Football: North Marion tabs defensive coordinator to helm program
When the North Marion football team takes to the gridiron this fall in its new conference, the different opponents won't be the only unfamiliar feature for players and fans.
For the first time since 2012, the Huskies will take to the sidelines with a new head coach at the helm after former defensive coordinator Keith Bennett was hired to lead the program for the 2018 season.
Bennett takes over for former head coach Doug Bilodeau, who coached the Huskies from 2012-17. Bennett served under Bilodeau as the program's defensive coach the past two seasons, as the two helped to win back-to-back Oregon West Conference titles in 2016 and 2017.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity and looking to build upon the foundation with some of the success they've had," Bennett said.
Bennett has built a 20-year resume coaching football with a strong focus in defense, beginning his coaching career at Amity Middle School in the late 90s before becoming a volunteer assistant for the high school team in 1998.
He went on to become the program's defensive coordinator in 2001 and held the position for Amity's 2003 state championship, the fifth in a six-year period for the Warriors from 1998-2003. Bennett left the program for coaching opportunities at West Linn and Riverdale before returning to Amity as the defensive coach once again, helping to guide the program to the 3A state title in 2009.
From there, he went on to take the lead defensive role at Horizon Christian from 2011-15 before coming to North Marion in 2016, where he has served the role in each of the past two seasons.
This will be Bennett's first head coaching position since leading the Riverdale program in 2007, and it's little surprise that the Huskies will be a defense-first program under his guidance.
"We get after it," Bennett said. "We don't have a lot of rules and techniques for the kids. We're just very aggressive."
Bennett said he prefers to rely on the team's athleticism and youthful enthusiasm to guide its defensive front, forgoing complex defensive formations in favor of blitz-heavy packages. That way, the kids are more focused on the ball and not spending time thinking on how they're supposed to counter opposing offenses.
"Instead of installing a base defense, we actually start as our base defense with our blitz package and work backwards from there," Bennett said. "We try to eliminate the thought process and just go out there and have fun."
The system has produced significant results beyond just the past two seasons at North Marion. Bennett's defenses have held opponents to under 20 points per game in seven of the past 10 seasons, including North Marion's 2016 Oregon West title when the Huskies finished in a three-way tie with Cascade and Stayton.
North Marion has been particularly effective against league opponents in the past two years under Bennett, holding Oregon West opponents to just 11.67 points per game, helping the Huskies go 7-2 in the process.
On offense, Bennett will utilize a similar system as former coach Bilodeau, employing a Wing-T formation in an effort to provide versatility to take advantage of the various athletic talents entering the program.
"We try to adjust it for our players, so we can be under center or shotgun so we can use the strength of what our core group of kids is," Bennett said. "I believe Wing-T gives you an ability to adjust from year to year on what the talent you have. We could be a throwing team one year or a running team next."
Bennett replaces Bilodeau, who helped the team transition from former longtime coach Bill Crumley in 2012. Bilodeau's six-year tenure with the Huskies was highlighted by postseason appearances in 2013 and 2015-17, including the program first quarterfinal appearance in more than 30 years in 2015. The team's consecutive conference titles in 2016 and 2017 were the first in program history.
Bilodeau finished his career at North Marion with a 26-30 overall record, including a 15-14 mark against league opponents.
Bennett's transition to head coach began this month with the program's week of spring workout sessions, allowing the coaching staff to welcome back returning veterans and bring incoming freshmen and new players into the fold.
"It's all positive, but it's high energy," Bennett said. "We have to make sure our practices are scheduled every minute, so it's not just a big long line of kids and there's not one kid getting a rep. It's high tempo, but high positivity as well. We just keep it fun and relaxed."
The team will hold open weight room nights throughout summer, which are available to all student athletes, in addition to 7-on-7 practices throughout June and July.
After August team practices, the 2018 season opens with a jamboree at Banks on Aug. 24, followed by three non-conference games, two of which come against former Oregon West opponents Stayton and Cascade.
The Huskies' home opener is set for Sept. 8 against Henley, and the program's Special District 2 league schedule includes a mix of 4A and 5A programs — Woodburn, Crook County (5A), Estacada, Gladstone and The Dalles (5A).
North Marion's conference opener is scheduled for Sept. 21 at Woodburn, reopening an old Boones Ferry rivalry that had existed for decades before the 2006 reclassification separated the schools. Bennett is excited to bring the excitement of reigniting the competition against the Huskies' closest high school neighbor.
"One of the best things in sports are rivalries," Bennett said. "When you have communities that are so close and you have kids that go to church together, little league sports — rivalries are what feed high school sports and keep them exciting."
North Marion Football
North Marion head coach Keith Bennett has brought a strong defensive front to every program he's coached at in the past decade.
2008 Amity — 11.7 points per game allowed
2009 Amity — 7.6
2010 Amity — 16.8
2011 Horizon Christian — 16.5
2012 Horizon Christian — 28.1
2013 Horizon Christian — 21.1
2014 Horizon Christian — 18.7
2015 Horizon Christian — 19.1
2016 NORTH MARION — 19.4
2017 NORTH MARION — 26.3