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Skill players from last year's playoff team back; Eastern Oregon schools on schedule this fall

PMG PHOTO: TONY AHERN - Quarterback Dru Boyle is tackled just short of the end zone during a MHS scrimmage Saturday morning. Boyle threw two touchdown passes to Cael White during the short scrimmage. The Buffs kicks off their season with a jamboree in Redmond Thursday and at Sweet Home Sept. 2.
Even though the Buffs will have a lot of varsity players returning in 2022, this will be a new-look season for the Madras High School football team.

First and foremost, the White Buffalos introduced Judd Stutzman as their new head coach over the summer. Stutzman comes to Madras after two seasons at 3A Clatskanie High School.

The new coach wants his team to play hard and fast.

"Our offense will be a well balanced, pistol spread. It all begins with the run game and that will allow us to open up the play-acton and pass game," said Stutzman. "We want people to describe our team as always in 'attack mode' on both offense and defense. A team that has relentless pursuit to the ball and violent tacklers on defense and relentless blockers, runners, and receivers on offense."

Stutzman replaces Kurt Taylor, who coached the team for six seasons before transitioning to an administrative role at the high school. Taylor leaves behind a legacy of incremental success, which culminated in Madras making the 4A playoffs for the first time since 2012 and finishing third in its special district. While the Buffs' district last season was basically just the Tri-Valley Conference with Crook County in place of Corbett, this year's special district has Madras looking eastward.

Madras, Crook County and The Dalles form the western half of a six-team special district that features Baker, La Grande and Pendleton in the eastern bloc. That shift raises the talent level that the White Buffalos can expect to see in league games; all three of those Eastern Oregon squads made the playoffs last year, and Pendleton did it at the 5A level.

"The Eastern Oregon schools have a long standing reputation for being highly competitive schools so we are excited to compete against some of the best teams in Oregon," said Stutzman. "This level of competition will allow our team to get better as well. However, the major drawback for all teams involved is the longer bus trips which I don't think anyone looks forward to."

Even with all the transition, the Buffs have plenty of reason for optimism coming into the new year. The team lost a few senior starters to graduation this past June, but the offensive skill positions of quarterback, running back and wide receiver appear to be fully intact.

Cael White, a senior wide receiver, should once again be the focal point of the passing game. White was named to the all-district first team, and he also received an honorable mention on the 4A All-State team after leading the Buffs with 38 receptions for 623 yards and six touchdowns.

" Cael is our most explosive and dynamic player and will be featured in all aspects of offense and defense," said the coach.

Along with White, another key player will be senior quarterback Dru Boyle, who will be a three-year starter. Boyle was second-team all-district a year ago, making plenty of plays with his arm and his feet. During the regular season, Boyle threw for eight scores and ran for six more, proving to be the type of dual threat that gives nightmares to defenses.

In the running game, fellow senior Johan Poland looks to be in line for the bulk of the carries. Poland was another second-team all-district selection a year ago, racking up over 400 all-purpose yards on the ground, through the air and on kickoff returns. He also handled the kicking and punting duties for the Buffs last season.

Ayden Holcomb and James Lange will also be counted on to produce as running backs. Returning varsity experienced wide receivers include Maikel Poland and Lange plus Wade Simmelink.

Skytus Smith, who played some running back last year, has been moved to tight end/wide receiver, said Stutzman, where he'll be another aerial target for Boyle. Madras has historically been a bit thin on the line and Smith's infusion as a tight end could be helpful. Stutzman noted Mike Evan and Jacob Brandenberg will be counted on as top linemen. Brady David, who played well on the line last year, suffered a substantial knee injury competing in rodeo this summer and will unfortunately miss the season.

On defense, Stutzman wants aggressive, high-flying, attacking play. A turnover-hungry defense from last year should carry over, though the front seven may feel the losses of departed players such as Texas Arreola, Angel Jimenez and Reece White. With those players gone, expect big defensive seasons from seniors Holcomb and junior Noah Vibbert.

PMG PHOTO: TONY AHERN - Ayden Holcomb reaches to try and tackle Ollie Nilles Saturday during the Buffs' scrimmage. Nilles, the backup quarterback, earlier broke a touchdown run of 40 yards. 
In the secondary, there is likely more carry-over from 2021. Boyle and Johan Poland are likely to play safety again, while White should reprise his role as a shutdown cornerback. Simmelink, Lange and Maikel Poland also come in with varsity experience in the secondary.

Stutzman said there are about 60 kids out for the team so far, and he hopes to hold steady over 50 through the season. "Numbers are good but we always want more kids out. I feel like sports are the ultimate tool for life lesson," said Stutzman.

Stutzman's assistant coaches include Jerry Shaw as the offensive coordinator, Andrew McConnell running special teams, Ack Lewis as line coach and Darrell Sumner is the head JV coach. Other assistants include Seth Colton, Nelly Hoaglin, Karletty Faamatuainu and Chris Price.

Following two weeks of practice and a preseason jamboree, the White Buffalos open the season on the road Friday, Sept. 2, against Sweet Home. The Buffs will be looking to avenge a heartbreaking home loss to the Huskies last year. The first home game of the season is the following week, as Madras plays host to Sisters for the second year in a row. Last year's game against the Outlaws was supposed to be a road game, but poor air quality forced the schools to relocate the contest to MHS. The Buffs will be looking for back-to-back wins over the Outlaws.

The final two non-league games come on the road at Caldera (Sept. 16) and at home against Scappoose (Sept. 23). League play for Madras includes three road trips, to Pendleton (Sept. 30), Baker (Oct. 14) and Crook County (Oct. 28). The Buffs will also host two league games, first against La Grande (Oct. 7) and then against The Dalles (Oct. 21).

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