The new season poses a different set of challenges for Central High School’s football team, and these have nothing to do with which players graduated and which are returning.
With the OSAA’s redistricting taking effect this fall, many schools in the state are changing classifications and leagues.
No school in the Mid-Valley has a bigger change than Central, which moves up to the Class 5A Mid-Willamette Conference after spending the past eight years as one of the top schools in Class 4A.
Central’s football team was a perennial state power in 4A, going 70-33 in the eight-season span — including 31-5 in league games and five league championships — with seven state playoff appearances, six trips to the state quarterfinals and three semifinal trips.
In the effort to keep the Panthers competitive at the Class 5A level, the team began the process in the summer, well in advance of today’s first day of practice for fall sports teams.
“In terms of football, one of the things we’ve had to amp up big time is lifting in the summer and conditioning,” Central coach Shane Hedrick said.
“We’ve also had to be much, much more detailed. We just can’t waste any time. When we had a camp in July we were organized well. That’s been a real focus of ours.”
Central will have to familiarize itself with a completely new set of opponents.
The only 2014 opponent Central has played in recent years is Dallas, and the Panthers lost 27-0 when the teams met last season.
The Independence school is now one of the smallest in the new classification — Central’s average daily matriculation is 757, which is 428 students fewer than the Mid-Willamette’s largest school, Woodburn, which is at 1,185.
“You only line up 11 on the field,” Hedrick said.
The redistricting has shuffled a number of schools in the Mid-Valley.
The six Salem-Keizer public schools — McKay, McNary, North Salem, South Salem, Sprague and West Salem — are now in the Greater Valley Conference with Forest Grove, McMinnville and West Albany.
Gervais moves to the 3A PacWest Conference from the West Valley League, Santiam Christian moves to the West Valley League from the PacWest, and St. Paul and Perrydale move up to the 2A Tri-River Conference from the 1A Casco League.
Another of the changes that affects football teams is a shorter season.
Gone are the Zero Week games and 10-week regular seasons, and jamborees have returned to the pre-Labor Day Friday night slot.
The teams will have 14 days of practice before their first contest as opposed to their previous nine.
“Yeah, the jamborees, I think their intent are good,” Hedrick said.
“I wasn’t a big fan of them, a few years back when we had them. I wasn’t overly a fan of having nine days of practice and then having a game, either.”
The practice rules have been further defined.
Football teams can now practice for three hours at a time, with daily doubles restricted to every other day with at least three hours between practices, and one of the double practices is supposed to be an instruction-only practice.
“With football, I think we’re still on the grass and really trying to get that figured out,” said Hedrick, in his 14th season at Central. “I think it’s good. I think there needs to be some reeling in of some things the coaches did over the years.
“It really resembles what the colleges have been reduced to.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler