EAGLE POINT — You can forgive Eagle Point football coach Seth Womack for any superstitious actions he may have these days; it’s for good reason.
Knocking on wood, throwing salt over his shoulder, trying not to step on any cracks whatever it takes to keep his team healthy and on track for a potential run to the playoffs, Womack is willing to do.
The Eagles will take a 2-0 record into this week’s home opener against Springfield (2-0) in a nonleague matchup of Midwestern League squads. Eagle Point’s MWL South Division schedule begins next week at South Eugene.
“We’re just taking it one week at a time, trying to do what we can to stay healthy and get better,” Womack said Monday. “The kids are playing to the level that they know they can. It’s still early but they’re getting better each and every week.”
A year ago at this time, Womack and company were piecing whatever they could together in order to remain competitive. The promising Eagles lost four starters to injury in their jamboree, their most dynamic player on the first drive of Week 4 and nine starters thereafter.
Eagle Point’s luck was so bad, quarterback Cameron Morgan tested positive for mononucleosis on the eve of the jamboree and wasn’t able to take the field until the sixth week of the season.
All that led to a 2-1 start slowly fizzling into a 3-6 season in which EP lost five of its final six games.
“We were 3-6 last year but we weren’t a 3-6 team,” said Womack. “At some points last year we were playing a JV team against varsity opponents. Thankfully we’re healthy this year, and I’m knocking on wood as I tell you that.”
But all superstitions aside, the Eagles are focusing much more on how they can stay healthy this year than merely appeasing the gods of fate. Womack has incorporated a practice plan that doesn’t involve much contact, and also has stolen a page from the playbook of former Ashland High and current Southern Oregon University head coach Charlie Hall in having his players put through yoga training every Saturday.
“We’ve got to be able to play physical and tackle and block,” said Womack, “but we’ve definitely adjusted. USA Football has guidelines for contact and we don’t even come close to even meeting half of the amount we’re allowed in full-contact drills. My coaches looked at me funny when I said we’d be playing flag football Monday through Thursday but that’s OK, I don’t want to lose anybody in practice.”
It’s an unconventional approach but with numbers typically an issue for most schools under the Class 6A level, Womack said he hopes to eliminate practice-related tweaks that wind up getting reaggravated during Friday night games and landing players on the bench.
“I think there’s something to be said about it,” said Womack, in his sixth season at Eagle Point. “We can still teach the things we need to get taught without full contact in practice and banging into each other. If we feel our contact ability is not where we need to be we can bring some back but right now that’s not the plan.”
How it plays out remains to be seen, but the Eagles haven’t had issues thus far. Eagle Point is averaging 391 yards and 37.5 points on offense and limiting teams to 223 yards and 18 points per game.
And the introduction of yoga this year for his team?
“I love it,” said Womack, who meets with his coordinators to game plan after the players start stretching out. “I’m watching it and it hurts me to watch them, but the kids say they feel better afterwards and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.”
Morgan, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, is definitely on board for the new approach.
“They changed it up a little bit and it’s helping keep guys on the field and keeping everybody healthy,” said Morgan, who has completed 17 of 34 passes for 386 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. “It’s different trying to do yoga when you’ve never done it before. It can be fun and it can be frustrating, too, especially because most of the guys out on the football field can’t stretch the way you have to in yoga.”
But seriously, does the yoga help?
“I feel like it really helps our bodies,” said Morgan. “After we do that on Saturdays it just really relaxes us and gets our muscles back to how they were before the game.”
Womack knows these extra measure aren’t a cure-all for avoiding costly injuries, but it’s a risk worth taking.
“At some point we’re probably going to have a kid or two go down,” said the coach, “but fortunately we have some kids that got significant playing time last year that are kind of settling into a backup role this year and hopefully we won’t miss a beat.”
The Eagles returned most of their players from last year, where freshmen and sophomores had to step in ahead of their time due to injuries. While those EP players took their lumps on occasion, it’s only served to create more depth in the program than even Womack had anticipated.
“It could’ve been a blessing for this year because we’ve got guys that are backups with varsity experience,” he said.
But maybe what the Eagles have best is quality playmakers to make things happen on Fridays. Beyond Morgan, Eagle Point has senior Noah Page back in his prime position at receiver after the emergence of running back Devin Bradd last year, where he powered the ground game after Page was lost to a broken collarbone on the opening drive against Thurston.
Page was leading the state in rushing at the time of his injury, and is back to his big-play abilities this year with 11 catches for 319 yards and four TDs and six carries for 111 yards and one score.
“He’s just naturally a receiver,” said Womack. “To be quite honest, he could play wherever we needed him to, he’s got that kind of talent. I’d feel comfortable if he was playing quarterback or offensive line, he’s just such a big and strong athlete.”
Page’s presence on the perimeter is made possible because Bradd is so solid in the backfield, running for 203 yards and two TDs on 28 carries in a rotation that has included Justin McElroy, Dante Lallo and Gabe Hupf.
“Devin isn’t getting the recognition he deserves,” said Womack, who has put the brakes on the 6-0, 190-pound sophomore thus far. “Teams that play us or are going to play us know about him but around the state they don’t really know him, and they should.”
With a sturdy offensive line and junior Carlos Seiter providing a complementary target while senior Rylan Morgan (6-5, 215) recovers from a foot injury — he’s expected back either this week or next — the Eagles have a lot to be excited about moving forward.
“I am a pretty lucky guy back there (at quarterback),” said Morgan. “I’m grateful for what we have on the offensive side and I’m glad to be a part of it. I’ve got really high hopes for us this year. I think we can take this a long ways.”