YOUNG TIGERS ANXIOUS TO FACE CHALLENGE
By Joe Sova
The team that La Grande High School has on the football field during the Tigers' opening game Friday against Class 2A power Grant Union in John Day will not be a true indication what you'll see later in the season.
With only four seniors on the squad, the Tigers will be without four juniors who will be starters or see a lot of playing time becasue of injuries, according to second-year head coach Shea Little.
"That's going to obviously affect us," Little said earlier this week, "but we have some kids who are ready to play and are excited about it."
Those juniors are Cody Mc-Crae, Kelley Burgess, Ryan Cald-well and T.J. Helou. Three of those four play both offense and de-fense. They will each be out for two to three weeks.
La Grande is coming off a rough 2003 season, when the Tigers posted a 1-8 record. The only victory was over Mac-Hi.
The Tigers' four seniors are linemen Logan Joseph and Jeff McClay, and Ricky Gloria and Chase Miller, who both play wide receiver and defensive back.
There will be considerable youth on the field at all times.
"It's probably going to be a repeat of last year," Little said, when he started five or six sophomores. "We're going to be young again."
La Grande will have a new starting quarterback. Little said senior Zac Wilmarth has the edge, due to the experience factor, over senior Trent Evins and sophomore Landon Weaver. Carrying the football will be juniors Tom McKinney and Sean Crow. Mc-Kinney was not a running back last season.
Junior Cale Fle-sher is the most experienced recei-ver, according to Little.
"We've got some kids who can step up and do a good job receiving for us," the coach said.
In the offensive line Joseph and McClay return, but the Tigers are young.
"We are interested to see how they will develop," Little said.
The linebacker position should be a strength for the Tigers, as McKinney and Crow return to the 4-3 scheme. K.C. Harris and Mic-hael Godfrey are competing for playing time at linebacker. De-fensive backs McClay and Tad Fox return.
"We have a lot of question marks," Little admitted. "Some of the younger kids are going to have to step up."
Hard work in the off season has helped, according to Little.
"Those are things the community is not used to," the coach said, and the Tigers are enthused about turning around a losing record. "We're going to start a tradition and the kids are buying into it."
Little said this is the toughest nonleague schedule La Grande has seen in 10 years, with Grant Union, Pullman (Wash.), Middleton (Idaho) and Weiser (Idaho) on the slate.
La Grande has four nonleague games since Vale dropped out of the Greater Oregon League and went to 2A. Little said Baker and Ontario are the front-runners, and he hopes the Tigers will be in the hunt for the top three.
"One of our goals is to make the playoffs," Little said.
Little has several new assistant coaches. They are Sam Wiseman (linebackers) and Klel Carson (receivers), along with volunteers James Burgess (running backs) and Justin Merritt (running backs/linebackers). Return-ing coaches are defensive coordinator Matt Wolcott, Chris Dunlap (defensive line and special teams) and Ryan Cochran (offensive line and special teams).
"They're doing a great job," Little said of the assistants.
Friday's La Grande-Grant Union game kicks off at 7 p.m.