COOS BAY — While the Marshfield football team zips around at practice in purple and gold, this group of players is especially green.
Replacing 19 of 22 starters from last year’s team that went to the state semifinals, the Pirates are looking to fill holes across the roster. But despite the departure of players who were named to 11 positions on the all-state team, there are still high expectations for this current group.
Marshfield players run drills Aug. 29 as they prepare for their season opener Friday at North Bend High School.
“Our goal, and I feel confident, well I shouldn’t sound too confident, I feel if everything goes right and our kids play hard and we execute and play well, I think we can be playing Marist here for a league title last game of the season,” said Marshfield head coach John Lemmons.
The Pirates have won back-to-back league titles — the Far West League in 2017 and last year in the Sky-Em League — and to get back to that level again it starts with familiar faces anchoring the team to success.
Senior Josiah Niblett is the team’s only returning starter on offense and one of two defensive starters returning from last year -- the other defensive returner is his brother, junior Noah Niblett (to read more about the Niblett brothers, see Page 5). A season ago Josiah was named to second team all-state on defense and honorable mention all-state on offense. Senior kicker and punter Arturo Ledesma was named honorable mention in both positions on the all-state team; the only other returning Marshfield player named to the team.
The rest of the roster is full of unknown quantities. Including at quarterback. Stepping into the role is sophomore Dom Montiel. Starting as the junior varsity quarterback a year ago, Montiel was able to play in a pair of blowouts — against Elmira and Junction City — last season for his first taste of football at the varsity level.
“There were a lot of butterflies coming out of the locker room over there when coach told me I was going in. Because, I mean, varsity is just completely different than JV, just the atmosphere and everything. It’s a whole different story,” said Montiel. “I’m just ready to go. I’ve been excited, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’m just ready to perform.”
The 6-foot-2 sophomore has been around Marshfield football his whole life and first walked the sidelines as a ball boy for the Pirates. Sounding more like a savvy veteran than a first-time varsity starter, Montiel feels comfortable in his new role.
“Just looking to not to do too much. Just letting the other guys make plays. Josiah, get him the ball. Noah, really good. I’ve got good receivers, good running backs, I don’t need to be the star. Just get them the ball,” said Montiel. “Just do my job.”
And that is exactly what Lemmons is looking for.
“He’s a competitor. And I’m sure it’s going to be a big moment for him but I feel confident that he’s going to be able to step up to the challenge and do a good job for us,” said Lemmons. “But he’s a sophomore and there’s definitely a learning curve. The speed of the game increases quite rapidly.”
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With the quarterback position set, players up and down the roster are also looking to cement themselves as essential parts of the team. A group of seniors getting their first starting experience on varsity includes Tandy Martin at receiver and safety and Liam Webster at receiver and linebacker.
The Pirates run blocking drills during an Aug. 29 practice at Marshfield High School. Marshfield starts the season Friday at North Bend.
“The biggest thing we gained with playing with this last senior class is that they were always pushing us. And I think that really did improve us and I think we just have to follow what they did,” said Webster. “Follow their competition level and just compete and keep working. And just build off that success and keep that feeling you have when you get success and keep trying to strive for that.”
The offensive line also includes three seniors starting for the first time — center Alvarro Guillen-Ruiz, guard Robert Fisher and tackle Miles Calhoun. Also up front are junior guard Shaun Skinner and sophomore tackle Hayden Murphy. Two more sophomores, Ezra Waterman and DJ Daugherty, fill the H back role.
Across the defense, Lemmons is relying on new faces to step up. In the team’s first test of the year in the jamboree against Siuslaw, Pleasant Hill and Bandon, the starters gave up just one touchdown while they made teams uncomfortable and applied pressure.
“I thought the defense did a good job. Had a few coverage breakdowns, but I thought overall the kids played real hard and flew around and flew to the ball. Just did a good job,” said Lemmons.
The defensive front includes seniors Fisher and Traver Matthews at end and Skinner and senior Henley Cleveland at tackle.
Sophomore Pierce Davidson, one of the receivers, also will see time up front, while Waterman joins Josiah Niblett and Webster at linebacker.
Seniors Marcos Rosales and Joey Ward will be in the backfield along with Noah Niblett, Martin and Daugherty.
“I believe the whole team is going to shine in some way. Definitely everyone is stepping it up,” said Rosales. “Our young kids are going to have to step it up and show them what we’ve got. Everyone just has to step it up.”
With high hopes for the season, the Pirates are thrown right into the fire with their first nonleague games of the season against a talented North Bend side and a Gladstone team that, like Marshfield, made the state semifinals last season.
“Our first two nonleague games are really tough games,” said Lemmons. “North Bend is battle tested, got a lot of returning varsity players that are returning and playing since they were freshman so they’re big, they’re fast and they are very well coached. It’s going to be a good test for us.”