BANDON — In Aaron Freitag’s first two years as head coach, Bandon’s football team reached the playoffs but lost in the first round on the road.
Freitag hopes his third team can get over that hump, ideally with a home game in the postseason.
After losing just a couple of key seniors last fall, he has reason for his optimism.
“I don’t know the last time Bandon hosted a playoff game,” he said. “We’ve been taking small steps every year.”
The Tigers run plays during a practice Aug. 28 at Bandon High School. The team starts its season Friday at home against Glide.
If the Tigers can make that next step in what should be a tough Sunset Conference, this could be the year Bandon is home for the posteseason.
“We’ve got the talent,” said senior quarterback Braydon Freitag, the coach’s son, adding that the Tigers just need the commitment and attention to detail to get over the hump.
“Mentality is a big part of it. We have to have the will to win. The work ethic has to be there every practice, and self-discipline. Those things are what matters.”
Freitag is in his fourth year as the starting quarterback, invaluable experience.
“He stays calm under pressure and he knows the whole playbook, which is real helpful,” junior running back Wyatt Dyer said. “He doesn’t make stupid mistakes.”
The Tigers need to fill a hole at running back in their three-back rotation, but Dyer returns along with Reef Berry, who started as a freshman last year. Bandon also got a boost with the addition of a pair of transfers from Pacific High School, including Sean White, who likely will take the starting fullback role.
Senior Coby Smith returns at tight end, along with sophomore Coper Lang, who had an outstanding freshman year.
While Braydon Freitag likes his receiving weapons, he said moving the ball on the ground will be a key for the Tigers, who want to have a balanced attack.
“Last year, we weren’t terrible,” he said. “It’s only going to get better this year.”
That’s in large part to what should be a greatly improved line.
“We are going to have the best line that we’ve had,” Aaron Freitag said. “We won’t be starting freshmen anymore.”
That’s something Bandon has done the past several years.
Junior Brynn Green was a first-team all-league pick last year and junior Brendan Smith and sophomore Johnny Helms also return up front. Sophomore Hunter Pullman moves into the center position and junior Zach Lester fills out the line.
“Everyone is bigger and stronger,” Helms said of the group up front. “We’re going to be better.”
And that will help make the offense more dynamic, he said.
“Our offense could be good. Our skill players are very good. They have a lot of potential.”
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Assistant coach coach Bill McNeil works with Gage Looney and the rest of his team during a practice Aug. 28 at Bandon High School.
While Bandon’s offense should be better, the defense already was outstanding and should be great again after giving up fewer than 17 points a game last year.
“I love defense,” Aaron Freitag said. “You can’t be on defense all the time and win football games, but I love when we are on defense.”
The Tigers return eight starters on defense and add in White at linebacker and Kross Miller, the other transfer from Pacific, at defensive back.
Green, Smith and Helms return up front and Dyer and Lang are back at linebacker. Freitag, Smith and Berry return to the defensive backfield.
“Our defense was phenomenal last year,” Braydon Freitag said. “We didn’t give up a lot of points.”
The Tigers also had a knack for coming up with big stops.
“Big time players make big plays when it matters,” he said.
Aaron Freitag isn’t just excited about the talented players, but the number of players.
The Tigers have close to 40 kids out this fall, enough for depth at every position, which leads to competition in practice, a great thing.
“It’s kind of crazy how much we’ve grown,” Dyer said. “I remember when we barely had enough kids to go offense versus defense in practice.
“Last year was awesome. This year, it’s going to push us even harder. It makes us better.”
Bandon will need to be better in what should be a challenging league with defending Sunset Conference champion Coquille, Toledo, which also made the playoffs, and always tough Reedsport.
“I don’t think there are going to be any easy games,” Aaron Freitag said.
Last year, the Tigers won close games against both Toledo and Reedsport, but the game that stuck out was a potential win that got away in a 12-8 defeat at Coquille.
“I can’t wait,” Helms said, adding that he has been looking forward to the league opener at home against Coquille on Oct. 4. “I want to get into it.”
Bandon is excited about its potential.
“We definitely want it,” Dyer said.
The Tigers hope all the pieces add up with a big reward at the end of the season.
“We’ve been in the playoffs two years in a row and we’ve had to travel,” Dyer said. “We want to have it in our stadium.”