For Chris Bennett, it will be a first.
The former graduate of Neah-Kah-Nie is taking over the school’s football program in the hopes that it can rebound from a year where injuries decimated the team and the season.
By Brad Mosher
The Pirates started 2015 with high hopes and a strong showing in the jamboree, but injuries cut the varsity season short, forcing the squad into a hodge-podge season of eight-man varsity football and junior varsity games.
Now, Bennett has taken over for Scott Ross and is hoping to meet several goals – but the biggest will be to have a complete varsity season while avoiding the wave of serious injuries which derailed last season.
He is also hoping to get more students interested in coming out for the sport because of his successful stint coaching the middle school football team.
In the first days of the 2016 season since practices started Monday, the new coach has 16 players out practicing on the field with another three or four scheduled to soon join the others on grass field to the west of the football field.
Bennett, who graduated from the school in 1999, has been thinking about coaching football. He has helped coach linemen previously at the high school level.
“I always enjoyed it (coaching football). I thought it was a good time to step in,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help rebuild.”
The team will have a whole new coaching staff, with James Billstine. The new english teacher at the school coached at Riddle High School for the last three years. The Irish compete in the 2A Mountain View Conference normally, but were 4-4 as an independent in football for the 2015 season.
In addition, Bennett and Billstine will be joined by Tanner Repass and Mike Sims on the coaching staff.
“It will be a learning experience,” Bennett admitted.
The new coach is also hoping to eventually get around 25 students out for the team.
“We had a very good showing during the summer in the conditioning program he said. We averaged about 14 to 16 kids a night in the weight room.”
Numbers are not only a problem in Rockaway Beach, but throughout the state, Bennett said. “For all the 2A programs, the numbers are getting really tough. They are all going to be in the mid-20s for the other schools in the league.
The Pirates again have 3A schools on the schedule, but the game with 4A Corbett has been turned into a bye week for the Pirates. Eventually, Bennett said he would like to focus the scheduling on the 2A level schools for the non-league portion of the schedule.
“We would prefer in the future to schedule just 2A games,” he said. “A majority of the players at most of the 2A schools play both ways.”
For the new coach, it is just a matter of numbers. The schools at the 3A and 4A level can outnumber and wear down the smaller teams, he explained.
The Pirates will have speed, agility and conditioning in their favor this season,” Bennett added.
The season will start August 26 with a trip to the Knappa for a Jamboree, then the Pirates will host two 3A schools when Portland Christian comes to Rockaway Beach Sept. 2 and Warrenton follows Sept. 16 for Homecoming.
The Pirates travel to Cloverdale Sept. 30 for a showdown with Nestucca, then travel to Knappa Oct. 14 and to Gaston Oct. 21.
While Bennett hopes to see some of the players he coached in middle school come out for the team this fall, he knows at least two players will be very familiar. He will have two sons on the squad.