Low numbers threatened to cancel Joseph’s football season

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer October 05, 2012 01:14 pm

The Joseph High School football season was saved by its students who just couldn’t give up their Eagle pride.

During daily doubles, practices twice a day before school starts, Coach Jim Hite said six kids came out. 

By the first day of school, a few more kids showed up for practice, kids who had to work until the bitter end of summer. Even then, there still weren’t enough players and some were freshman — Joseph’s football team was down in numbers and experience.

Hite cancelled the Eagles’ first game at the Dufur tournament. He said it would have been good experience, but he just didn’t have the depth.

By the second week of school the situation was dire. Principal Sherri Kilgore wasn’t sure if they would be able to have a team. 

Then a miracle happened. 

Kids came out of the woodwork and joined the team. Kids who had never played football — a few are seniors who have never played the game.

But that didn’t matter in light of not having a team at all – no pep rallies, no homecoming, no games under the lights high atop Joseph. Hite now has 17 football players on the rolls.

“That’s the kind of kids we have and I would rather have that than a trip to the state playoffs,” said Hite.

He said he had to cancel a second game because he needed to log nine practices per player to comply with the Oregon State Athletic Association rules. 

They picked up a game with Yoncalla, a small school between Eugene and Roseburg. They split the distance and met in Dufur. The Eagles lost by a 64-26 score, but Hite said it was a good experience.

“We have a steep learning curve, but it’s not just about football, it’s about being good kids and discipline,” said Hite.

Last Friday the Eagles hosted Wallowa at their homecoming game. They lost by a 64-14 and they had a lot of injuries.

Wyatt Warnock twisted an ankle at quarterback. Hite said he had to move his tailback into the position and then fill the tailback position.

Hite credited his defense for doing and outstanding job.

“John Stein did a great job on the line. I’d also like to mention defensive end Shawn Claypool, Avery Drummond, Blake Sherrod — these guys led our defense,” said Stein.

Kilgore is tickled at how the kids responded.

“Some of these kids have never even played football!”

Hite said, “What they lack in experience, they make up for in heart.”

Joseph finished 5-5 in 2011 and earned a berth in the postseason playoffs with a 3-2 league record.

and finished the season ranked 17th among the 1A schools. With 19 players on the roster, the Eagles handed Wallowa (32-12), Pine Eagle (58-48) and Powder Valley (58-34) losses in league play to earn the third OOL playoff berth.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Eagles lost to the eventual undefeated state champions from Camas Valley by a 64-6 margin. On their way to a perfect 14-0 season, the Hornets had logged shutout wins over Crane, Prospect, Butte Falls, North Lake and Powers during the regular season. The Hornets also handed Dufur a 60-0 loss in the second round of the playoffs.

Joseph lost eight players to graduation from that squad, including starters like all-leaguers Trevor Lewis , B.J. Warnock and Anthony Smallen.

This Friday, the Eagles host the Cove Leopards at 7 p.m., a team that is currently tied for the Old Oregon League lead with Imbler and Wallowa.

It will be the second straight week that the Eagles will host one of the top teams in the league. 

The Leopards will be coming into Joseph with a 1-0 league record and are ranked 11th in the current Oregon School Activities Association 1A football poll. Cove has a 3-1 season record and lost to Echo by a 54-42 margin in early September.

The Leopards have been having number problems of their own. Cove had just over a dozen players show up for the first preseason practice, but once school started, kept picking up players.

The Cove roster now has 20 players, according to the most recent information posted with the OSAA.