GOLD BEACH — There’s a good chance it’s going to be a long season in Gold Beach in terms of success on the field.
But for the Panthers, just having a team makes this season great after there was a very real chance there wouldn’t be enough players.
“I’m just glad we have a team,” said senior Landen Timeus, who at times was one of just five or six players at summer workouts.
Even on the morning of the first day of practice, veteran coach Kevin Swift wasn’t sure there would be enough players to safely field a team. After a day, he thought Gold Beach would be able to have an eight-man team playing an independent schedule. After another day, as more and more players showed up, he was confident the Panthers could play a regular season, which was great news for the returners.
“I’m excited we get to play,” said sophomore quarterback Trenton Storns. “When we started talking about not having a team, we talked about moving.”
But Storns, Timeus and several others kept coming to workouts, hoping enough kids would show up when practice started.
“We just wanted to play,” said senior center Ethan Carpenter.
Swift, who has led the Panthers to numerous championship games, including a pair of state titles, is a realist about Gold Beach’s chances, given the low number of players on the squad (21) and how many of them have never played high school football before (eight are freshmen, several others are first-year players).
“It’s going to be a long, frustrating year for me,” Swift said, adding that while he is highly competitive, wins and losses aren’t necessarily the most important thing.
“I’ve got to accept the results,” he said, adding that he gets to work with the kids “and have a positive impact on their lives.”
Swift often talks about the value of football in helping students become better adults through all the life lessons they learn through the sport.
“They really are good kids,” he said. “I have an opportunity to impact young kids’ lives. (People say) kids don’t deal with adversity well. Guess what, they are going to learn.”
Swift praised his fellow coaches — Chris Clark, Chip Bradley and Michael Becker — for their work with him.
“I have a great coaching staff,” he said. “They are good coaches, but more important, they are great human beings.”
The staff will be committed to helping the Panthers learn the game, play hard and get better, all while trying to maintain the program.
“Coach Clark said it best: ‘Let’s have fun,’” Swift said. “It’s got to be fun. The results are going to be what they are. Let’s have fun and help kids grow.”
Two Gold Beach players build up their strength by lifting a huge tire during a preseason practice.
Though the number of players, especially veterans, is relatively small, Swift does have a number of talented and experienced athletes to build the team around.
Storns had a strong freshman campaign at quarterback last fall and Timeus was one of the team’s running backs. Cameron Hagood and Tristan May return at receiver and Carpenter, Nuf Laurino and Max Bradley all started on the offensive line and are back.
On the other side of the ball, Joey Greer started at defensive end and Austin Morris at linebacker. Timeus, May, Hagood and Dylan Edwards all started in the defensive backfield.
Darrin Bright is also back this year after missing last season with injury. Junior Josh Rodriguez is the only other player back from last year’s squad.
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The veterans are trying to work with the newcomers, including all the freshmen, encouraging them along the way.
“We have to watch out for the younger guys — keep them from getting discouraged,” Timeus said.
Even though he is a senior, Timeus was a first-year player last year, and said it was a great experience even though the Panthers only picked up one win.
And he said though a lot of the players are new, they have potential.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of speed.”
The Panthers will have a balanced offense of sorts, employing the veer that Swift has run throughout his tenure while also taking advantage of Storns’ arm — last year he had success in a number of games.
“He’s extremely talented for how young he is,” Timeus said.
“He’s a smart kid,” added Carpenter. “That’s what you need.”
Storns said it was fun to open up the offense last fall.
“You could tell it was different for Swift,” he said. “It broadened our horizons.”
But don’t expect Gold Beach to abandon the veer.
Timeus, Edwards and Rodriguez will be the featured running backs.
The line is smaller than a lot of years, but working to get better, Carpenter said.
“We’re going to fight through it, see what we can do,” he said.
The defense was a weakness at times last year, but the players are committed to getting better.
“If we work hard and get our stuff together, it could be pretty good,” Hagood said. “I think we’re going to stick with fundamentals.”
“I think it will be a lot better,” added Carpenter.
Still, the team is realistic in its expectations.
“It might be a rough year — we don’t know,” Hagood said. “As long as we’re out here keeping the program alive, that’s the most important thing.”
Essentially, that’s the bottom line for the team this year, regardless of record, having a team for the school and the football-hungry community.
“Like Swift says when the alumni comes back to practice, it sucks if we lose, it would suck even more if there was no score (because there was no team),” he said.