PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion quarterback Hunter Martin hands the ball off to running back Ramon Organiz, one of many able-bodied ball-carriers the Huskies will employ this season. Martin will take full-time duties behind center after splitting time with Tanner Scanlan at quarterback last year.
Building a successful football program is about establishing a culture. Every team has physically gifted players, but the successful programs are ones that rally together, support each other and work as a team on and off the field.
North Marion head coach Doug Bilodeau sees that attitude on the practice field this year as the Huskies prepare for the coming 2016 season.
“Last year we were very talented. We had some depth, but we have a different culture this year,” he said. “There’s no split. They encourage each other, they’re with each other. Last year, there were groups, but this year we’re building a team.”
“I think it has to do with the fact there’s not a real star in this group,” added assistant coach Trevor Baylie. “There’s not someone who is going to go out and put up big numbers, so it’s a collective group effort.”
That group effort extends from the top down, where seniors are quick to hold the younger players accountable, pick up freshmen for practice and lead the team not just while they’re in pads and cleats, but during fundraisers and team-building exercises.
“I think the magic is the kids and how they take care of each other,” Bilodeau said. “They work well together. They’re doing their fundraiser together. That, to me, really helps the culture.”
“Each one of them genuinely cares about each other,” Baylie added.
The Huskies are riding high after last year’s up and down season. North Marion finished fourth in the Oregon West Conference in 2015, but came alive in the post season, where they upset two top-10 teams to advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time in more than 30 years.
Many of the players who contributed to last year’s success graduated, included all-state linebacker Austin Ledesma, but the Huskies feel that the talent coming up through the system will more than make up for the losses.
“I’m really excited because we’ve got a bunch of young guys who have a lot of potential,” senior Tanner Scanlan said. “They’re going to be pretty solid this year, but as I leave, I’ll keep following them (because) we’ve got a really solid young group of guys.”
Scanlan has been the team’s starting quarterback for each of the past two seasons and has split time with fellow senior Hunter Martin behind center, but this year Scanlan moves out wide to receiver, giving Martin full-time duties as the team’s signal-caller.
“We’re changing some things on offense that I felt we should have done last year. We’re getting things this year which I think is a better fit for us,” Scanlan said. “The whole scheme of things — I’m pretty excited for it.”
The move allows Scanlan to fill a big void at receiver for the Huskies, who graduated their top three receiving threats last year. It also allows the 6-foot-4 Martin to utilize his superior arm strength to stretch out opposing defenses on a full-time basis.
“I feel pretty good,” Martin said. “It’s nothing new this year, I’m just full time this year and have to step up more.”
“Hunter has really taken on the leadership role,” Bilodeau said. “He’s done a great job of saying, ‘I’m the guy, I’m going to learn the offense and I’m going to do it.’ He is doing a great job, he’s got a big arm. We had some big, long throws last year early in the season, and it was Hunter who did that.”
The Huskies bring back all but one of last year’s starting offensive line and returning a stable of running backs that include Boston Snyder, Sam Garcia and senior Ammon Suchanski, who scored five touchdowns in the playoffs last year.
With Martin behind center, Scanlan out wide and this year’s running backs looming as receiving threats, the Huskies will look to spread the field a bit more on offense instead of the run-first playbook that dominated last year’s team.
“Last year we were run-first. We probably ran 75 percent of the time, and people constricted the box on us,” Bilodeau said. “Now we’ve got other things we can do and still grind the ball. We’re diversified. We’ve got different things to help us and different weapons to use.”
Defensively, Scanlan returns as an all-state Honorable Mention defensive back, while guys like Snyder, Andy Schmitz and Bryce Lemon give the Huskies playmakers at the linebacker and defensive back positions. Add in the returning linemen, and North Marion enters the year confident at bringing a conference title to the program for the first time in more than a decade.
“It’s always the goal to go far in the playoffs, but our main goal is to focus on the league first and try to get that league title we’ve been chasing for so long,” Martin said. “Hopefully we’ll have a better regular season than we did last year, but always just keep pushing forward.”
North Marion hosts its annual jamboree Friday against Kennedy, St. Paul and Colton high schools.
The Huskies open the season at Seaside on Sept. 2 and are scheduled to host Molalla on Sept. 9 for their home opener.
North Marion football
Coach: Doug Bilodeau
Last year: : 5-6 (2-3 Oregon West, 4th)
Key losses: Austin Ledesma (1st Team all-league LB, HM All-State LB); Rafael Saldivar (2nd Team all-league OL); Drew Torian (2nd Team all-league WR); Noah Porfily (2nd Team all-league DL); Brian Westman (2nd Team all-league LB); Josiah Ramon (2nd Team all-league DB); Austin Barton (HM all-league WR)
Key returners: Tanner Scanlan, Sr. (1st Team all-league DB/P, HM all-state DB/P); Ammon Suchanski, Sr. (2nd Team all-league RB); Damian Davis, Jr. (HM all-league OL)
Story and picture by Phil Hawkins of the Woodburn Independent. Click HERE for complete online version.