PENDLETON - During his first meeting with his new squad Saturday, Pendleton football coach Mitch Sanders realized just how ready the Bucks are to take the field.
Meeting with players and coaches was the main focus of Sanders' cross-state visit to Pendleton and he was greeted by more than 40 energetic athletes all wanting the same thing:?to get down to the business of playing football.
"Everyone is just ready to get going," said Sanders, who will coach his first year for Pendleton after four years in the same capacity at Tigard. "I met a lot of great people, a lot of parents and we had about 40-45 kids show up and we were expecting about 20 or so because it wasn't at an ideal time. We had some baseball going on today and some basketball and I think my quarterback skipped a rodeo to come to the meeting."
If the players are ready to hit the ground running, then Sanders is just as anxious for that time to arrive. Saturday was a day for meeting with the players and coaches, but looming ahead is the task of acclimating Pendleton football to a different brand of offense.
The last two years, the Bucks force-fed defenses the triple option with a smattering of passing plays and - late last season with the emergence of Jared Standley - a power running game.
"We won't hang our hat on the veer or anything like that," Sanders said. "That's a completely different style. We'll hang our hat on running inside zone or running power. That will always kind of be the hub of the wheel.?The plan is that the hub of the wheel will be zone. Off that we'll run plays that go with it like counter or an iso play we run out of shotgun or in an I-backs set. The base stuff I've been running for 10 years, just out of a spread look."
Sanders added that most of the returning Bucks will fit that offensive mold of being smaller and quicker. Players like senior quarterback Jake Talbot, who started games for the Bucks for the last two seasons, and running back Levin Fox would be more dangerous in open space, Sanders explained.
Three of the last four years with Tigard, the Tigers ran out of the spread, leading to great success as Sanders led them to a 25-17 record, going 17-4 in league games.
One thing that will not change with the new coach at the helm, though, is the similar brand of tough football employed by the last several coaching staffs.
"We are going to smack you in the mouth - it's that plain and simple," Sanders said. "Whether we're in a spread or in a two-tight end set we're going to come hit you on offense ... The bottom line of what kind of football I believe in is we're going to outwork people in the weight room and on the track running. We're going to be very physical and very tough. Defensively I like to see a minimum of three hats on a football and I?expect on video to see 11 hats around the football. We'll stress being fit, being tough, running the football and when we get to the football we're going to hit you. We're going to lay some hickory."
He described the process this summer as a marathon rather than a sprint in regards to implementing his new system, with the first part of it getting the coaching staff acclimated and up to speed.
The staff will take on many of the same faces as years past with the added benefit of most of them having multiple seasons of experience under their belts.
"We have to get our staff in order and get our staff on the same page and that takes time," Sanders said. "If you're trying to implement stuff without that being taken care of first it creates a lot of chaos ... There's a good group of guys out here. We'll have the same culprits out there on the coaching staff. It's the same group of guys that have been here for years, with the difference being we're going to move forward in a different direction."
He marked July 27 as the date when the team will officially hit the ground with the new system and start moving Buckaroo football forward.
Part of that is helping a team move on after the tragic loss of coach Walt Johnson.
"The players have been in a tough situation and my heart goes out to the Johnson family," Sanders said. "I wish my family was coming here under a different set of circumstances. But it is what it is and I'm looking forward to getting the kids going and taking the next step. And I?hope they're ready as well. I think everyone's ready to move on. Everyone's always going to remember the contributions somebody makes to their lives and coach Johnson's memory and impact will live on. This is a wonderful community and I love that. And I think we're ready to hit the ground sprinting."