Prep football preview: IMC reloaded

Ridgeview looks to prove it belongs in the IMC, where Mountain View has reigned supreme in recent years

By Grant Lucas / The Bulletin / @Grant_Lucas88


Published Aug 28, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Aug 28, 2014 at 05:55AM

Class 5A

Bend

Head coach: Matt Craven (third season)

2013 season: 1-8 overall, 1-2 IMC (third)

Outlook: Nineteen of 22 starting positions — offensively and defensively — will be filled by returning players for the Lava Bears this season, including Hunter McDonald, a first-team all-IMC selection at running back and linebacker in 2013, and first-team all-conference linebacker Chris Wallace. Although Bend has not been to the state playoffs since 2011, Craven says his team’s mix of physicality and athleticism could lead the Bears back to the postseason.

Mountain View

Head coach: Brian Crum (third season)

2013 season: 8-3 overall, 3-0 IMC (first); lost in first round of Class 5A state playoffs

Outlook: The Cougars’ run of seven straight trips to the state quarterfinals ended last season, and Mountain View will look to new leaders after losing some key players to graduation. But with the return of second-team all-state linebacker Zach Ferguson and all-IMC players Dantly Wilcox (wide receiver), Joe Hagenbach (defensive line) and Chris Adamo (defensive back), the Cougars could again be a force in Class 5A.

Redmond

Head coach: Nathan Stanley (third season)

2013 season: 1-8 overall, 0-3 IMC (fourth)

Outlook: Stanley emphasizes that the Panthers were much more talented than their 1-8 record suggested last season. With 20 starting positions filled by returners from last year’s squad, including first-team all-league players Derek Brown (a junior running back) and Ethan Moser (a senior defensive back), Stanley says the Panthers are well ahead of where they were at this point in 2013 — both in maturity and toughness.

Ridgeview

Head coach: Andy Codding (third season)

2013 season: 13-1 overall, 1-0 SD1 (first); won Class 4A state championship

Outlook: Fresh off a state championship season, the Ravens look to fill a void left by the new school’s first senior class. Ridgeview graduated nearly 70 percent of its total offense from last year’s group, along with five all-state defensive players. However, the Ravens bring back running back Tanner Stevens, who rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last season, as well as two-year starting quarterback Jacob Johnson in their quest to prove themselves in their first year at the 5A level.

Summit

Head coach: Joe Padilla (third season)

2013 season: 5-6 overall, 2-1 IMC (second); lost in first round of Class 5A state playoffs

Outlook: Despite a rash of injuries early in the season, the Storm last year advanced to the state playoffs for the first time since 2004. Padilla senses a revitalization within the Summit camp. And even with the graduation of 2013 IMC co-offensive player of the year Tyler Mullen and with only a few seniors scattered throughout the roster, Padilla is confident that the younger players who logged significant minutes last season can help Summit back to the postseason.

Class 4A

Crook County

Head coach: Ryan Cochran (fourth season)

2013 season: 5-4 overall, 0-1 SD1 (second)

Outlook: For this first time in four years, the Cowboys find themselves in a genuine league as they join Madras in the six-school Tri-Valley Conference. Starting quarterback Mike Irwin, who led Crook County in passing yards and rushing touchdowns last season, transferred to Mountain View, where he will continue playing football. But the Cowboys return up to seven starters on offense and defense, including starting senior running back Collbran Meeker, who led Crook County with 550 yards rushing in 2013, as well as a pair two-year varsity starters in seniors Zach Smith (offensive lineman and linebacker) and Trevor Rasmussen (offensive and defensive lineman). “Our focus is to take it one game at a time and improve,” says Cochran, who looks to lead Crook County to its first state playoff appearance since 1997. Cochran notes that the Cowboys have not matched up against many of the teams in the TVC in some time — though that does not seem to faze him. “We want to be playing our best football at the end of the year and make a push in the playoffs. We are hoping to come into the league and contend for a league championship.”

Madras

Head coach: Sean Cease (first season)

2013 season: 2-7 overall, 0-5 TVC (sixth)

Outlook: A pair of first-team all-Tri-Valley Conference players lead the White Buffaloes into the 2014 season under first-year coach Sean Cease, who comes to Central Oregon from 6A Jesuit in Portland, where he was a wide receivers and defensive backs coach. Madras last year posted its worst league record since joining the TVC in 2010, but with the return of all-conference players Ethan Short, a senior linebacker, and Jered Pichette, a junior running back, the Buffs look to turn the tide in 2014. The mantra is simple for Madras, according to Cease: “We are taking the season one game at a time.”

