If Klamath Union is to defend the Skyline Conference championship it won in 2011, it is starting from a strong position.
The Pelicans (8-3, 5-0 Skyline in 2011) have a senior-laden team — 20 in all — and return nine starters on offense and seven on defense, said coach Tom Smith.
"It allows us to move on a little bit faster," he said. "We work on the basics, but we're able to move on to team time faster versus individual time. That's one of the struggles as a head coach. How much individual work do you have to do to get to the team stuff."
His conference brethren like KU's position as well, predicting it to finish second to North Valley. Hidden Valley and Henley are tabbed co-third, followed by Mazama and Phoenix.
Smith expects his team to be in the mix of contenders, but realizes a lot of teams have more veterans than they did a year ago.
"Last year, the league was pretty young," he said. "Every team has a lot of guys who played varsity. It'll be a slugfest to the finish."
Junior Ben Mitchell takes over quarterbacking duty after the graduation of Alex Stork. Mitchell is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and both runs and throws well, said Smith, who uses a spread offense.
"We're looking for him to do a lot," said the coach.
He'll hand off often to Jonathan Munoz, starting for the first year at running back but a player with next-level ability, said Smith. Munoz also plays outside linebacker.
Center Kiel Repose (5-10, 230) is a rock in the middle of the line, and receiver Jack Bell brings three years of experience.
Defensive ends Will Ruiz (5-10, 190) and Isa Diabes (5-10, 220) and middle linebacker Mitch Mirande (5-11, 200), who also plays tight end, lead the stop unit.
"I honestly think having all those leaders will allow us to be pretty balanced on offense and defense," said Smith. "I have high hopes for these guys."
The Hornets (4-6, 3-2 Skyline in 2011) are both young and experienced, having had to play a number of sophomores extensively last year, coach Beau Fullerton's first at the helm.
"We're junior-rich this year," said Fullerton, adding that he might not have a senior in the starting lineup. "Some of these (juniors) will be three-year starters."
There aren't any superstars in the fold, he adds.
"As a team, we're kind of a B average across the board," he said. "We don't have any of those A or A-plus guys that stand out."
Yet, Fullerton believes the Hornets can challenge for one of the Skyline's top two or three spots.
Henley runs a spread offense. It'll be directed by junior quarterback Josh Overstreet, who also plays linebacker, and junior tailback/linebacker Jesse Hilyard, a sturdy 6-1, 190 pounds, will do the bulk of the ball carrying.
Other returning starters, all juniors, are wide receiver/defensive back Cody Dykstra, lineman Blake Crain, running back /defensive back Matt Morawiec and wide receiver/defensive end Kelly Greif.
One senior who will see plenty of action is Ronnie Bresser, a 125-pound running back who is one of the top prep wrestlers in the nation.
It's hard to imagine having two sophomore quarterbacks who each have varsity experience, but that's what the Vikings (3-5, 2-3 Skyline in 2011) boast. And they're close enough in ability that a platoon system might be in order, said 19-year head coach John Mathis.
Neither Joey Lancaster or Dallas Devry were expected to start last season. Senior Kevin Wynne had that distinction, but he was lost for the season in the first game with an injury.
The freshman Lancaster was called on, and he played until the fifth game against Phoenix before he was lost with a broken ankle. Devry, who missed the first half of the season with a broken thumb, was inserted a week after his cast was removed and finished out the campaign.
"They're both back with the some scary, significant varsity playing time as freshmen," said Mathis. "They're both very smart and throw the ball well. They're quick learners."
They'll have junior Marcus Idrogo to hand off to and junior slot receiver Nathan Pollock to throw to. More importantly, they've got big linemen to operate behind.
Back are tackles Ron Rose (280 pounds) and Trevor Derra (240), guards Steven Fowler (280) and Mitch Saunders (300) and center Tommy Stevens (220).
One of the Vikings' best athletes is senior free safety Levi Huffenberger, who missed last year after playing as a freshman and sophomore.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org