Bulldogs hope to keep on course of becoming a football family

Photo Credit: JEFF WILSON/ THE PIONEER - The Bulldogs will need young players, like Marco Retano, to step up this year.The hardest part of building something, anything, is getting started.

With one season under his belt, Culver football coach Shea Little is more than ready to get started on turning the Bulldog program around.

Coming off 2-6 campaign last season, Culver is looking for wins, but has other things in mind as well.

“It’s been a building process. The attitude here has been real lethargic as far as football,” Little said. “There hasn’t been much passion; kids haven’t had to come to practice, they’ve never done a team camp. It just hasn’t been a focus, it hasn’t been a passion and they're weren’t any expectations.”

Little is slowly changing that.

There have been more kids coming out for two-a-day practices, fewer kids have been missing practices and the numbers of kids simply quitting in the first two weeks is way down.

All are signs that things are moving in the right direction.

“We’ve come out this year with way more intensity,” senior Levi Vincent said. “We’re flying around, we’re hitting, and we’re going 110 percent. Practice this year is way better. We feel like we’re coming together as a family. We are going to have a good year.”

The key word in that statement is family.

It’s what Little has been preaching and the kids are getting a grasp of just exactly what it means.

“The biggest change I think we are seeing is the kids know that our focus is to improve every time we step out on the field,” Little said. “We’ve got kids that have never played football that are seniors, and they are stepping up and coming out here with a great attitude as far as willingness to be coached and to learn. And they are picking it up fast.”

One thing that seemed to hurt the Bulldogs last season was a lack of leadership from the senior class. Those that are seniors this year have made it their mission, if nothing else, to make sure that is never the case again.

“Seniority last year was pretty terrible. No one really ran it, there were a couple that really tried, but they didn’t know how,” senior Clay McClure said. “Most of the seniors quit and didn’t want to be a part of this.”

McClure said the attitude is totally different this time around. He said the guys that are out for football this year are there because they want to be there and will be in it for the long haul.

“If you go in and play as hard as you can, all you can do is the best you can,” McClure said. “If you lose, you lose. But if you win, you get to celebrate with your team. Either way, you are still playing football and having fun.”

So far, this senior class has stepped up as a whole and it shows, Little said. And that will help the product on the field.

One of the biggest examples of the senior leadership may have come from Kyle Easterly. A runningback by choice, he gave up his position to help form an offensive line that was basically nonexistent.

His selfless move is the kind of leadership that Little wants to see. And appreciates.

“We didn’t have an offensive line and we needed guys to step up,” Little said. “And that’s kind of where the attitude and the change (have occurred). If we would have done that last year, (the kids who were asked to change positions) would have walked. This year, it’s anything for the team because we want to win. These are our brothers; we don’t care where we play.”

“So the seniors have really stepped up,” Little said. “We want kids to want to be out here. We want kids to be a part of this family. We want kids in high school to want to be a part of this program versus being scared to come out here. And I think the seniors have done an amazing job of that.”

One thing that the seniors can’t control is bodies available to play. Like at any small school, staying healthy is key to a team’s ability to extend the season.

With some key returners back on offense, the Bulldogs could really shine, especially at the skill positions. With McClure back for a second stint at quarterback, and a solid group of receivers, Culver has the potential to put up some points.

And if that happens, a defense that is now more comfortable in its 4-3 alignment could shut the door on opponents.

“If we stay healthy, we’ll have one of the stronger defenses at the 2A level in our league,” Little said. “We’re flying around, we are intense. The kids are hungry for another color, so I’m excited about what they are going to bring.”

The Bulldogs, like many teams this year, will be adjusting to changes in their league. But the bottom line is that Heppner, a team loaded with underclassmen that advanced to the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs last year, still seems to be the team to beat.

But the changes that were made may end up helping Culver take the next step. The league should be more balanced and less top heavy.

“I think we need to just play as hard as we can and not worry about the scoreboard,” McClure said. “You know, just play football. If everyone goes 100 percent all of the time, the scoreboard will take care of itself.”

Culver opens play Friday at Class 3A La Pine and will play its home opener Sept. 12 against Bonanza.

By then, the Bulldogs should know what kind of year they are in for.

“It doesn’t matter what school I’ve been at, success for us means a positive experience for the kids and that they are making great memories for the rest of their life, that’s No. 1 for us,” Little said. “If they step off (the field) being a better human being and person, and we’ve given them life lessons to learn and take with them into anything that they pursue, that’s a big part of us. That’s a big part of our family.”

Quick facts

Last season: 2-6 overall, 1-5 in 2A Tri River Conference.

Key returners: Clay McClure, Levi Vincent, Kyle Easterly.

Key games: Sept. 4 at home vs. Heppner,

Season outlook: The Bulldogs are inexperienced, but deep across the board. But more importantly, the attitude of the players has been fantastic so far, led by a solid group of seniors that see improvement not in wins and losses, but by trying hard and wanting to get better each day. That kind of attitude has been missing in Culver for some time. If the Bulldogs can stay healthy, there’s no telling what they could accomplish this season.

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