Back to the gridiron grind
Kurt Taylor tries not to think about the number, but inevitably, it enters his mind.
Twenty-one is the number of losses, dating back to September 19, 2014, that the Madras football team has compiled without a win.
The figure, Taylor says, has less to do with talent than it does the program, which has seen its share of upheaval in the past few years.
"I think about (the losing streak) and it drives me, because I so desperately want to prove to this community that it's not the kids, it's a product of the program," said Taylor, now in his second season as Madras head football coach. "Changing the program is going to change the win and loss column."
When Taylor was hired as the White Buffalos' head coach last August, less than a month before the first game of the season, he and his newly acquainted players were put in a difficult situation.
Former head coach Sean Cease had resigned in mid-July, and when players did finally start practicing with Taylor and his staff, they had little time to prepare for the 2017 season.
The Buffs ultimately finished the season 0-8 — their second consecutive winless year. As the losing streak has increased, however, Taylor and his coaching staff continue to instill in players the idea of culture as the Buffs' overarching purpose. When the Madras football team began spring practice May 26, they resumed an ongoing effort to change that culture within the program for the better.
"Culture is a few things: Our core values, our players' behaviors and our players' experience," Taylor said. "If we can get those three things to come together for our culture, we'll be doing really good things."
Almost immediately when he took the job last summer, the new coaching staff had to prove themselves to the kids that they knew what they were doing. Madras opened the season with a close 14-0 loss to The Dalles, which opened players' eyes that they could be competitive, Taylor said.
The following three weeks, however, in blowout losses against Cottage Grove, Valley Catholic and Molalla, the Buffs were brought back down to earth.
The Buffs didn't often show it on the field — at least not until the last four games of the season when they scored all of their points for the season — but players and coaches were starting to build a rapport.
"We became a family; we really did," Taylor said. "We got our butts kicked every Friday night. It was torture."
Perhaps the biggest regret Taylor has of last season came following a 63-0 loss to state runner-up Cottage Grove.
Even with limited time to install schemes, Taylor and his coaches felt practices were run without abridgement leading up to the season-opener. But after the Cottage Grove game, coaches simplified practices, and deviated from their initial plans.
Now that they've had an offseason to reflect, Taylor says that was the wrong decision in hindsight. With spring practice underway, Madras coaches have agreed to conduct practices with consistency. That entails the same schedule each day, hour to hour, while having each coach stay with the same position group, including the subvarsity players.
"We're going to stick with what we're doing, regardless of the outcomes, because we know that's what is going to get us to excellence," Taylor said.
So far, that decision appears to be paying off. Taylor sees his players practicing with an efficiency that is on par with, if not better than, any practice during last fall.
For the first couple days of spring ball, 45 kids participated, which was far above the 12 who came out the prior spring, assistant coach Jerry Shaw said. Their goal is to have 85 players come out for fall camp.
After the first two weeks without gear, the Buffs began practicing with helmets June 12, and will put on full pads later in the week.
June 15-17 will be a major bonding weekend for the team, as they'll camp out in the Madras gymnasium for a variety of football-related activities, while also building on that ever-important culture and family.