PHS coach Alex Firth has an enthusiastic outlook heading into the beginning of official practices next week. The Warriors have been doing offseason work and the program could be on the verge of seeing higher participation rates. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School football program appears to have built some momentum as the Warriors launch into official practices beginning this coming Monday.

Head coach Alex Firth in an interview earlier this week detailed the offseason work that’s been done, shared indications that the program might see an increase in participants, showed enthusiasm for returning players and mentioned the hiring of a new assistant coach who saw some significant playing time at Oregon State.

Over the past couple of weeks, the football program has ramped up its activities.

“We’re going six days and it’s offense, defense,” Firth said. “Obviously, it’s all unpadded but we got a lot of work in, had pretty good numbers.”

Firth said Tuesday that he had close to 30 students show up.

“Kids are figuring out what we’re doing and I’m pretty happy with the whole thing,” he said.

When official practices begin Monday, Firth believes he might see in the range of 40 to 45 players as kids transition from vacation time and summer jobs.

“It’s hard to tell until you actually see them,” he said. 

A particular area of the team that’s seen a fair number of summer participants involves players projected to be linemen.

“We have three kids returning on the offensive line that started last year … I think our line’s going to be pretty steady this year,” Firth said. “Skill-wise, we’re loaded.”

The backfield units will have a new coach as former Oregon State player Jovan Stevenson joins Firth’s staff. Stevenson played on both sides of the ball for the Beavers from 2009-13 and may be best remembered for three touchdowns he scored in 2011 against Washington.

“He can help us with the running backs and with the secondary,” Firth said. “I think it was a really, really good hire.”

Former Warriors standout Trey Ecker will also work with players as a new assistant. Firth said a new defensive line coach will also be joining the program, declining to name the candidate until he clears background checks that volunteers go through.

As for the offseason work, PHS participated in a passing tournament at Dayton in July.

“We went with the intent of working on our stuff … you see things in these 7-on-7 passing leagues that you don’t see in ‘real football’ when the pads are on and the quarterback is under pressure,” Firth said. “So we didn’t go up there with the express intent of winning the passing league but I thought we played pretty well. It was good for the kids to go against someone besides themselves and actually go up against someone other than air.”

The Oregon School Activities Association amended participation rules to allow coaches to work with an unlimited number of players for up to nine hours per week during what are defined as open periods — a stretch that begins six weeks after the first practice dates in the fall, winter and spring and continues until the next season starts.

“We’ve been taking advantage of those both winter and spring term,” Firth said. “We’ve been doing work in the weight room and then on Saturday mornings, we would go work on some of our passing game or some of our defense work in the batting cages if the weather was bad or we’d go out on the field if the weather was nice.”

Firth said the program had been going through that routine beginning this past spring.

“Once school’s out … it’s kind of every person for themselves so we’ve kind of stuck to the same schedule where we were doing football activities three days a week for a couple hours a night,” he said. “Kids that weren’t doing summer baseball or summer basketball or if there wasn’t a conflict would show up and we’d work — same thing, work on some offensive stuff, work on some defensive stuff.”

Firth said the Warriors will practice from 6-9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays once practice begins Monday.

Prior to the team’s Sept. 1 season opener at Crook County, Philomath will participate in a jamboree Aug. 24 at Crescent Valley. Joining the host school and the Warriors will be South Eugene.

“It’s going to be kind of in the vein of an NFL training camp scrimmage than a true jamboree where it’s going to be more of a situational scrimmage,” Firth explained. “It’s going to be more controlled … I’m just not a big fan of the traditional jamboree. I think you just open yourself up for an opportunity for injury and then you don’t prepare — you’re going to play two or three teams you’ve never seen that may come out in something exotic that you’ve never prepared for.”

The Warriors are hoping to improve on last year’s 3-6 record, which included back-to-back wins over Klamath Union and Sweet Home to end the season.

Philomath High’s other fall sports will be opening official practices Monday as well — soccer, volleyball and cross-country.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.