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Even though it's a short season - and no fans are allowed at the stadium - players are excited to be playing football

MHS LOGO  - The Madras White Buffalos host the Molalla Indian Friday in the football season kickoffThe Madras High School football team had their best season in years in 2019, advancing to the Class 3A state playoffs.

With the success, the football team was moved back up to the Class 4A Tri-Valley Conference where the remainder of the White Buffalo athletic teams already play.

"It won't be much of an adjustment for us," said Madras head football coach Kurt Taylor. "In all honesty, it's going to be nice for us, there is going to be less traveling because our 3A schedule was a ton of travel. We will have some opponents that are pretty good opponents, with Crook County, Gladstone, Estacada, North Marion and Molalla, so you know it will be a little bit different as far as that goes," said Taylor. "But from what I've heard, we have more kids than almost all of those other schools going to practice right now, with the exception of Crook County."

The White Buffalos have just over 40 players consistently coming to practice. Taylor is concerned about a lack of depth, but likes the talent that he is seeing.

"As far as numbers, we are about 50 percent of where we want to be normally," he said. "It is a little bit different – more kids will be playing both sides of the ball and special teams rather than in the past when we've had enough players where we have almost been able to go two platoons. But our boys are really excited about the fact that they get to play both sides of the ball. We are going to try to play our 11 best guys on every snap. The biggest issue that I'm really worried about is depth. Even though the season is shorter, somebody is bound to get an injury here and there and there's just no depth."

Of particular concern is a lack of experienced linemen. Taylor said that the team had plenty of size a year ago, but that several linemen have chosen not to play this year.

"We have skill guys coming out our ears, but we just can't seem to get any of our big guys to come out, including kids that have played," he said.

Still, Taylor is confident about the team's chances for success.

"Our leadership has been great," he said. "It's probably the best team leadership I've had since I've been here. Last year's team had some leaders but this team has an abundance of leaders, from all grade levels, and ... they are the best group as far as they get along. They like to do what the coaches tell them to do. They don't complain about nothing and they all want to get better. It's a very very good group."

Taylor added that he expects the team to be good on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

"I think our offense is really flying on all cylinders," he said. "We've got some really good kids on that side of the ball that are just athletes and we are trying to get them the ball as much as we can. Our defense has always been pretty good. It was one of the best 3A defenses in the state last year. It's a little unorthodox as far as what other teams around the state are doing, but it fits our team. We fit our scheme to our players rather than put our kids in a scheme that doesn't work for them. Our defense has been able to do that for the last couple of years."

Taylor noted that there are a number of players that have stepped into leadership positions. However, four players in particular have stood out so far this year.

Senior Jeremiah Smith, an inside linebacker, is expected to anchor the interior of the White Buffalo defense. Smith will also play H back for the team. Although that position is primarily a blocking position, Taylor said that the team will still look to find ways to get the ball into Smith's hands.

"He's a great kid," Taylor said. "He probably won't come off the field, honestly. He's the leader of the team. He has an incredible work ethic, and he's a stud. He's still trying to decide where he wants to go play football. He's got a lot of Division 3 offers and he's trying to figure out where he wants to go. He's going to be the one that helps people get aligned and helping people make sure that they know which way they are stunting or slanting or blitzing."

Fellow senior Seth Colton is also getting the coaches' attention.

"He's a big strong kid. He might move around a bit, but only because we have depth issues. If we didn't have depth issues, he would play tight end, but because of those boys that were supposed to come out and didn't he is going to have to play line a little bit. He is going to be a tackle and tight end for us and then he's a defensive end." Taylor is also excited about what he is seeing from junior Reece White.

"He'll play quarterback for us and defensive end for us," Taylor said. "He's doing great, he's starting to become a pretty decent leader for us. The kids really respond to him. He's responding to coaching better than he ever has. He's got a great arm and he's a smart kid."

Taylor was quick to add that there are a large number of other players who are also looking strong in early practices.

"Gosh there's so many of them," he said. "We have a lot of sophomore kids that are very very good, talented kids that are going to make a difference for us not only this year but for the next couple of years. They might be athletically the best class that we've had since I've been here."

Taylor said that the team has been working hard all year, but when they found out that they were going to actually get a season, the enthusiasm level went up a notch.

"They were ecstatic," he noted. "It was dang near a year in the waiting. It was a pretty awesome day when we got to tell them they were going to get to play football, real football, not 7-on-7 — that we would get to play actual football. So, it was a huge deal, they were hooping and hollering and clapping so it was awesome. They've always worked hard, but it was definitely a lot better as far as their motivation and just overall excitement."

One of the big problems this year is that several of the teams in the league do not have enough players to field a JV team. As a result, Taylor said that the team is going to have to be creative to get playing time for everyone.

"The biggest problem is nobody else has (JV) except for Crook County and us in the Tri-Valley is going to be able to field JV teams," he said. "We want to get those kids as much playing time as possible so some of them will swing up for varsity games as well and, depending on the situation, they might get to play a little bit. Or, they are just suiting up and getting to be part of the experience. We just want to make sure that their experience is the best that they can possibly have because the last thing that I want to have happen is — we just went through all of these hoops for COVID and started the season in February and then they don't get to play anybody. And we are already losing enough kids, I don't want to lose anybody because I can't facilitate games."

Currently the White Buffalos are working on making sure that everyone is comfortable with the team's system and getting people ready for contact. And, there isn't very much time for that. Despite having all fall and winter to prepare, with no contact allowed, players have not had the opportunity to do much hitting. The team did their first contact last week, and have very little time before playing a game. Typically the season would start with a jamboree, where the coaches would be able to look at players in different positions, and see how people performed in game situations. But, with all of the COVID protocols, the White Buffalos were unable to play a jamboree this year, so they will head into the first game of the season completely untested.

The move to a new league means that the White Buffalos are also unfamiliar with the style of play of the other teams in the conference.

However, Taylor doesn't expect that to be a problem.

"We are trying to teach our kids as much as we can about alignments and techniques so they are ready to see anything that first night," he said. "At the end of the day we just have to take care of ourselves. We approach every Friday night as it's own — basically we just call it a playoff game, especially this year. Every single Friday night is kind of a blessing right now and they could take it away from us at any point, so we just have to do the best that we can to do to be the best version of ourselves on that night, every time."

On Feb. 17, the OSAA made it official that there will be no playoffs for fall sports this year, and spectators will not be allowed at games. Taylor said that although that is disappointing, the coaches and players are just excited to be able to get some games.

"At this point, I think we are just glad to get to play," he said. "We were disappointed about it when they first started talking about it, but now we are so far along in the process that we just want to play. If it was three games, awesome. Five games, awesome. If there's a week six and they figure out a way to get us an extra game, awesome. We are really excited, excited to play some football and get these kids going. They deserve it, they've earned it."

The White Buffalos open the season Friday at home against the Molalla Indians in a 7 p.m. contest.

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