Sisters

Head coach: Gary Thorson (first season)

2013 season: 1-8 overall, 1-4 Sky-Em (fifth)

Outlook: The Outlaws have not advanced to the state playoffs since playing in the state final in 2007. With a new coach and a new system, ending that drought this season would seem unlikely. Still, at least in the early going of the 2014 season, Thorson has been pleased with his players’ work ethic and focus as the Outlaws look to return their program to prominence. Thorson notes that “numbers are thin,” in terms of player turnout. But with all-Sky-Em League players Logan Schutte (a junior running back) and Lane Gladden (a senior wideout) returning for 2014, Thorson senses his squad is ready to “get this ship turned around” this season. “I think overall, they were a pretty young team last year,” he says. “A lot of those kids that will start this year got a lot of playing time last year as sophomores. That was bad for last year, I think, but good for us this year. It’s a pretty good junior group and we’ve got some good leadership out of that senior class. Hopefully that blend will be a good combination.”

Class 3A

La Pine

Head coach: Josh McInnis (second season)

2013 season: 0-8 overall, 0-5 Sky-Em (sixth)

Outlook: The Hawks’ last appearance in the state playoffs was 2008, and they have finished in the Sky-Em League cellar each season since. In the five years since that postseason trip, La Pine compiled a 2-24 record in Sky-Em play and a 6-39 overall mark, including just two wins in 36 games against 4A competition. Beginning this fall, however, the Hawks move to Class 3A as they look for a fresh start and try to rebuild the program to a playoff contender.

Class 2A

Culver

Head coach: Shea Little (second season)

2013 season: 2-6 overall, 1-5 TRC (sixth)

Outlook: As they relocate to the Columbia Basin Conference, the Bulldogs return six starters from last year’s team that missed out on the playoffs for the third straight year. Despite a number of players who have not logged significant varsity experience, Culver is deep at the skill positions, so deep that some players transitioned to the offensive and defensive lines — which Little characterizes as perhaps one of the stronger units in the league. With Clay McClure, Kyle Easterly, Tom McDonald, Tristan Bogart and Levi Vincent returning and expected to stand out for the Bulldogs this season, Little believes this group has a shot at the postseason. “We need to focus on the little things and get back to the fundamentals of the game,” Little says. “This group works hard and has great intensity at practice that gives us coaches hope for the near future. We are having fun, working hard, and creating some great memories. We are looking forward to the season and the possibilities of success this season.”

Class 1A

Gilchrist

Head coach: Steve Gillaspie (first season)

2013 season: 4-4 overall, 4-4 SD2 (sixth)

Outlook: Last season, the Grizzlies posted their best league record since its last state playoff appearance in 2009. Now under Gillaspie, who after spending the last 23 years in Alaska (coaching football for 10 years) takes over for longtime Grizzlies coach Steve Hall, Gilchrist boasts a young squad — one that fields only one senior. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, that player is Jonny Heitzman, who is “the real deal,” according to Gillaspie. The first-year coach expects sophomore Jacob Blood to stand out in the backfield, while junior offensive lineman Nate Alexander rounds out the Grizzlies’ core. “I’m very encouraged as far as the enthusiasm, as far as how quick they’re picking up new concepts — a new offensive system and a new defensive system,” Gillaspie says. “It’s been real positive so far.”

The bar has been raised at Ridgeview.

Andy Codding knows that. The Ravens football coach knows his squad is circled on every opponent’s schedule. And he knows that as the 2013 Class 4A state champion now competing in the 5A Intermountain Conference, Ridgeview is the team to beat.

But Codding is ready, and last season’s Oregon 4A coach of the year is eager for his Ravens to prove they belong at this level as he emphasizes the mantra that helped the Ravens bring home the city of Redmond’s first football state title: “We’re still taking it one game at a time.”

After all, Ridgeview is now a member of the IMC, a league in which Mountain View has claimed at least a share of the title in seven of the past eight seasons. The Ravens also will have to go through Bend High, which is expected to fill a combined 19 of 22 starting positions with returning players. Then there is Summit, fresh off its first state playoff appearance since 2004, and there is crosstown rival Redmond High, which will have 20 starting positions slotted with varsity returners.

Sure, the addition of Ridgeview adds strength to the IMC, Mountain View coach Brian Crum says. But the strengths of the other programs are, Crum says, “what’s going to make the IMC a better conference.”

Perhaps better, he adds, than it was last year.

Mountain View

Heading into the 2013 season, the Cougars had made seven straight state playoff appearances, advancing to at least the quarterfinal round each time. Last fall, however, that streak came to a close as the IMC champs fell to Silverton in the first round.

Yet despite the graduation of 2013 IMC co-offensive player of the year Keenan Springer at tailback, all-state defensive lineman Austin Phillips and two starting wideouts, Crum has found comfort in what he has seen from his squad early on in 2014.

“We really feel like we’re going to be better than we were last year in a lot of those spots,” Crum says. Senior Zach Ferguson, a second-team all-state linebacker last season, returns for Mountain View after recording 86 tackles and six sacks in 2013. Also back is senior all-IMC wide receiver Dantly Wilcox, as are four starting offensive linemen and defensive stalwarts such as senior Joe Hagenbach, who led Mountain View with 10 sacks last season.

“We have more experience coming back than we’ve had in quite a while,” Crum says, adding that that experience could help the Cougars capitalize on a “wide-open” 5A. “I think these kids are pretty hungry. And we like that.”

