Experience and depth are going to be the keys to success for the Taft 7-12 football team this season.
Through the first week of practice, head coach for the Tigers Jake Tolan is already starting to see a shift in the culture from the team that won just a single game in 2018.
"We're really trying to hit home with our kids this year that concept of team first and being a family, and so far the coaching staff feels like they are really buying into that,” Tolan said.
With 33 players currently on the football roster for the 2019 season, Tolan said he is expecting to add a few more guys once school starts. But of those 33 Tigers, there is no shortage of upperclassmen.
“We have experience, which ultimately means we have more leadership on the field, which is nice,” Tolan said. “In the past, we've been inexperienced in some positions and I think, this year, we have more depth and obviously more varsity experience going in this year. I think that's going to help us tremendously in the season.”
Taft graduated several key seniors last season. However, Tolan sees a lot of potential in his offense especially, and it starts with his two team captain running backs Logan Gilleo and Trenton Hall, who are both seniors.
“I would say they've put a lot of time into this off-season in the weight room especially,” Tolan said. “They've kind of assumed the two leadership roles, they’re vocal leaders and they lead by example. They're doing a really good job with it so far.”
With Gilleo and Hall in the backfield, Tolan said teams should also look out for junior JJ French running the ball this season as well, who was an All-League selection last year.
“We're hoping to be able to run the ball more effectively this year with a three back committee,” Tolan said.
Orchestrating the offense is a new starter at quarterback, junior Antonio Suarez. Although Suarez is in his first year as the varsity starter, he did get an opportunity to gain experience last year when he filled in as the starting quarterback against Clatskanie.
“When our quarterback went down late last year, we were forced to start him against Clatskanie and he made some mistakes, but he played fairly well for a sophomore,” Tolan said. “I expect him to have a really good year running the offense.”
In addition to the upperclassmen, Tolan said their maybe some newcomers that will be contributors to the varsity team throughout the season.
“We have some incoming freshmen that have already really impressed us and we’re excited to have some of them for four years in this program,” Tolan said.
Last year’s schedule was brutal for the Taft Tigers as they faced more playoff caliber teams than not. And this year, the schedule is exactly the same and although most might think that isn’t necessarily a good thing, Tolan said it’s exactly what they want and need.
“We have a tough schedule this year, but we wanted that same schedule, because I think a lot of our league teams graduated some good football players,” Tolan said. “I think we've gotten much better than last year and I really like our chances competing this year.”
The Tigers will see their first action this coming Friday, Aug. 30, when they travel to Toledo for a jamboree against three competitive teams.
“We go against Toledo, Newport and Kennedy,” Tolan said. “That's ultimately going to tell us kind of where we're at going into our first game against Harrisburg (Sept. 6).”
The Taft coaching staff agrees that this group of Tigers is further along already this season than they were at this point last year. With experience on both sides of the ball, Tolan has his eyes set on the playoffs.
“Ultimately, our goal is to finish high enough where we're hosting a playoff game,” Tolan said. “Nobody's expecting that, so we want to kind of prove everybody wrong.”