Sep. 2—CENTRAL POINT — During his first two seasons as Crater head coach, Berk Brown has seen both a senior-laiden squad and one of relative inexperience come through Dutch Meyer Field.
Come 2022, Brown is searching for some sort of happy medium.
"It's kind of funny to say this, but we're young again," quipped Brown. "It's almost not fair to say, but we have 15 seniors who have provided a great deal of leadership throughout our offseason and are great guys who show up every day."
Even with a bevy of seniors to replace from the 2021 abbreviated spring season, Brown led the Comets to a 6-4 overall record, a second-place finish in the Midwestern League and another appearance in the Class 5A state playoffs.
The Comets did things their own unique way last season — relying on a bruising running game centered around senior running back Caden Lasater while holding opponents to an average of 13.8 points per game, second only to MWL champ and 5A finalist Thurston.
As the Comets enter the 2022 season, Brown is very much hoping that his young squad can benefit from all of the success they had a year ago.
Friday's trip to North Bend will be the first of an opening stretch where Crater will play three of its first four games away from Central Point.
"We're going to learn how gritty they are, how tough we can become as a team," Brown said of his team's opening month. "We're going to go 3 1/2 hours to the coast and then come home against a tough Henley team who's going to be one of the top teams at the 4A level. Then we have to go on the road two weeks in a row on a trip to Springfield, so we're going to find out how good and how tough we are really, really quick."
The Comets do have the task of replacing two all-state players in Lasater and lineman Jimmy Jordahl, who was a first-team pick on both sides of the ball.
Brown says Crater is likely starting three sophomores and a pair of juniors up front on the offensive line — a unit that he hopes can come together quickly.
Just two of those were starters last season, tackle Justin Brehm and guard Reagan Gowen.
"It's not going to be their physical ability that's going to prevent them from blocking people up front," said Brown of the Comets' offensive line. "It's going to be their understanding of all of our calls and checks that we make in our pass protections and our run game. And it's whether we're working as a cohesive unit because we only have two returning starters."
That is mainly because Brown envisions the Comets spreading things out a lot more than they did a year ago.
"This year, we're different," said Brown, who will call the plays on both offense and defense this season. "We're a lot more mature than last year and I think we have more athletic ability so that we can spread the ball around to all six eligible wide receivers."
That young offensive line will be looking to keep junior quarterback Shane Wood upright and give him time to throw as the Comets want to not be as dependent on the run game.
Just as he was coming into the 2021 season, Wood will be the Comets' starter under center. Wood had an up and down season as a sophomore, with Brown going to receiver-turned-quarterback Javon Smith early in 2021 before Wood returned as starter toward the tail end of the regular season.
Now a junior, Wood has been pushed by sophomore Ben Higginson — who could be a Wildcat option in certain situations — and shown to be much more of a natural leader.
"Shane has just gained a ton of experience," said Brown, "and I've spent a lot of time with him now calling the offense and he's got a better understanding of defenses because I've got a defensive background and I can tell him what defenses are trying to accomplish based on what defenses they are running."
Taking over as the Comets' starting running back will be senior Andrew Kelly, who has been a jack-of-all-trades for Crater during his first three years in the program.
Kelly is part of a skill position group that Brown hopes is able to open the Comets' offense up much more than what things were like in 2021.
Wood's top two targets are a pair of senior receivers, Scott Price and Andrew Schatz, and junior tight end Kayden Gardner.
Price, who finished second in the triple jump at the 5A track and field state championships in May, is the speedster of the bunch, running a 5.6 40-yard dash, according to Brown. Schatz, coming off his first year in the program, is one of five returning starters on offense for the Comets.
"I think those guys can stretch the field," said Brown, "and it's going to be about our ability to protect Shane and get those guys the ball that will allow us to open up the offense a little bit more than we were able to last year."
Gardner was a second-team all-MWL selection last season and is described by Brown as "probably our best offensive weapon." He will also be a much bigger target than he was a year ago, growing 2 inches to 6-foot-2 and adding 25 pounds to reach 240.
"He's a big tight end who's got the softest hands on the team," said Brown. "He's also a physical blocker, so we're looking to build some things around him and move him around a little bit so people have to guess where he's going to line up."
It's the amount of options Brown has at his disposal on offense that has him so optimistic about what the Comets can develop into.
"Trying to develop an offense where we can utilize all six of those skill players is a unique challenge," said Brown. "It's an exciting challenge honestly. We're not going to just line up and try to beat you up like we did last year. We're going to use all 53 and 100 yards and stress defenses out with motions, shifts and try to keep people on their heels as much as we can."
Defensively, the Comets return seven starters, including safeties Aidan Chenoweth and Price. Linebacker Tony Dowens, a senior, was a second-team all-MWL pick last season and will anchor a front seven that has all but two starters — Lasater and Jordahl — back.
"Defensively, we bring a lot of guys back," said Brown. "I'm excited about our defense."
Berk Brown (third year, 10-6)
ASSISTANTS: Vinny Gay (assistant head coach/special teams), David Douglas (receivers), Bryce Peila (defensive backs/JV defensive coordinator), Brad Eaton (offensive line), Beau Canfield (defensive line/JV head coach), JR Godley (running backs/JV offensive coordinator), Crayton Gillespie (linemen), Folger Few (freshman head coach), Devyn Grady (freshman offensive coordinator), David deVilleneuve (freshman defensive coordinator), Jimmy Hausauer (freshman).
2021 LEAGUE RECORD: 6-1 (second, MWL).
2021 OVERALL RECORD: 6-4.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Second.
31North Bend 0
11North Salem 27
OFFENSE (5): Quarterback Shane Wood (6-2, 195, jr.), tackle Justin Brehm (6-0, 250, jr.), guard Reagan Gowen (6-0, 210, so.), tight end Kayden Gardner (6-2, 215, jr.), receiver Andrew Schatz (6-0, 170, sr.).
DEFENSE (7): Safety Aidan Chenoweth (5-10, 165, sr.), safety Scott Price (6-2, 175, sr.), linebacker Kayden Gardner, defensive end Luke Higginson (6-3, 195, sr.), defensive tackle Justin Brehm, defensive end Mike Sherrill (6-1, 195, sr.), linebacker Tony Dowens (5-11, 170, sr.).
Running back Andrew Kelly (5-10, 180, sr.), receiver Spencer Bramucci (5-9, 155, sr.), center Gio Gonzales (5-10, 225, so.), guard Jakobi Cole (6-0, 240, so.), tackle Caleb Canfield (6-1, 190, jr.).
Sept. 2at North Bend, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9HENLEY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16at Springfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23at Thurston, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30NORTH EUGENE, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7Willamette, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14EAGLE POINT, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21at Churchill, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28SOUTH EUGENE, 7 p.m.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.