Bend

One of the perks of fielding a young team is the return of experienced varsity players the following year. Such is the case for the Lava Bears.

Nearly all of Bend High’s starting position players in 2013 are back for 2014, including the Bears’ top three rushers: seniors Hunter McDonald (495 yards, six touchdowns), Chris Wallace (433 yards, four TDs) and Jordan Neelon (427 yards, three TDs).

Also returning are starting junior quarterback Creighton Simmonds, who passed for 1,284 yards and seven scores last season, and his top target, senior Quinn Fettig, who in 2013 racked up 505 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

“These kids are more physically developed than they were last year,” says Bend coach Matt Craven, whose team went 1-8 last season. “It’s amazing the difference between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old.”

With a solid blend of senior leadership complemented by physical and talented juniors, perhaps the 2014 Lava Bears could return to the state playoffs after a two-year hiatus. Craven points to three keys to success this season: consistency, constant improvement and staying healthy.

“Every team’s working really hard to be the best they can by that first game,” Craven says. “It’s just a matter of improvement over the course of the season that will make that season turn sweet for some and sour for others.”

Summit

The Storm boast few seniors, Summit coach Joe Padilla concedes. But a rash of injuries early last season thrust a number of underclassmen into starting roles, which translates to plenty of varsity experience returning in 2014.

Not only that, the Storm have enough depth this year that, Padilla says, “I think we won’t have those huge, catastrophic injuries that will make us change everything.”

Back for Summit this season is senior cornerback Patrick Leiphart, a first-team all-IMC selection in 2013, as well as senior offensive linemen John Murphy and Kyle Heimuller. Add the return of juniors Cam McCormick (an all-league defensive end who posted a team-high six sacks last season), Bransen Reynolds (a quarterback who passed for 1,177 yards and 13 scores in 2013) and Nick Rasmussen, a talented defensive back, and the Storm could have the pieces to return to the state playoffs.

“Last year, the kids going to playoffs, by the time we got there we actually had a lot of sophomores starting,” Padilla recalls. “A lot of our juniors (then sophomores) got to play a lot in some critical situations for us. It may look like we’re young, but it’s not fresh off of junior varsity (players) by any means.”

Redmond

Similar to Bend High, the Panthers are expected to fill nearly every starting position with returning players. Also like the Lava Bears, Redmond is “light-years” ahead of where we were last year,” according to Panthers coach Nathan Stanley, in terms of maturity and toughness.

Coming off a disappointing 1-8 season, the Panthers look to turn things around and return to prominence two years after winning the IMC and advancing to the semifinals of the state playoffs. Fortunately for Redmond High, junior all-IMC running back Derek Brown returns for 2014, as do honorable mention all-state tight end Cody Winters, a senior, and senior first-team all-league defensive back Ethan Moser. In all, 10 all-conference players are expected to return.

“On the one hand, these guys all had some struggles last year,” Stanley says. “But on the other hand, I think they know that they were better than their record showed in terms of talent. It was really about experience and maturity and leadership. Now that they’re in a position where they can learn from their shortcomings and mistakes in the past, I think it’s going to lead to good things for them.”

Ridgeview

The newest IMC member comes off a 13-1 season and a 4A state title — but the Ravens also graduated 17 seniors who contributed mightily to the 2013 championship run.

Of Ridgeview’s 4,719 rushing yards in 2013, seniors accounted for nearly 3,000 yards, including more than 1,600 by all-state running back Boomer Fleming. Of the Ravens’ 1,188 receiving yards and 16 touchdown receptions, seniors posted 976 yards and 14 scores, led by 754 yards and eight touchdowns by first-team all-state wideout Jack Bowman. All told, Ridgeview seniors racked up 356 of the team’s 488 points during the season as well as nearly 70 percent of the Ravens’ total offense.

Still, Codding notes, the Ravens return a group of players who filled significant roles on the road to the state title, including running back Tanner Stevens. As a junior last season, Stevens racked up 1,595 rushing yards while running for 14 scores. Then there is senior Jacob Johnson, who enters his third year as Ridgeview’s starting quarterback. Johnson passed for 1,108 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four interceptions in 2013 and completed 60 percent of his passes for 552 yards and six scores in the state playoffs.

Defensively, after graduating 4A defensive player of the year Coleman Aamodt, Ridgeview returns senior linebacker Colton Jolley, who made 44 tackles in 2013, as well as senior defensive back Tanner O’Neal, who tied for the team lead with four interceptions last season.

“We just need to develop up front,” Codding says. “We need to continue to work certain kids into positions on the line, continue to get kids a little bit more experienced as the season goes on. I believe they’re capable of it. We just have to give them an opportunity to get out and show it.”

Five teams will be jockeying for the IMC title in 2014. It could be argued that Mountain View, league champion seven of the last eight years, is the front-runner. The same can be said for Ridgeview, the 4A state champ a year ago. Bend’s Craven, however, sees no one team as far superior to the rest. Redmond’s Stanley agrees, adding that IMC play could be exceptionally competitive this season.

And Mountain View’s Crum: “It could be a dogfight.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com.