Fall sports begins with wave of potential

Benson football is among list of teams with fresh hopes of success
Aug. 6, 2012 / By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

The opening day of practice for high school athletic teams brought about an unusual situation at Benson High Monday afternoon. Anthony Stoudamire, the school's new football coach, caught some of his players sneaking a water break, and he set about letting the team know that wouldn't be tolerated.

First, they did extra running. Then, he hit them with the lowdown on sneaking water.

"When one of us drinks, we all drink," Stoudamire told his team firmly. "The coaches know how important water is to keep you hydrated, and we give you plenty of water breaks, so you don't need to be sneaking water. That's part of becoming a better player, playing through being thirsty.

"What are you going to do when we're driving, when we're at the three-yard-line and you get thirsty? Are you going to come out and let someone else play, or keep playing?"

Stoudamire closed practice with a sweat-soaked group of two dozen players thirsting for success - the kind he experienced at Jefferson while the Techmen struggled to win sometimes one game during a season.

"I'm hoping for more than two wins," said junior Taylor Anderson. "We had one win two years ago and two last year. It would be great to get three wins, but we're shooting (to win) the PIL."

Stoudamire led Jefferson to the Portland Interscholastic League title at the Class 5A level four times in the past six years and won at least one playoff game in five of those seasons. In 2009, he guided the Democrats to the state title game before a loss to Hillsboro. In spring, Stoudamire was fired by Jefferson, but returned to coaching at a rival school and took most of his assistant coaches with him.

Jefferson then hired former University of Oregon standout Aaron Gipson, who will be a head coach for the first time.

"I'm having a good time here," Stoudamire said. "There's good support, we've got a nice field to practice on and the kids have been great.

"There's a lot of things we can do with the orange and blue that I couldn't do with blue and gold."

Benson's program has stalled since the departure of coach Bill Dressel in 1997. Stoudamire is the program's fifth coach since Dressel retired. Even under Dressel, the program was on the way to struggling to keep up with larger, better-funded programs. Benson hasn't won a playoff game since 1990, two years after it won the state title - the last time a PIL school won such an honor in football.

Of the league's seven Class 5A schools, only Jefferson has won a playoff game in the past decade.

Playoff success isn't the only place the PIL is struggling. Last season, the league's six 5A teams won just two non-league games - both against Parkrose. In the OSAA rankings that lead to playoff seeding, PIL teams took up the bottom five spots within the 37 Class 5A schools. Only Jefferson, which lost its three non-league games, was in the top 21 because its losses were to quality opponents: No. 5 Bend, No. 7 Corvallis and No. 13 Crescent Valley.

This season, of the seven PIL schools, only Franklin has a non-league game scheduled against a team ranked higher than No. 15 from last season - Sept. 21, at Bend.

Benson begins its season Aug. 31 at Dallas (No. 26 from 2011), then plays at The Dalles-Wahtonka (No. 31), and plays host to Banks, a Class 4A school, in its home opener, Sept. 14.

"We know it takes time to build a winner," Stoudamire said. "But, the kids don't want to hear that. They want to hear about how we can win this year, that's why we push them like we do."

Other PIL openers on Aug. 31, include:

Madison at The Dalles-Wahtonka

Roosevelt at Scappoose

Parkrose at Franklin

Woodburn at Jefferson

Gresham at Wilson

Cleveland at St. Helens