Here are 10 questions for the Class 5A Special District 2 (Midwestern League) South division entering the 2019 high school football season. At the bottom is Rockne Roll’s predicted order of finish.
Text by Rockne Roll. Photos by Chase Allgood, Michele Bunch, Serena Morones and Rockne Roll.
1. Can South Eugene continue its upward trajectory?
The 2018 Axe were one win from the state playoffs and posted a winning record for the first time in more than a decade, but it took everything that coach Kevin Leonard could give. He resigned after last season, telling The Register-Guard he simply was exhausted.
New coach Kenny Koberstein has a motivated, cohesive senior class led by a three-star QB in Bryce Boettcher. Was South Eugene’s run last year the prelude to greater things, or the heroic coda of one man’s vision? Koberstein and his squad have their hearts set on option A, but the answer will be found between the white lines.
2. Who will play quarterback for Eagle Point?
Eagle Point coach Erik Johnson was hired on short notice — a matter of weeks separated his hiring and the start of practice. Before doubles began, Johnson had a few guys he was looking at as potential starting quarterbacks and a few more he’d heard about from his staff but who hadn’t been to summer workouts. This could be a competition that lasts throughout the season.
3. Is this division still Churchill’s for the taking?
Fourteen of the Churchill players who made the 2018 all-division team had something in common — they were seniors. The Lancers still are talented, though. This year’s senior class has played for coach AJ Robinson all four years, with two league titles to show for it. These are not the Lancers of nine months ago, for sure, but it’s still a competitive, motivated squad out to show that two heartbreaking playoff losses were a fluke.
The division will be hyper-competitive – it’s not a coronation for the Lancers, but the road to first place still cuts through West Eugene.
4. Which new head coach will have the most success?
Each division of Special District 2 has two new coaches. In the South, they are South Eugene’s Kenny Koberstein and Eagle Point’s Erik Johnson. Koberstein enters what feels like a nearly completed rebuild that’s been a decade in the making, taking the helm of a just-missed playoff team with a cadre of returning talent. Johnson was hired last-minute to run a team that returns one all-league player from last year. Yes, the Eagles posted the third-best scoring offense in the division, but Johnson is installing a new playbook. Both coaches have fertile grounds for future success, but Koberstein’s circumstances give him a shorter path to those grounds.
5. Is this the year North Eugene makes the leap?
Disappointing defense (the worst scoring defense in the division) stuck a young North Eugene squad in sixth place last year. But coach Rick Raish believes things are looking up. The Highlanders have spent the entire offseason focusing on improving that defense. Combine that with an emerging standout at quarterback in Jason Proudfit, and North Eugene could be going places.
Climbing the ladder in this division isn’t a long touchdown pass, though – it’s a punishing run up the middle. How far the Highlanders can leap remains to be seen, but their last-place days could be behind them.
6. Can Gavin Acrey stay healthy for a full season?
Each of the past two years, Acrey entered the season with the hopes of Crater’s run game pinned to his jersey. Each of those two years, he’s missed significant time with injuries. Even with only 76 carries last season, he still made the all-division first team. There’s no telling what he might be able to accomplish if he can play nine or more games this year, but that “if” might be one of the biggest “ifs” in Class 5A football.
7. Can the division’s third-place team make the playoff bracket this year?
After a triumphant surge into relevance last year, South Eugene was rewarded for its achievement with a divisional playoff game pasting at the hands of North Bend. The South will be less top-heavy this year, it would seem, and there are a number of good teams vying for two guaranteed slots; a third will get a “go on or go home” game against the other division. It’s very tough to say that a win for the South in the league play-in is likely, but it’s also difficult to envision a matchup that would produce another blowout.
8. Is Crater for real?
Yes. The Comets have one of the most exciting offenses in the league and might be in a position to score their way around the question marks dotting their inexperienced defense. They return more first-team offensive starters than anyone else in the division, while their main competitor (Churchill) was rocked by a laundry list of graduations. Who knows what will happen in terms of depth or playoff matchups or whether their defense will be strong enough, but it should be clear by now that the Comets are not a fluke and are not going away quietly or anytime soon.
9. What will Deonte Jones do best — WR, RB, DB, KR, PR?
The up-and-coming Churchill sensation played almost entirely at running back last year because he was positionally blocked at his other spots by older teammates. Now Jones is the older teammate and coach AJ Robinson is ready to let him loose. With speed, football smarts and good hands, Jones has the potential to excel almost anywhere in either backfield. Toss it over the top, run him around on sweeps, put him in man coverage to shut down opposing wideouts, maybe even a kick or a punt return? It’s probably easier to list what Jones can’t do (play on the line, maybe) than to try to account for all the things he can do. The Lancers likely will give him the chance to do it all.
10. What will Rieger Sayre do in his senior season?
In his third year as Ashland’s starting quarterback, Sayre has taken his preparation very seriously, attending camps at Stanford and Oregon State between weight room sessions and 7-on-7 games. He’s been a rock for the Grizzlies the past two years but isn’t yet well known outside of his stomping grounds. Whether he can change that depends mostly on factors beyond his control, but as coach Beau Lehnerz put it, “He’s a guy who’s hungry to carry this team.”
Predicted order of finish
3. South Eugene
4. North Eugene
6. Eagle Point
More on Midwestern South football
Players to watch in Special District 2 South in 2019
Which District 2 South teams return the most all-league players?