Following last year's incredible run to a conference title and the state quarterfinals, Gervais boys soccer head coach Juan Flores is passing his whistle to the next generation.
Flores stepped down in the offseason after five years at the helm, allowing his son and assistant coach, J.J. Flores, to take over the primary coaching role for the Cougars heading into the 2017 fall season. Juan Flores will stay on as his son's assistant, helping to ease the transition.
"My dad mentioned it was time step down," J.J. Flores said. "He believed that it was time for me to take that role."
The father-son duo has been working in tandem with the Gervais boys soccer team for each of the past four seasons, but J.J. took an expanded role last season by introducing a new possession-based offense to the program.
The end-of-season results were better than expected. Gervais went undefeated on its home field in 2016 and won its first conference title since the 2008 season. The team won its first round playoff game in an 8-4 victory over Rogue River before eventually falling in the quarterfinals, finishing the season with a record of 13-4.
In retrospect, the new offense was a no-brainer, but that wasn't the case early on in the season. Implementing a pro-style offense was a gamble when J.J. approached his dad at the beginning of the season with the idea.
"It was hard in the beginning," J.J. Flores said. "It was stressful.
"I remember in the beginning, I was like, 'Dad, I learned so much. Can I implement this system and let me do what I've learned?'" J.J. said. "He said 'You're crazy, that's not going to work. These kids don't have that club background.'"
Eventually, J.J. convinced his dad to let him implement the new offense, but there was still an uphill battle to get the kids to buy in. While many rival teams use the summer as a sort of pre-season to get ready for the fall, most of the Gervais soccer players have work commitments from June through August that make it difficult to coordinate regular practice times.
It can be hard to get even half the players to show up to any given practice before the official start of fall workouts, which are only a few weeks before the start of the season. Add in the fact that the season immediately opens with league play, the pressure to succeed immediately is tough to overlook.
Thus, when the Cougars opened the season with a 3-2 loss at Blanchet Catholic, players were looking to give up on the new offense and go back to their old style of play.
"They were like, 'Coach, let's go back to what we know how to play,'" J.J. said. "I said 'You guys need to have faith. The wins aren't going to come right away.'"
After two weeks of play, the Cougars were just 2-2 in league play and stuck in the middle of league standings. With seven seniors on the team, perhaps it was the wrong time to bring in a new offense. Why not wait until next season?
But J.J. Flores knew those seniors were crucial to the plan. They were the ones who would be able to learn the fastest and help the younger players pick up the offense. Without their leadership, it would be near impossible.
As the season progressed, Gervais continued to improve. The Cougars reeled off three straight victories and exploded into the month of October, going undefeated in six games to clinch the league title. Juan Flores was named Special District 2 Coach of the Year as a result and felt confident that his son was ready to take over the reins of the program.
"There's no words for it," J.J. Flores said. "It was an amazing season."
J.J. Flores' history with the Cougars goes back to the middle of his junior year of high school when he transferred from Silverton High School to Gervais, where his dad was the assistant to head coach Eve Castro.
J.J. Flores played for the Cougars his senior season in 2011, and his dad took over the program a year later. J.J. Flores joined his staff in 2013 and has been coaching alongside him ever since.
Not much is expected to change heading into the new season, just perfecting the system that worked well in 2016.
"If we kept possession 50 to 60 percent of the time last year, now I want it to be 70 to 80 percent," J.J. Flores said. "The system is basically going to stay the same."
Although the team has a lot of outgoing talent to replace, J.J. Flores believes that the team's continued growth within the system will help the next class of players become better in the long run and ultimately make up for the talent that exited the program last year.
"These guys are much better than what they were," J.J. Flores said. "They know what they're doing now and they've just gotten that much better."