COQUILLE — Every day, brothers Colton and John Morrill-Keeler and Jack Lehnherr hop into John’s car at Pacific High School as their school mates head to their final class and drive north and then east to Coquille High School.
The brothers have followed this routine for three falls now because it’s the only way they can play high school football. Lehnherr joined them this year after transferring to Pacific from Powers.
This is the third year Coquille and Pacific have had a cooperative agreement for football. It’s proved beneficial for both schools. Pacific’s kids get to play a sport they love and Coquille gets a few extra athletes who contribute on the field.
“It’s tiring, but it’s fun playing with the guys,” John said of the daily routine.
When the brothers were growing up, Pacific had a cooperative agreement with Bandon, a much shorter drive. But when the Tigers dropped down to Class 2A, they couldn’t combine with Pacific and remain a Class 2A school for football because their combined enrollments were well over the limit for the classification. It hasn’t been an issue at Coquille, which is at the bottom of the enrollment range for Class 3A.
Bandon dropped down to Class 2A before John’s freshman year, and for that season he wasn’t able to play football.
“It was hard,” he said, adding that when he first heard the prospect of playing for Coquille, “it was exciting.”
The agreement with Coquille started when he was a sophomore and Colton a freshman and was a great relief for the siblings.
“I was playing for Bandon since third grade,” said Colton, who said he loves football and didn’t want to miss out in high school.
There were five Pacific players in Coquille’s program that first year. The transition to playing for the Red Devils went well.
“They kind of welcomed us in,” John said.
Coquille coach David Thomason said the arrangement has been great.
“I’m real glad our schools figured out a way to allow these young men to be Red Devils,” he said. “They are all great young men with bright futures.
“All were accepted as family from day one. Their commitment, talent and character was apparent.”
And the Pacific players have become significant contributors.
John, who stands 6 feet, 8 ½ inches, has become a receiving threat and lines up at one defensive end, opposite Lehnherr, the shortest of the three at 6-3.
Colton is John’s backup at defensive end and a tight end and Lehnherr has transitioned in recent weeks into a slot receiver.
This week, as Coquille prepares for playing Scio in the Class 3A quarterfinals Friday night, they are expecting to play major roles, especially on defense against the run-happy Loggers.
“They’re physical and big,” Lehnherr said. “I think we’re a lot faster than they are. Their line looks huge.”
Coquille is toying with different defensive philosophies, including how many linemen to use against Scio’s double-wing, but in all the scenarios, the linemen are going to have the job of occupying Scio’s blockers so the linebackers can make tackles.
“Coach has told us we are going to be bruised and sore,” John said.
The brothers had been acclimated into Coquille’s program over the past three seasons. For Lehnherr, this year posed a big change from the eight-man format he used in Powers, but he said he has adjusted well, especially to the defensive end position.
“Playing eight-man made me quicker and a better open-field tackler,” he said.
As for all the extra hours in the car?
“It will be worth it if we win the state championship,” Lehnherr said.
The Red Devils, and their small band of Pirates, can take a big step in that direction Friday night.