PROSPECT — Amid an 0-7 season last fall, something positive stood out to new Prospect head coach Jimmy Slaton.
“We got beat up on last year,” he said. “But we didn’t have one kid quit. Not one. They have heart.”
That perseverance is paying off now. The Cougars return 10 players with starting experience and are feeling like 2017 is a distant memory.
Prospect begins the 2018 Class 1A eight-man season by hosting Butte Falls/Crater Lake Charter Academy. The Cougars are rich with talent, including a trio of tough running backs in junior Austin Leopoldo and sophomores Nick Strahan and Sean Jermain.
“When they are running the ball, they are punishing people,” Slaton said. “They are looking to run over people. They are a big element of our offense. We are going to give them the ball. We have the line to protect them. Now we are averaging 200 (pounds) for our three front guys with junior Matt Nelson (220 pounds), sophomore Jadon Taylor (205) and junior Fabian West (180).”
Prospect is in the East Division of the 1A District 2 this season. It opens league play at Myrtle Point on Sept. 14. The Cougars wrap up the regular season against North Lake at home on Oct. 19.
The Cougars finished 0-7 overall and 0-5 in the District 2 West last year.
After offseason reclassification, Butte Falls/Crater Lake, Bonanza, Myrtle Point and Riddle joined District 2, while Elkton, Powers and Gilchrist departed.
Fifteen 1A teams automatically qualify for the OSAA’s 16-team bracket, with a league playoff determining the District 2’s berths.
Prospect has only one senior on its roster, lineman Andrew Nelmes. The squad is heavy with sophomore talent.
Junior quarterback Michael Combs-Cripps is expected to return, but he won’t be available for at least the first couple weeks, said Slaton.
Sophomore Nathan Glover (5-foot-8, 175 pounds), who started at wide receiver and defensive end last season, will take over at quarterback in the interim.
With only a couple days of practice, Glover entered the team’s jamboree at North Lake on Saturday and fared well, throwing two touchdown passes. The other teams participating were district foes Chiloquin and Bonanza.
“It’s his first year ever playing quarterback,” said Slaton. “He was my best receiver last year, him and Austin (Leopoldo). He knows the offense and can absolutely get the job done. He’s one of those kids who, I tell him to do something, and he will do his best to do it.”
A strengthened line is expected to set the tone for the offense.
“I’m very happy with what’s going on here,” said Slaton, a 2006 Prospect graduate. “They’ve been doing weight training all summer. Practices have been great. We are older and more mature. We’re working hard to make up for lost time.”
Two of the team’s top defenders are Taylor and, when he returns, Combs-Cripps.
“They are like a dog chasing a bone,” Slaton said. “They won’t stop until they get it.”
Sophomore Aaron Linam is a standout safety who won’t back down either, Slaton added.
Sophomore center/defensive lineman Kohl Kusel also returns with starting experience. Additionally, linemen Andrew Slaton, Theo James and Corbin Fossen could play valuable roles as freshmen.
The Cougars lost just two players — Shane Lawler and Brendan Raines — to graduation. Those who returned were ready to work, Slaton said.
“We started over this year, from the basics like walking in a line together to tackling together,” he said. “If it takes us 25 minutes to get on the field properly, then that’s what it takes. If one player does something wrong, we run it until everyone does it right.”
Butte Falls/Crater Lake, a 2A school, beat Prospect 58-6 last year. Slaton and the Cougars are excited for another shot at their rival, and are thankful for another fresh season to prove their worth.
“Last year, we were undersized,” the coach said. “This year we are gonna attack them. It’s gonna be a blast.”
Jimmy Slaton (second year, 0-7).
Prospect took its lumps last year with a very young team, but the Cougars return everyone as they ready for play in the realigned District 2 East Division.
ASSISTANT: Robert Slaton (offense).
2017 LEAGUE RECORD: 0-5 (sixth, District 2 West).
2017 OVERALL RECORD: 0-7.
0Days Creek 64
8Camas Valley 63
6Butte Falls/Crater Lake 58
OFFENSE (10): Center Kohl Kusel (5-5, 160, so.), guard Jadon Taylor (5-7, 205, so.), quarterback Nathan Glover (5-8, 175, so.), guard Matt Nelson (6-1, 220, jr.), lineman Andrew Nelmes (5-7, 145, sr.), quarterback Michael Combs-Cripps (5-9, 170, jr.), running back Nick Strahan (5-8, 180, so.), running back Sean Jermain (5-5, 217, so.), running back Austin Leopoldo (5-8, 165, jr.), running back Aaron Linam (5-6, 135, so.).
DEFENSE (10): Lineman Kohl Kusel, linebacker Jadon Taylor, defensive end Nathan Glover, lineman Matt Nelson, defensive end Andrew Nelmes, linebacker Michael Combs-Cripps, lineman Nick Strahan, lineman Sean Jermain, lineman Austin Leopoldo, safety Aaron Linam.
Lineman Fabian West (6-1, 180, jr.), lineman Andrew Slaton (6-1, 145, fr.), lineman Theo James (6-1, 140, fr.), lineman Corbin Fossen (5-6, 180, fr.).
Aug. 31BUTTE FALLS/CRATER LAKE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7at Days Creek, 4 p.m.
Sept. 14at Myrtle Point, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21CHILOQUIN, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28at Bonanza, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6at Triad, 2 p.m.
Oct. 12HOSANNA CHRISTIAN, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19NORTH LAKE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26League Playoff, TBA
Reach freelance writer Dan Jones at email@example.com