Coming off a winless season, entering their third consecutive season with a different head coach, and having just six seniors on a 35 man roster it would be easy for the Brookings-Harbor High School Bruins football team to feel as though they were on the verge of another season in the doldrums of the Far West League.
However, that is not the case. As they prepare for their opening game on Sept. 5 at home against Phoenix High School, the Bruins are of the mindset that they have the talent and experience to compete with anybody in their league.
"I'm confident. I know we have good kids and a good staff," said Bruin co-head coach Dan O'Brien, who, along with athletic director Buell Gonzalez, take the coaching reigns from Eric Sullivan, who resigned in July. "I feel good about this year and honestly think we can make the playoffs."
Unlike what is seen in a Hollywood movie, it wasn't a powerful locker room speech or the team rallying around a fallen teammate that turned around the Bruins attitude.
"We really didn't say anything to them," O'Brien said. "We went through a stage with a little bit of doubt, then we took a group of 13 players to a North Bend football camp at the end of July. That changed a lot of kids minds. Since then we haven't had to tell the kids they are going to play better this year. They've worked hard and now they know that."
While at the camp, Bruin players competed against teams from North Bend, Dallas, and Newberg.
"The kids went up there and didn't back down from anything. They've been hit with a lot and they kept competing and realized they can compete with these other teams," said O'Brien.
It's those players, O'Brien states, the ones that played through an 0-9 season and various coaching changes, that he wants on his team.
"They are the players who play because they love the game," he said. "I'd rather have those guys than 90 players and half of them don't want to be there."
Though they only have six seniors on the roster, the Bruins return 11 starters to the lineup and have many players that had significant playing time last season.
Of the returning players, O'Brien points out that they are talented and experienced for their young age.
On the offensive line, a group O'Brien considers the core of his offense, three starters return in Max Leavitt, Aaron Iwema and David Hall. O'Brien also states that lineman Nick Boynton, Anthony Peterson and David Freeman all received plenty of game snaps last season and will be ready to play in their opening game against Phoenix.
At the skill positions, the Bruins plan to lean on running back Christian Hooper but will also see contributions from junior running back Jordan King and junior wide receiver Shaan Amin.
At the quarterback position, O'Brien states that both senior Alec Darger and junior Russel Nichels have played great, which has created a healthy competition for the starting job.
Defensively, O'Brien looks to throw various schemes at opponents but has simplified the calls to create less confusion.
BHHS will be led by Darger and Hooper at the linebacker position and Hall as a stalwart defensive lineman.
O'Brien says sophomore free safety Noah Jones has made great strides in the off-season and should also contribute on defense.