Loggers hoping to be best yet in third season

Coming off a turnaround year for the East Linn Loggers, Coach Jessie Garcia is seeing the pieces continue to come together for his National Nineman Football League squad.

Going into this Saturday’s league Jamboree at noon Saturday at South Eugene High School, the Loggers look ready to take it up a notch, Garcia believes. The team is ninth in the national pre-season rankings, but ahead of it are four of its own league opponents, including the top-ranked Polk Pioneers, who are the defending national champions.

This year the Loggers will host the national championship game, which will be June 24 in Husky Stadium, Garcie said.

What gives Garcia cause for optimism, though, is that he has 18 players back from last year on his 28-member squad, from a team that went 3-4 and barely missed the playoffs after going winless and scoreless the previous year.

Plus, the 10 newcomers this year fill needed spots on the offensive and defensive lines and in the defensive backfield.

“We have depth this year,” Garcia said. “That’s nice.”

The offensive line is one big improvement. New to the team are former all-league Central Linn players Schuyler Short (6-4, 325) and Graeme Frasier (6-4, 320) to beef up what was a valiant but undersized offensive front last year. Back from that group is Chris Ropp (6-2, 260), Justin Terhurst (6-1, 220) and Brandon Holden (6-1, 240). New to the team also is center/defensive lineman Pat Fitzmorris, also of Central Linn, whom Garcia expects to be a big contributor as well.

Back is quarterback Duane Stevens (6-0, 205), who finished third in the league in offense, despite playing behind a depleted line at times that didn’t give him much time. Stevens passed for 932 yards, but threw 11 interceptions, while passing for eight touchdowns. Garcia expects better things this year.

“We’ve beefed up the offense, so I expect us to be pretty good,” he said. “I expect Duane to do as well or better this year. By shoring up the offensive line, we’ll give Duane more time. When you give him time, he can pick you apart. Plus, coming back for your second year, usually you have a better second year. And there’s 17 guys coming back with him.”

Those include running back Trace Privrasky (5-10, 200), fullback Danny Nunn (6-0, 215), and wideouts Mike Bell (6-3, 195), Bodie Dowding (6-2, 180), Devin Devorak (5-8, 160) and Ronnie Garcia (5-9, 160). Tight end Dan Wilson (6-1, 240) was hurt the final two games of 2005, but still ended up third in the league in catches.

Kicker Derek Robinson (5-10, 180), who last played at Linfield College, is new to the team and could spend some time at defensive back as well, if necessary.

The defense, in general should be improved this year, the coach said.

“We’ve picked up more speed on defense,” Garcia said. “We’ve got some more skilled players in those positions.”

He plans to use some bigger players, who had to fill in on offense last year, on the defensive line, such as Ropp. Other possible defensive linemen include Justin Poole (5-10, 230), who can also play linebacker, and Mike Ficek (6-2, 230).

The defensive backfield includes some of the team’s fastest players in Garcia’s sons, Ronnie and Jessie Jr. (6-0, 170), with Dowding, Devorak, Brian Fahey (5-9, 150) and Frank Whitton (6-1, 195). Linebackers include Stuart Short (6-0, 210), another rookie from Central Linn, Privasky, Craig Bergevin (5-10, 230), and Tony Webb (6-0, 240). Rounding out the team are Evan Holden (6-1, 220), Lou DeShazer (6-0, 155), Rod Jaques (5-11, 175) , Lance Ryan (5-8, 185), and Ryan Kruesi, all of whom can play a variety of positions.

Garcia expects one of the biggest tests this year to be Polk Pioneers of Dallas, which will visit Husky Stadium April 15 in the Loggers’ home opener. The Pioneers have the league’s MVP, running back Ivan McCrae, a former Western Oregon star who rushed for 837 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games last year.

Of the league’s eight teams, divided into the Willamette and McKenzie divisions, he expects some tough competition from the Eugene area as well. Besides the Loggers, the McKenzie division includes the Springfield Buzzards, the Cascade Steel of Monroe, and the Euegene Firebirds. In addition to Polk, the Willamette division is comprised of Santiam Stallions of Stayton, the Albany Power Valley Sharks, and the Capital City Enforcers of Salem.