By Andrew Kilstrom • Andrew Kilstrom • 

Yamhill-Carlton looks to rebuild

News-Register File PhotoRunning back and linebacker Jacob Wood is back, which will help with continuity on offense and defense.
News-Register File PhotoBrandon Nufer is gone after graduating in June, so Yamhill-Carlton will have to break in new players at quarterback this season.

While Yamhill-Carlton didn't find the success it was looking for last season, the Tigers have a new head coach and a fresh breath of optimism heading into Friday's season opener against Philomath.

First-year coach Jerry Sutton replaced Ric Stahl after the Tigers went 2-17 over the past two seasons, and said he hopes to turn the program around this season.

Having lost 11 seniors, including last year's starting quarterback Brandon Nufer, it could be a challenging task, but Sutton said he's up for the challenge.

"No one's thinking about what happened last year," he said. "It's a new year with a new coaching staff, and we're ready to get things going. We had a good fall camp and this team's ready to play football."

Sutton has focused on the fundamentals of the game in the offseason and fall camp, and expects a new mindset from his players. He said he's liked the mentality of his football team and the competitive spirit they've brought to practice.

"The attitude this fall has been really good," he said. "They don't act like they lost a lot of games last season, they're confident and they're playing hard. Who knows how many games we'll win this season, but if we play hard and as a team we will definitely compete."

With a lot of change from a year ago, Sutton is looking for returning players to provide leadership. One such player is senior running back Jacob Wood. Wood was a key role on both offense and defense as a linebacker last season, and will be vital once again.

"He stepped up right away as a leader," Sutton said. "He's got a lot of talent, we're going to need him this year."

Team unity as well as leadership is something the Tigers are especially focused on this coming season. Coming off consecutive losing seasons can hinder a team's relationship. Fall camp and daily doubles are long and grueling, and can test a team's character. Despite the circumstances, Sutton said his team has responded well.

He said his team is playing well together, at least in practices, and looks ready to take the field and execute Friday night.

"I'm not sure what the team chemistry and all that was like last year, but from what I've seen these guys really care about each other," Sutton said. "Football is the perfect team sport. Everyone needs to be on the same page and playing for one another to be successful, and I think this team will do that."

The Tigers open up at home against Philomath before traveling to Junction City for the second game of the season. With a new coach and many new players from last season, getting everyone in sync could potentially take a few games.

Implementing a new system and getting players acclimated to a new way of doing things can take some time.

Sutton said he'll monitor his team's success based on their week-to-week improvement, and not necessarily on wins and losses, at least early in the year.

"Ultimately, we care most about playing as a team and giving maximum effort every single play," he said. "Right now it's about developing and getting better every single day, whether that's in practice or in a game. If we do that we can win some games this year."

The Tigers are slated to play nine games in 2013, including five at home. They host Philomath, North Marion, Astoria, Banks and Tillamook, while they'll travel to Junction City, Estacada and Scappoose before finishing the season on the road against Seaside.

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