Sep. 2—With plenty of firepower but maybe not the target it carried into last season, North Medford will look to navigate a smoother campaign and hopefully stir things up in the 2022 title chase.
A year ago, the Black Tornado used some fourth-quarter heroics to produce a 3-1 start — with each victory decided by a touchdown or less — but couldn't quite get over the hump thereafter for the program's first losing season since 2018.
Now in the second year under head coach Nathan Chin, the plan is to put the pedal to the metal from the get-go and maintain that momentum for another playoff push.
North was picked third behind Sheldon and West Salem in the South/Central Football Conference preseason coaches' poll.
"The familiarity is the big key," Chin said of the difference from his first season to this one, "just that familiarity the kids have with me and I have with the kids. That's been a huge boost, as well as having a full offseason with them."
Another big boost comes from the return of a few of the state's top players at the 6A level in offensive linemen David Fuiava and Terrell Kim and brothers Ty Pugliano (running back) and AJ Pugliano (tight end).
At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, the senior Fuiava holds things down at right guard while the junior Kim stands 6-3 and 320 pounds and is a force at left guard. Both were first-team all-conference selections a year ago and also have the versatility to play at tackle or center if the need arises.
"You can establish a toughness up front with guys like that coming back," said Chin, "and I think that's a huge piece is that toughness that we can establish up front. I really feel like that is going to be, and is, our staple.
"They kind of set the tone for us, along with Ty," added Chin, who will take over play-calling duties this season. "His really tough, quiet mentality that he has is extremely impressive. I think that's really where we get a lot of what we need from that standpoint. Then you add a dynamic with AJ that's able to do so much for you. With a little bit of stretching the field vertically you're able to really make people defend the two parts of your game."
Ty Pugliano (5-10, 185) ranked fourth among Southwest Conference runners last season and will again be the focal point of the Black Tornado attack. Last year, he ran for 967 yards and nine touchdowns on 139 carries and showcased his versatility with 11 catches for 131 yards.
The elder Pugliano has the strength to run inside the tackles but also the shiftiness to hit cutback lanes and take it the distance in earning first-team all-SWC honors.
"Ty's such a good, hard-working kid and has an ability to do anything you need him to do," added Chin. "He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can pass protect and he's obviously a good ball carrier. When you have a running back like that, that has a dynamic ability about him, you can really do a lot of stuff with him — and you trust him to do all that stuff."
As the state's top tight end recruit for the Class of 2024, the 6-4, 220-pound AJ Pugliano saw his season derailed by a shoulder injury midway through the campaign but still managed to record 21 catches for 368 yards and three scores and finish among the top-10 SWC receivers.
With a stellar blend of power and athleticism, AJ Pugliano can be a matchup problem for any opposing defense. He already holds Pac-12 Conference offers from Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and Washington State.
"AJ runs a lot better than most people give him credit for," said Chin. "He's tough and he's strong and can make something happen in a lot of ways."
Senior Alexander Angulo — known as Diggy to his coaches and teammates — and junior Connor Cesaro provide steady complements in the passing game, which this year will be guided by senior quarterback Caiden Lacey. After playing last season for Eagle Point, where he passed for 1,318 yards, Lacey transferred back to North Medford, where he played his first two years of high school.
With the Eagles, Lacey completed 62% of his passes (111-for-179) with 12 TDs and eight interceptions to become a first-team all-Midwestern League pick.
"He's been solid," said Chin of Lacey. "The one thing about him is he is a quarterback and he takes pride in being a quarterback so his work ethic is built around that. Throughout the last half year getting to know each other has been really big for both of us."
"He throws the ball fairly well and accurately," he added, "and so there's no doubt about it, he's going to be able to take advantage of who he has around him."
Angulo was an all-conference pick after showing his own offensive versatility at slot receiver with 189 yards rushing on 28 carries to go with nine catches for 45 yards. Cesaro made a splash in his debut season on the outside with 16 catches for 177 yards and one TD.
North will look to juniors Cody Carlson and Janson Thompson, senior Robbie Caster and sophomore Max Aukusitino to help bolster the offensive line, with several of those same faces needed to pitch in on defense with senior Kellen Thomey on the edge after the Black Tornado graduated its entire front unit from a year ago.
Where North expects to have a stronghold is at linebacker and safety, where the Pugliano brothers, Kilohana Wailehua, Jeremiah Robbins, Angulo, Joey Newberg and Cameron Nix stand to be in the mix for a sturdy corps in the middle.
The secondary took a hit when senior safety Aidan Becksted suffered a broken leg at summer camp but senior Ty Carpenter and Cesaro each boast game experience and twins Isaiah Chavez and Isaac Chavez will join Matt Griepsma as senior cornerbacks.
Cascade Christian senior transfer JT Knobloch-Scott gives North a solid addition at kicker after an all-conference run with the Challengers.
"We obviously have to be disciplined and do the things we do," said Chin of a push toward the top-third of the South/Central Football Conference, "but I feel like we have a group of guys that can do it."
Nathan Chin (second year, 4-5)
ASSISTANTS: Doug Elam (co-offensive coordinator/receivers), Jim Bosworth (defensive coordinator/defensive backs), Johnny Vaigafa (offensive line), Masi Tunoa (defensive line), Mike Olson (receivers), Nate Becksted (running backs), Dave Pettersen (linebackers), Dan Fredericksen (JV head coach/defensive backs), Will Salade (JV defensive coordinator/defensive backs), Dan Smalley (freshman head coach), Tre Holmes (freshman), Michael Healy (freshman).
2021 LEAGUE RECORD: 1-3 (fourth, SWC).
2021 OVERALL RECORD: 4-5.
PREDICTED FINISH THIS YEAR: Third.
7West Linn 49
51Grants Pass 7
34South Medford 40
OFFENSE (7): Right guard David Fuiava (6-2, 300, sr.), left guard Terrell Kim (6-3, 320, jr.), left tackle Connor Trinca (6-0, 240, jr.), running back Ty Pugliano (5-10, 185, sr.), tight end AJ Pugliano (6-4, 220, jr.), receiver Connor Cesaro (6-2, 185, jr.), receiver Alexander "Diggy" Angulo (5-6, 170, sr.).
DEFENSE (4): Linebacker Kilohana Wailehua (5-11, 180, sr.), linebacker Jeremiah Robbins (5-10, 190, jr.), linebacker AJ Pugliano, safety Ty Pugliano.
Quarterback Caiden Lacey (6-2, 190, sr.), safety/receiver Ty Carpenter (6-3, 185, sr.), tight end/defensive lineman Kellen Thomey (6-1, 215, sr.), receiver/defensive back Isaac Chavez (6-0, 155, sr.), receiver/defensive back Isaiah Chavez (6-0, 155, sr.), lineman Robbie Caster (6-2, 235, sr.), lineman Cody Carlson (6-1, 225, jr.), lineman Janson Thompson (5-9, 220, jr.), lineman Max Aukusitino (6-1, 290, so.), lineman Trey Kennedy-Coleman (6-2, 240, so.), linebacker/tight end Joey Newberg (6-1, 175, jr.), linebacker/running back Cameron Nix (6-0, 190 so.), cornerback/receiver Matt Griepsma (6-0, 180, sr.), kicker JT Knobloch-Scott (6-0, 185, sr.).
Sept. 2vs WEST LINN at Willamette HS, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9at Bend, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16at West Salem, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23NORTH SALEM, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30at Grants Pass, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7ROSEBURG, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14SHELDON, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21at McNary, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28at South Medford, 7 p.m.
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