Something old, something new as Culver football opens its season
Culver Football Preview
Last season: 2-6, 1-3 Columbia Basin Conference. Did not qualify for the postseason.
Key returners: Weston Basl, Cole Little, Jorge Olivera, Joe Russo, Victor Torres.
Midway through Culver's fourth practice of fall camp, Jesus Retano wasn't pleased.
The former Culver football alum, who went on to play at Eastern Oregon University, is back at his alma mater as head coach, is bringing more intensity this season.
He asked a defensive player why he was jogging to the ball, and when the defender replied that he didn't think he could make a play on the ball carrier, Retano stopped practice and made the whole team run.
To a casual onlooker, the Bulldogs don't appear much different than they have in years past. The offense is still run-heavy and almost entirely out of the shotgun. Longtime coaches Brian Silbernagel and Shea Little are still on the coaching staff. But the addition of Retano, a first-time head coach fresh out of college football, has ushered in new ideas.
One of them is a different defensive scheme, in which Retano says the Bulldogs run "a little bit of everything." On any given play, he expects all 11 defenders to run to the ball, no matter how far away from it they may be. If someone fails to do so, he will hear about it.
"I'm just trying to get these guys to go 100 percent the whole time," Retano said. "No walking; go hard."
In order to live up to that expectation, Culver has to have strong leaders. Retano said he tried to get the team together as much as he could over the summer, with the hope that by the time fall camp started, they would be comfortable enough around one another to correct mistakes as they happen without bruising egos.
So far, Retano's has a strong impression of the leadership. Players including Cole Little, on the defensive line, Joe Russo and Victor Torres at linebacker, and Weston Basl, Matt Krueger and Jorge Olivera at defensive back are giving the Bulldogs plenty of reason for optimism.
"I feel like our defense is going to be dominant this year," Basl said. "We have really good defensive backs and defensive linemen. I feel like that's going to be a big threat."
Offensively, Culver has to replace its leading ball carrier in Jaiden Jones, as well as one of its best offensive linemen.
Olivera returns as the starting quarterback, while Torres should receive a large portion of carries in an offense that calls lots of run plays. At receiver, Culver returns plenty of experience in Basl and Krueger on the outside, as well as Russo in the slot.
Offensive line is always a tricky balancing act at small schools, though Olivera has confidence in Cole Little, Jonathan Figueroa and Jerron Rhen to block for him. It wouldn't hurt to add more guys at that position, however.
"We just need to recruit guys at that position, which is our weakest position just because we live in Culver and a 2A school doesn't have that many big boys," Olivera said.
The Bulldogs went 2-6 last year overall and 1-3 in the Columbia Basin Conference, which is one of the toughest at the 2A level.
Even going into the last week of the regular season, Culver still had a chance to sneak into the playoffs as an at-large team, but its loss to Weston-McEwen ended that hope.
Between Stanfield, which reached the state championship game last season before losing to Regis, and Heppner, a team that has made the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons, Culver will face stiff competition in the latter stages of its season.
"I'd say our league for 2A is the toughest league in the state," Russo said. "Us included in that league, I think that also makes us one of the toughest teams in the state. We can hang with that group."
Making things more difficult, Pilot Rock/Nixyaawii, a team that Culver beat last season 61-18, petitioned the OSAA last week to drop to eight-man football and become an independent 2A team. As a result, the CBC has been whittled down to four teams. The Bulldogs were able to replace the game on their schedule, however, and will now play host to the California School of the Deaf on Oct. 20. They will have the same number of games as a result, but a team from out of state won't have much impact on their ranking in state.
But late October is still a long way off, and for the time being, Culver is focused on its first game, which will be played at Illinois Valley Sept. 1.