MILTON-FREEWATER — The McLoughlin High School football team charges into the 2013 campaign with hopes of revenge on the Greater Oregon League.
Last season, the Pioneers were 18 seconds away from a victory at Ontario and a resulting trip to the Oregon state playoffs.
Instead, a call didn’t go their way, the Tigers won the game with a touchdown and advanced all the way to the state semifinals.
The other loss in the GOL season went to Baker, which won the Class 4A state championship last season.
“If we had won that game against Ontario we would have made the playoffs,” Mac-Hi coach Tim Hutchison said. “We really hit our peak at the end of last season. We dealt with injuries throughout the year and really came together at the end. We were playing some really good football.”
The Pioneers have worked hard all offseason behind the leadership of their team captains. The five young men selected to lead the team — Jacob Podolski, Aaron Lefore, Joey Barnhart, Jacob Chaney and Chase Copenhaver — are under a behavioral- and character-signed contract.
They are held strictly to a “Pioneer status,” where they are expected to get good grades, be well respected by teachers, have moral values and be a strong member of the small, local community.
“The part that I like most about the football program is that we’re small enough to all be like a family,” team co-captain Lefore said. “It is really family-orientated. Everybody is here and is all in. It is like a brotherhood. I know all of the guys.”
Lefore is a 6-foot, 240-pound offensive and defensive tackle that runs a 4.95-second 40-yard dash.
Podolski is 6-3 and 200 pounds with a 4.85 40 time.
And Pioneer lineman Beau Birdwell runs an impressive 4.8 40.
“We are heavy in numbers of lineman, but not a lot of size,” Hutchison said. “What we do have is some size and some speed.”
Skill-set upperclassmen include senior incumbent quarterback Copenhaver, who is in his third year at the Mac-Hi reins.
Joining Copenhaver are Jeffrey Jones at tailback and Joey Barnhart at wideout.
The defense will be a 4-2-5 set with four down lineman, two linebackers, two cornerbacks and three safeties.
“We are going to try to stop the run and keep everything in front of us,” Hutchison said. “We are going to get all 11 guys to the ball to make the tackles.”
The Pioneers face plenty of challenges in GOL.
“Our league is real tough,” Hutchison said. “We are only in a four-team league. Baker and Ontario both have been in the state title game or semifinals lately. Baker also won the title game last year. La Grande will be a good team, as well.
“We were 4-4 overall last year, 1-2 in league and almost made the playoffs,” he said. “We are looking to get there this year.”
Hutchison said his team has all the talent and ability to hang with the other GOL teams, it is just be a matter of depth and getting enough of the iron-man players to get a rest now and then.
“We really tried to get everybody in the weight room all summer,” Copenhaver said. “Not all of the guys are in shape yet, but they are getting there.”
The Pioneers open the 2013 campaign with a 7 p.m. matchup Friday at Sisters, Ore.