders’ 3-3 stack defense is with linebackers Young, Reynolds and Aldrich.
“We have more depth on the defensive line and will have the ability to rotate in some other guys,” said Young. “We’ve done some things, scheme-wise, to free guys up. We’ll find out what our identity will be once we get started.”
Young has been impressed with the team’s dedication. From showing up all summer for meetings and workouts to participation in a team camp at Astoria, the players have demonstrated a commitment.
“We were able to get a glimpse this summer of what we can be,” said Young. “We have hard-working kids that are going to compete and give themselves an opportunity to be in the football game.”
HEAD COACH: Jamie Young (ninth year, 37-36).
St. Mary’s returns 19 starters and is excited about facing new opponents in a realigned district that combines former 4A and 3A schools.
ASSISTANTS: Josh Aldrich (offensive coordinator), Adam Peterson (offensive/defensive line) Steve Thomas (wide receivers/linebackers), Ben Young (defensive backs/running backs), Steve Jacobacci (tight ends/wing backs).
LEAGUE RECORD: 1-2 (tied third, SCL).
OVERALL RECORD: 3-5.
PREDICTED FINISH: Fifth.
34Gold Beach 18
53Illinois Valley 15
14Cascade Christian 70
OFFENSE (10): Quarterback Aliiloa Keo-Wailehua (5-9, 165, jr.), running back Gavin Rajagopal (5-10 185, sr.), wide receiver Jake Sieg (5-11, 170, sr.), wide receiver Alex Heycke (5-11, 175, sr.), tight end Cobey Aldrich (5-11, 195, jr.), wide receiver Jake Reynolds (5-10, 230, sr.), guard Aidan Young (5-10, 195, sr.), center John Beattie (6-0, 170, jr.), tackle Connor Walker (5-10, 185, jr.), tackle Nate Thickett (6-0, 245, jr.).
DEFENSE (9): Cornerback Alex Heycke, cornerback Jake Sieg, linebacker Aidan Young, linebacker Cobey Aldrich, linebacker Jake Reynolds, end Conner Walker, tackle Nate Thickett, end Tre Foster (6-4, 190, jr.), safety Aliiloa Keo-Wailehua.
OTHER NOTABLES: Wide receiver Josh Covington (5-9, 160, jr.), quarterback/wingback/safety Cody Conner (5-10, 165, sr.), safety Brady Eiler (5-10, 175, jr.), offensive guard/defensive line Lance Parrish (5-10, 170, so.), tight end/safety Jonah Hadley (6-1, 170, so.).
Aug. 31AMITY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7at Lost River, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14at Regis, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21GOLD BEACH, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28DOUGLAS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5HIDDEN VALLEY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12at Brookings-Harbor
Oct. 19at South Umpqua
Oct. 26CASCADE CHRISTIAN
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or email@example.com