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Returning seniors put their trust in a program that's competed in 13 title games since 1984

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Senior quarterback T.J. Crawford will be under center for the Bucks this season, bringing experience and leadership.

St. Paul senior running back Saul Martinez remembers the pain of sitting on the sideline and watching his teammates play in the 2018 1A state championship against the Dufur Rangers.

Although the physical ache from his broken ankle suffered in the state quarterfinals two weeks earlier had since abated, seeing the Buckaroos struggle to put up yardage against the three-time defending 1A champs was tough to bare.

"Seeing your whole teammates going through a lot, seeing them out there -- they're playing and you're just here watching, wishing you could do something and you can't," he said.

The Rangers ultimately held the vaunted St. Paul offense, which led the 1A classification in scoring, to zero points in the second half en route to a 38-32 victory for their fourth straight state title. If the 2019 season provides for it, Martinez is looking forward to showing Dufur what they missed with him on the sideline.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Lineman Steven Coppola is one of St. Paul's returning seniors and a key contributor in the offensive and defensive trenches.

"I want to play against them," he said, remembering his thoughts on the Rangers as the Bucks were busy running over teams last year. "I heard they were good. They were the only team that were competitive (with us). They were really good on their season. I'm looking forward to seeing them at state."

Martinez's confidence comes not from a sense of bravado, but from an attitude that permeates through the football program in St. Paul. Everybody buys in. Nobody is left out. Everything is left on the field.

"Every week is a 1-0 mentality," fellow senior and quarterback T.J. Crawford said. "Not much changes at all, with our practices, our routines – that's how we've been so consistent throughout the years. We're consistent every year."

Many of the Bucks entering fall practices this week either know people or are directly related to people who have been a part of a championship football team.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Longtime St. Paul coach Tony Smith will lead a fairly seasoned group that will attempt to return to elite status in Class 1A football in the state.

In the past 35 years, St. Paul has been to 13 state championship games, winning six state titles. The last championship trophy came in 2010 and as this year's graduating class enters their senior season, they are looking to end that drought and put another banner in the gymnasium at the high school.

"That's the St. Paul tradition," Crawford said. "That's kind of our thing. We've always been able to keep up, and that's on our coaching staff. They keep us working hard and remembering that tradition."

The Bucks lost a veritable all-star team of talent in the offseason with the graduation of nine seniors, include all-state talents like Jaidyn Jackson, Justin Herberger, Rawley Koch and more.

But Crawford is a disciple of the system that has proven year after year that no matter who the Bucks put on the field, the legacy of the program and the success the coaching staff breeds is what keeps St. Paul a 1A program to be reckoned with.

"We've had athletes beforehand come and go who are really good and we still fill the same positions and every year we're still up there contending," Crawford said. "That's how we've been so consistent throughout the years."

With Herberger gone, it falls on Martinez to carry the load in the backfield. With Martinez recovering from his injury, the task falls to senior Mitch Curtis, juniors Jaden Thompson and Carlos Borbon, or sophomore Bryce Williams.

"That's what we're looking for this year," Curtis said. "We're going to be solid again. Once we get everybody healthy, we should be looking good."

The Bucks open the season Sept. 6 at Wallowa and return home on Sept. 13 in a home-opener rematch against the Rangers that could prove to be a state playoff preview. But that's nearly a month away and St. Paul knows that they didn't get a title shot last year by looking ahead in the calendar.

"You can't go too far ahead and think we're going to beat these guys. You have to stay 1-0 every single time," Martinez said. "I hope we win every single game, but we have to stay 1-0 every single day."

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