BROOKINGS — A new coach and a new classification has breathed new life into the Brookings-Harbor football program.
Brookings-Harbor head coach Shaun Bavaro works with his players during an Aug. 16 practice at Brookings Harbor High School.
The Bruins, who went winless last year, were moved into Class 3A as part of the Oregon School Activities Association’s classification and districting process, though they didn’t get a new league name and the new Far West League has old foes Douglas and South Umpqua, along with Sutherlin and a pair of private schools from Medford — St. Mary’s and defending Class 3A champion Cascade Christian.
When Arnold Wardwell decided to retire from coaching, Brookings-Harbor hired one of its own, 2001 graduate Shaun Bavaro.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bavaro said. “I’ve always wanted to be a head coach and I grew up here, so that’s fun.”
Bavaro had been an assistant in North Bend, Silverton and, most recently, Woodburn, before returning to Brookings as a teacher for the 2017-18 school year. He helped coach the Bruins last year, getting to know the players, and reached out to other alumni when building his staff.
In addition to a growth in the roster to about 45 players, Bavaro has a staff of eight assistants (not all paid, he points out, showing their commitment).
One of those coaches, Mark Hawley, was his mentor when he first started coaching as an assistant at Central High School while he was studying at Western Oregon University.
“He’s like a second dad,” Bavaro said, adding that Hawley has 41 years of experience, which is a big help.
Brookings-Harbor has nearly 20 more players than last year, and Bavaro loves the nature of their commitment.
“The kids have been working hard in the summer,” he said. “They have been buying into the system.”
The team averaged 25 players for summer workouts and also had 25 kids in their youth camp, even though Brookings doesn’t yet have a youth football program — Bavaro hopes to have teams in the South Coast Youth Football League next fall.
The Bruins have 13 seniors, though not all were with the program last year. Their leadership will be one key, but another, perhaps bigger key will be the 18-player sophomore group.
“That’s going to be the tale for us — how quick they can mature,” Bavaro said.
The Bruins are planning a multi-set offense, similar to what North Bend ran when Bavaro was an assistant for the Bulldogs. Because it is entirely different than what the Bruins ran last year, nearly all the positions are open, he said.
For example, the Bruins return their starting quarterback from last year, sophomore Andrew Burger, but there’s no guarantee he will be under center this year. One of the players battling with him for the spot is fellow sophomore Logan Holler, a second-team all-league linebacker as a freshman last fall.
About the only guaranteed spot is senior team leader Brig Schofield, who moved from quarterback to running back last fall.
The Bruins also return senior Nicholas Dodson and juniors Josh Smith and Averi Winn to the line. Junior Manny Zamora started at running back last year, but moves out to wide receiver this year.
Brookings-Harbor has better experience returning on defense, including Holler and Schofield at linebacker; Dodson, Winn and Smith on the line; juniors Jesse Lutge and Jason Vanginderen at defensive end; and senior Nick Martinez at cornerback.
The players share Bavaro’s excitement for the season — and beyond.
“I’ve got such a good feeling about it,” Schofield said. “We’ve got kids who have bought in this year. I’m hoping this is a stepping stone.
“Hopefully, we’ll have success this year and build from there. We’re looking to turn the corner. We’re looking to build a program.”
He can envision that happening.
“It’s that buy-in,” Schofield said. “People are deciding to invest this year. It’s not just on the field. It’s in the community. You hear it when you walk into Fred Meyer.”
Winn said the Bruins could be strong on offense, helped by the group up front.
Brookings-Harbor players run passing drills during an Aug. 16 practice at Brookings Harbor High School.
“We’re not the biggest,” he said. “We’re faster. We’re doing plays that fit our line — fast plays.”
Martinez, who plays receiver on offense, likes the versatility of the offense.
“There’s more pass plays,” he said, adding that the quarterbacks all have improved.
Schofield also is optimistic about the offense, purely because of the numbers.
“We have athletes,” he said. “There’s no lack of talent.”
The increased numbers also should add to the intensity in practice, Martinez said.
“We’ve got to fight for our positions,” he said. “It makes us work even harder.”
While the Bruins think the offense should be better, they are building on what already was a strong defense, Martinez said.
“We’re doing real good,” he said. “Everybody’s hustling.”
“We have a bunch of kids that are tough as nails, ready to work hard,” he said. “That’s the kind of energy and excitement we need.”
The players think the Bruins could be good enough to make the Class 3A playoffs, and certainly good enough to be improved over last year.
Bavaro is excited to see the process unfold.
“We will measure our success on how the kids mature game-to-game,” he said.