It might be a stretch to call Tim Pflug a miracle worker, but he sure knows how to stabilize a football program.
The St. Mary's coach led the Crusaders to four straight victories to start the 2007 season; that was the school's combined win total from the previous three years.
"Really, it was just a matter of getting the kids in shape and getting them to believe in themselves," says Pflug, who headlined successful football and basketball programs at St. Mary's from 1996-2004 before returning to the school last fall.
Injuries and tougher opponents combined to derail the Crusaders in their final six games a year ago, and now Pflug must replace 15 of 22 starting positions. But the unflappable Pflug isn't panicking.
"We don't have the experience we had last year, but we're more athletic," Pflug says. "We've got some quick, athletic kids, and we'll just have to see how they come around."
Conner O'Boyle, who started at wide receiver and defensive back in 2007, has moved to quarterback. He's expected to dazzle with both his arm and feet.
"He's not particularly fast, but he makes people miss, and that's something you don't coach," Pflug says. "He doesn't have a real strong arm, but he's accurate with the short- and medium-range throws.
"Plus he's a very smart kid. He could take my playbook and tell me some things I don't know."
The Crusaders will again employ a spread offense to take advantage of their smallish but mobile and agile skill players and linemen.
"We'll go with three and four receivers and sometimes have an empty backfield," Pflug says. "We're not going to overpower anybody, but we'll do a little bit of everything with our spread offense."
Along with O'Boyle, other returning offensive starters are wide receiver Jeff Reeder, tight end Logan Brooks and center Chris Clark.
On defense, O'Boyle and Reeder return in the secondary, Peter Watson and Ben Fry are back at linebacker and Ben Kline is primed for an encore at tackle.
Brooks, who played in the trenches last season on defense, has moved to middle linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior participates in Greco-Roman wrestling in the offseason but gave it up this summer to focus on football.
"He normally drops a bunch of weight (while wrestling), but he kept it on and had a great summer," Pflug says. "He caught the ball really well in passing league. We're looking for Logan to have a great season on both sides of the ball."
Pflug is also looking for breakout seasons from offensive guard/defensive end Jason Lawrence and from Kline, an offensive guard and defensive nose tackle.
Lawrence, a 6-0, 195-pound sophomore, spent much of the summer lifting weights at the Rogue Valley Swim and Tennis Club.
"He went from benching 130 pounds to 235," Pflug says of Lawrence. "He's a big kid with very quick feet, and now he's got some strength to go with it."
The 5-11, 215-pound Kline, meanwhile, has put on even more muscle while dropping 25 pounds of baby fat.
Throw in sophomore tackle Derrick Martin and sophomore tight end Taylor Freedman, a transfer from South Medford, and Pflug thinks the St. Mary's line "could surprise people."
Accompanying O'Boyle in the backfield will be running backs Fry and Watson and hard-nosed freshman Jake Davis.
With Southern Cascade League heavyweights Lost River, Bonanza and Lakeview on the schedule — all three schools have advanced to at least the state semifinals in recent years — Pflug admits the Crusaders are a long shot for the state playoffs.
"But I think a .500 season is within reach," he says.
(second year; career, 8-11)
Pflug coached varsity football and basketball at the school before taking a break in 2004, then returning to take over a program that had lost 24 of 25 games prior to the 2007 campaign.
ASSISTANTS: John O'Boyle (offensive, defensive lines/defensive coordinator), Grant Cory (linebackers), Rob Buckmeister (quarterbacks/running backs/receivers), Scott Dewing (special teams), Ryan Greene (wide receivers/defensive backs), Veronica Valdez (director of field operations).
2007 LEAGUE RECORD: 0-4 (fifth, Southern Cascade).
2007 OVERALL RECORD: 4-6.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Fourth.
St. Mary's Opponents
35 North Douglas 12
6 Riddle 0 (2 OT)
19 Glendale 12 (OT)
28 Gaston 6
21 St. Bernard's 38
6 Lakeview 27
6 Bonanza 34
6 Lost River 38
14 Chiloquin 21
0 Cascade Christian 2
OFFENSE (4): Quarterback Conner O'Boyle (5-9, 175, jr.), tight end Logan Brooks (6-1, 190, sr.), wide receiver Jeff Reeder (5-7, 160, jr.), center Chris Clark (5-11, 180, jr.).
DEFENSE (5): Cornerback Conner O'Boyle, safety Jeff Reeder, middle linebacker Logan Brooks, linebacker Peter Watson (6-1, 180, sr.), linebacker Ben Fry (5-6, 175, sr.), nose tackle Ben Kline (5-11, 215, sr.).
Offensive guard/defensive end Jason Lawrence (6-0, 195, so.), offensive tackle/defensive end Derrick Martin (6-2, 200, so.), tight end/defensive end Taylor Freedman (6-2, 200, so.), running back Jake Davis (5-6, 150, fr.).
Sept. 6 RIDDLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Glendale, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 COLUMBIA (Wash.), 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Blanchett, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 LOST RIVER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Chiloquin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 LAKEVIEW, 4 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Bonanza, 7 p.m.