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Coach Bill Singler works with Panther linemen during practice Wednesday evening. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

PREP FOOTBALL: South hosts Centennial

After spending the better part of the past few weeks inside a gym, it’s a safe bet that football teams throughout the Rogue Valley are more than eager to put the pads on and actually create some contact.

After recent jamborees, teams will finally get their chance to mix it up for real with the start of the 2018 season Friday night.

As the last local team to finish its season last year, South Medford will look to build upon last year’s run to the Class 6A state championship game as it unveils an almost entirely new look against Centennial for the marquee matchup of Week 1.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium, although if air quality conditions are a factor Friday the game could be moved to Saturday at a site to be determined.

“Just getting a home game would be good for us,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “We’ve played enough road games. Last year nine times out of 14 we wore our white (road) jerseys. I bet we were the most traveled team in the history of 6A or (prior to 2006) 4A large-school football; nobody traveled more than us.”

In other 6A matchups, North Medford will take the field for the first time under the direction of Steve Turner when it travels to play McNary and Grants Pass will play host to an intriguing matchup with Oregon City.

At the 5A level, Crater faces a prime opening test with its home opener against Wilsonville, while Eagle Point will look to get off to a good start at Klamath Union and Ashland plays host to Willamette, which has rejoined the 5A ranks after competing in the Southwest Conference the past four years.

Another exciting matchup will be played at Jack Woodward Stadium on Friday, where Class 4A Phoenix will test its mettle against 3A defending state champion Cascade Christian. The Pirates replace a host of graduated starters with senior Dalton Samis leading the charge. The Challengers also will look to move on after losing a standout senior class behind the capable skills of junior quarterback Kiegan Schaan, who takes over for his graduated all-state brother Haiden Schaan — last year’s 3A offensive player of the year.

In other openers, St. Mary’s will play host to perennially strong Amity in a 3A battle at U.S. Cellular Community Park — with three-year starting running back Gavin Rajagopal opening his senior campaign — while Rogue River plays host to Myrtle Point and Butte Falls plays at Prospect.

Chris Knudsen retired after 32-year run as head coach at Centennial in the offseason and has been replaced by Butch Self, who served as an assistant coach at Glencoe the previous four years.

With changes expected from the way the Eagles have played in the past, Singler and company have focused more on themselves and putting their best foot forward Friday to help answer statewide questions after the Panthers lost almost every starter from last year’s state runner-up squad.

“We’ve gone into these first games before like this, and even with not even trading game tape, and we just kind of strap it up and adjust as the game goes on,” said Singler.

Both teams did exchange tape this week from recent jamborees so the competition isn’t a complete mystery, and Singler left impressed with the Eagles, who were predominantly an option-based attack under Knudsen but are moving to a more spread offensive scheme with four receivers.

“They’re going to present a big challenge for us because, unlike us, they’ve got kids that played last year,” said Singler. “Even though they took their lumps, they played at the varsity level and our kids don’t have that experience yet.”

South Medford returns only one starter on offense in senior receiver Trent DeBoer, and two on defense in senior linebacker Cole Boster and senior safety Jace Campbell.

Seniors Giovanni Bottero (quarterback) and Terrence Butler (running back) will occupy most of the attention as they look to replace graduated standouts Robbie Patterson and Jaylin Parnell, respectively, but the Panthers are far from a two-man operation and many will be looking to make names for themselves in their first opportunity against Centennial.

In McNary, North Medford faces a tested team with playoff aspirations that is led by a pair of the state’s top junior prospects in quarterback Erik Barker (6-4, 210) and running back/linebacker Junior Walling (6-2, 225).

Barker passed for about 2,700 yards, 24 touchdowns and 19 interceptions after being thrust into the spotlight last season, while Walling was one of the Celtics’ leading tacklers as well as a second-team all-conference running back after rushing for 991 yards and nine TDs.

The Black Tornado expects to counter with a run-heavy attack paced by senior tailback Eli Spence, who is one of the top returning talents in the SWC, and an aggressive defense that is strong at linebacker — led by returners Thomas Bates (senior) and Owen Grafton (junior) — and has good depth in the trenches.

Wilsonville brings all-state senior returners Nathan Overholt (quarterback) and Cooper Mootz (running back) and Kevin Burke (defensive back) to Central Point and hopes of another deep 5A playoff run after advancing to the state semifinals one year ago.

“They are loaded with talent,” said second-year Crater head coach Randy Waite. “It’s good for us. We have a pretty tough preseason schedule in my mind with Thurston on there, too, so I think that will hopefully help us in the long run.”

Crater aims to answer with a host of returning players in Randy Waite’s second year at the helm, led by junior quarterback Trever Davis, senior linebackers Tony Flores and Logan Lowder and junior tailback Gavin Acrey.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were last year for sure,” added Waite. “We have guys with varsity Friday night playing experience and so far they’ve been leading us. I think they’re excited to get the season going and see what happens.”

The Comets expect to host their opener at 7 p.m. at Dutch Meyer Field. If air conditions aren’t suitable, the game will be moved to 4 p.m. Friday at Marshfield High School.

Weather forecasts show the air conditions improving by Friday afternoon and into the night, making the Medford area more capable of potentially hosting football games than a year ago when Spiegelberg Stadium went without a home game for the first two weeks of the season.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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