The White Buffalo football program has 32 middle-schoolers sign a four year contract to play football.

STEELE HAUGEN - Chris Gandy is an eighth-grader who signed a letter of intent to play Madras football.The Madras White Buffalo football program visited both Jefferson County Middle School and the Warm Springs K-8 Academy for a special eighth-grade, four-year commitment day.

The eighth-grade football players sat down with coaches in front of the whole school to sign a contract saying they will commit to playing high school football for the next four years.

The idea was brought up by the Tri-Valley Conference assistant football coach of the year, Jerry Shaw, whose own middle school had done something similar, but to a lesser extent.

The college commitment day is a very popular event that is well-known around the nation. Top high school athletes around the nation sign four-year commitments to the universities where they decide to play, sometimes signing on national television.

As part of that recruitment tactic, athletes sit with their family and friends at a table with a contract and put on a hat from a university. The players usually have three or four different collegiate hats in front of them. The hat they put on represents the decision they make in committing to playing sports for that university.

The Madras football program knew how popular that was and decided to turn it into their own event in the small communities of Jefferson County.

The future high school kids put on a varsity football uniform, a White Buffalo hat and then sat down and listened to an explanation of what they were signing for the team and brotherhood they were joining.

Current Madras football players visited the schools with the coaches. They talked and hung out with the middle school kids, making them feel welcome, and then they celebrated with the kids for their commitment to playing football with them in the upcoming years.

At the schools, the football program made the commitment a big event for the kids and had a White Buffalo backdrop, real and mini helmets laid out on the table and stickers and backpacks, which they handed out.

"We have never had something like this, where we commit to playing for a team," said eighth-grader Chris Gandy. "A lot of players have quit on Madras teams before, not shown up to practice."

"For me, I was excited to see former teammates welcome me into the high school program," said Gandy. "I am pretty sure this will get future eighth-graders pretty excited."

"I think this will help the program during the season and in the offseason as well," Gandy said. "I am positive players will show up and get things done."

The football program had a total of 32 eighth-graders sign the four-year commitment contract. The Madras JV team had a total of 36 kids play in the 2017 season. The team not only had freshmen, but sophomores and juniors, as well. Seventeen out of the 32 players were sophomores and juniors.

STEELE HAUGEN - Kurt Taylor explains what it means to sign the four year letter of intent."The idea behind this was to recruit kids," said Taylor, "to get them to buy in to what we are doing and to get more kids not only to play the game of football, but to enjoy the game of football, especially here in Madras."

"I think we got more community involvement, as far as people liking the Facebook pages and posts, thinking it was a great idea," Taylor said. "It lit a fire in the community and definitely did its job."

"Football is the greatest sport there is," said coach Kurt Taylor. "It is such an amazing sport and arena of play, where a kid is going to face adversity, whether it is in practice or on Friday night. It teaches hard work and discipline and that is something we want all kids to know. As a teacher, we are trying to teach these kids skills, so when they leave Madras High School, we know they are ready to go and become productive members of society."

"Football is that piece," continued Taylor. "What better sport, where you get knocked down on every play in a given hour and have to get up and keep playing. It teaches perseverance, teaches a student athlete that they have to put time in and prepare. Everyone in their workplace is doing that."

"We want the community to understand what we are doing and to buy in," he said. "We want to be enveloped by the community and we want to envelop the community. I think it is twofold for us; our intentions are to create high character kids and championship level football team and we can't do that without kids going out and playing football."

"A goal was to light a fire in the eighth-graders and to have the rest of the kids in middle school to see something cool in front of their peers," Taylor said. "To get recognition for what they are doing, having the Madras Pioneer and Central Oregon Daily News there."

"I want the community to know that the program is doing whatever it takes to get kids out to play and to make kids successful," continued Taylor. "This signing day for the class of 2022 was a heck of an experience for these guys and I hope it is something they can remember for the rest of their lives."

Madras football won two games in the 2017 season, beating Valley Catholic 19-7 and Corbett 35-8. They also lost two close games to The Dalles (26-21) and Crook County (25-21). The football program won only one game in the combined 2014-2016 seasons.

The offense put up numbers that haven't been seen in Madras football for a long time. They had 2,389 yards of offense and 22 touchdowns. Offensive coach Jim Ferguson used an offense that involved smash mouth football, with the quarterback as a lead blocker.

The offense helped sophomore Treyvon Easterling run for 1,170 yards on 209 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He received first-team all offense.

Defensively, Madras had a strong secondary, only allowing teams 99 passing yards per game. The secondary was led by juniors Wesley Beamer and Dalton Waldow, who both received honorable mention awards. The two combined for 56 tackles on the year.

The football program is looking to grow in numbers and teach kids how to be respectable young adults through the game of football. They teach core values and "DESIRE" to their players and help the community throughout the year. Before every practice and games, the coaches yell "DESIRE," and the players respond with discipline, effort, service, integrity, respect, and excellence.

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