2A football — The Bucks return most of their skill players on offense and expect to be good on both lines as they embark on a new era

Although it may end up being short-lived, St. Paul will kick off a new era of 11-man football when they host fellow 2A newcomer Crow at 7 p.m. Friday at the rodeo grounds.

Bucks athletic director and head football coach Tony Smith has expressed the district’s intention to return to 1A as soon as possible, but as long as their opponents will field a full compliment of players, St. Paul is committed to doing the same.

While they’re at it, the Bucks don’t see any reason why they should change their winning ways. Photo Credit: PHIL HAWKINS - Shaking free - St. Paul quarterback Cody Faber attempts to shred a tackler at the Bucks' preseason jamboree on Friday. The Bucks will make their 2A debut Friday at home versus Crow.

“We’ve had a lot of success in athletics, in our sports program, so I think that allows you to have a belief in what you’re doing and a belief in yourself that carries over into multiple situations, but surely into a change like this,” Smith said. “It’s not like we’ve struggled and been horrible and this is so difficult we’re not going to be able to do this.”

St. Paul began to prepare mentally for the transition to 11-man last spring, then continued over the summer with a team camp at Gold Beach.

A week of preseason camp in August, two full weeks of practice and a four-way scrimmage Friday have only strengthened the team’s grasp on the schemes, which Smith said will be similar to what they’ve run for the past eight years.

The offense will continue to feature two running backs most of the time, but simply add a second receiver and two more linemen.

The Bucks return the bulk of their skill position players from a year ago, including quarterbacks Cody Faber and Carson Smith, who both started last year and are still splitting reps in a competition to become the starter. Also returning are running backs Tyler Smith and Fernando Dela Cerda, with senior David Elias splitting time with Trask Ritter at split end.

Nick Gooding will play tight end and Ryan Soumokil is set to take advantage of the more natural position of slot receiver that is rarely utilized in eight-man football.

St. Paul lost two standout offensive lineman in Zach Adams and Max Coleman, but return starters Pedro Dela Cerda at center, as well as experienced players in guard Joe Hiller and tackle Keenan Phillips. Jenkin Schibel, who played mostly junior varsity last year, has stepped up to claim the other guard spot, while fellow call-ups Jason McCain and Jackson Connor are fighting for the remaining tackle slot.

“We’re going to continue running the football and set up play action with the run,” Smith said. “I don’t see that piece changing. Many of the plays are similar, they just move out one hole.”

The Bucks’ defense may be strongest along the line, where they return Phillips, Hiller and Elias to anchor their 3-5-3 base defense, from which St. Paul will show opponents a variety of fronts. It will be quite similar to the 3-3 defense St. Paul played in eight-man.

The secondary should be strong with Soumokil and David Martinez starting at cornerback, while Fernando Dela Certa and Carson Smith will likely share time at safety.

The biggest concern may be at linebacker, where Zach Adams will be missed, but coach Smith said he is confident McCain and Faber will be solid anchors in the middle, with Austin McClister, Ritter and Tyler Smith rotating in at the two outside positions.

“We have good kids,” Smith said. “We have good depth … at each of the positions — in our defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. I feel really good about where we’re at as far as that’s concerned.”

The Bucks will have a tall task to overtake either defending Tri-River conference champ and 2A state runner-up Regis and second-place league finisher Kennedy for the two automatic playoff spots, but could challenge for one of four at-large bids.

Unfortunately, Perrydale, which also made the move up to 2A, was unable to field an 11-man team and instead will play an independent eught-man schedule, meaning the two rivals won’t meet on the gridiron this year.

Still, St. Paul is eager prove itself in one of the better 2A leagues.

“I think there’s a general excitement, not just in football but in all sports,” Smith said. “It’s kind of that excitement that comes from anticipation of what you don’t know.”

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