PHOENIX — The Phoenix Pirates enter the 2018 season as an unsolicited underdog.
Coming off its first Skyline Conference championship in eight years, Phoenix third-year head coach Jered Gail said Phoenix is taking some hits on social media.
The Pirates shared the conference title with Mazama and Henley, but with nearly 20 seniors gone from the 2017 roster, the Instagram-Twitter universe is forecasting a down season for the Pirates.
But Gail doesn’t agree.
“Our mantra is we have ‘something to prove,’” said Gail. “We have something to prove collectively that is separate from last year. The foundation our program is teaching our kids hard work and showing that respect for each other pays off. Winning is more of a mindset than anything else. Again, every group is different but the goals are the same.”
A determined mental approach is why Gail projects his Pirates will vie for another conference title along with favorites Mazama and Klamath Union.
And three-year starting linebacker Dalton Samis is the poster boy for the Pirates’ blue-collar squad.
“Dalton is just a football player,” said Gail. “He’s smart, he knows the game and is unique in that he understands the big picture.”
Samis has excelled at linebacker for two seasons. Now Gail is asking him to accept an additional role. Because of Samis’ leadership skills and savvy, Gail has him contesting for the quarterback position with junior Nik Goff and senior Zach Dungey.
“We’re having a healthy competition,” said Gail. “Each kid has a different skill set.”
Samis had the edge in leadership, runs well and reads coverages effectively. Goff is more of a zone-read quarterback with running ability, and Dungey is a pocket passer and the most natural thrower.
Senior Michael Walker, who had the most carries last year, will shoulder a heavy load in the Pirates’ spread, one-back attack.
“He’s our go-to-guy,” said Gail. “He gets his shoulder’s square, his pads down and finishes runs. He’s old-school tough.”
The offensive line returns tackles Seth Firestone and Ryan Brumble and guard Dominic McGee.
“The offensive line is a matter of coming together and jelling,” Gail said. “It’s a work in progress.”
But with the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Firestone, the Pirates have a pillar of strength.
“Seth is one of the best tackles I’ve coached,” Gail said. “He’s got good feet and he’s strong. He moves furniture.”
The talented Jacky Hawkins (6-2, 180) provides Phoenix a bona fide threat at wide receiver. The coach projects the senior pass catcher as one of the best in the league.
Defensively, Hawkins will combine with Camron Cory, the fastest player on the team, to give the Pirates a formidable duo at cornerback.
“They have the ability to play man and match up with anyone on the outside,” said Gail. “We have the best of both worlds — a long corner in Jacky, and Cory is real fast and good in man coverage.”
Gail says another strength of the Pirates 4-3 defense is the linebacking corps of Samis, Walker and Jason Robidou.
“They’re a veteran group that has played a lot of snaps at linebacker,” Gail said. “This is a salty group that make dudes run to the sideline.”
Gail refuses to buy into the internet chatter minimizing the Pirates’ chance for success.
“Our team is more athletic and faster than our team last year,” he said. “To sum it up, I like this team, I like their character and work ethic. We’re solid where we need to be to compete week in and week out. They’re going to turn some heads.”
Jered Gail (third year, 9-9).
After Phoenix posted its first Skyline Conference championship in eight years — sharing the title with Mazama and Henley — the Pirates will try to build on that success with a blue-collar team.
ASSISTANTS: Brent Bowker (running backs/linebackers), Patrick Shed (running backs/defensive backs), Neill Carvalho (JV head coach/quarterbacks/wide receivers), Bill Hutchinson (running backs/linebackers), Kevian Applewhite (wide receivers/defensive backs), Micah Dungey (tight ends/defensive line).
2017 LEAGUE RECORD: 4-1 (tied for first, Skyline).
2017 OVERALL RECORD: 7-3.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Fourth.
34Crook County 12
28South Umpqua 27
48Hidden Valley 0
50North Valley 3
40Klamath Union 19
OFFENSE (5): Tackle Seth Firestone (6-2, 270, sr.), guard Dominic McGee (6-0, 220, jr.), tackle Ryan Brumble (6-0, 220, jr.), wide receiver Jacky Hawkins (6-2, 180, sr.), running back Michael Walker (5-8, 160, jr.).
DEFENSE (6): Tackle Seth Firestone, linebacker Jason Robidou (6-0, 190, sr.), linebacker Michael Walker, linebacker Dalton Samis (6-0, 180, sr.), cornerback Jacky Hawkins, cornerback Camron Cory (5-10, 180, jr.).
OTHER NOTABLES: Wide receiver/quarterback/defensive back Nik Goff (5-8, 160, jr.), running back/linebacker Joey Wilson (5-11, 200, sr.), quarterback/wide receiver Zach Dungey (6-1, 160, jr.), lineman Kalen Hines (6, 230, sr.), wide receiver/defensive back Davon Ruiz (5-8, 160, so.), wide receiver/defensive back Luis Tapia (6-3, 180, jr.), lineman Salvador Castanon (5-11, 220, jr.), running back/defensive back Mateo Lopez (5-10, 160, jr.), running back/linebacker Eddie Page (5-10, 190, sr.), lineman Ariel Lopez (6-1, 260, jr.), tight end/linebacker Tharon Gail (6-0, 200, so.).
Aug. 31CASCADE CHRISTIAN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7at Newport, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14SWEET HOME, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21at Mazama, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28KLAMATH UNION, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5at Henley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 12COTTAGE GROVE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19NORTH VALLEY, 7 p.m.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or email@example.com