Prairie City/Burnt River Panthers head football coach Scott Dean, a new hire this season, is looking forward to tackling the program and using his wide experience to create positive change.
In the past few years, Prairie City has notched only a handful of wins. Last season, the team had only one win over the Huntington Locomotives.
Dean hopes to alter that course.
“This is my 25th year as a head coach in football from 1A to 6A,” Dean said. “I’ve gone to teams with an 0-20 record, two years before I became football coach — we won 24 games in the next three years. Turnarounds can happen right away.”
The coach is a native Oregonian, originally from Tillamook, and both he and his wife have many relatives in Oregon.
Dean most recently lived in New Mexico, and he took a job at Prairie City School as a social studies teacher for what will be his 41st year teaching.
He says these will be his final teaching and coaching jobs before he “rides off into the sunset” for retirement.
His goal is to reach 200 wins for his coaching career.
“I’m 28 games away. That’s getting pretty close,” he said.
Among teams Dean has coached were the Weston-McEwen TigerScots back in the ‘80s. That team is currently 2A, but he’s also coached at larger schools.
He said that as a 6A coach, he had 75 players on the freshmen team, 50 on junior varsity and 50 on varsity. With 300 trying out for the team, he had to cut 125.
“I believe bigger is not better,” he said. “I believe you can do more with a smaller school. ... I want to make a difference for a small school to turn it around.”
Dean added he plans to work hard to create a situation where students want to be involved in football.
On the coaching staff are Dennis Flippence, who was in previous years the Grant Union junior varsity coach, and Jonathan Engberg.
Flippence works with the defensive line and Engberg with receivers, defensive backs and kickers. Dean works with quarterbacks and linebackers.
Junior high football coach Ken Gillihan was on hand at the varsity team’s Aug. 23 practice, taking note of Dean’s coaching style.
Dean said having an articulated program — with junior high, junior varsity and varsity on the same page — will help the program.
“We’re going to be involved in our younger kids,” Dean said.
There are three seniors this year, Jake McHatton, Opie McDaniel and Austin Catron.
Returning starters include: Declan Zweygardt, junior; Isaac Koopman, sophomore; Marcus Judd, sophomore; Jayden Winegar, junior; McDaniel and McHatton.
The coach said he’s been impressed with Zweygardt and his hard work in the gym over the summer break.
“The more you lift, the stronger you become,” Dean said. “I can guarantee they’ll be better athletes.”
The Panthers’ first stint of the season was the Aug. 31 Echo Jamboree, where they faced Joseph (undefeated last year), Sherman, South Wasco and Echo for about 10 offensive and defensive snaps against each team.
Dean said it’s too early to tell what his team’s greatest strengths are, but he said the “upperclassmen are going to be tough.”
He said student athletes who play more than one sport are in better shape.
“Colleges want hard workers from well-rounded athletic backgrounds,” he said.
Dean added he hopes some who didn’t play last season would come out for the team this year.
“The more, the better,” he said. “We wish we could have all of them out, because that would help our program. It takes courage to play football. Some choose to have courage in other areas.”
Seniors McHatton and McDaniel are in their ninth year playing football and said they’re ready for action.
“I want to cream somebody,” said McHatton who’s a center and nose guard. “I’m excited to hit people. That’s one of the reasons I’ve played this sport.”
He said he’s looking forward to a good year and wants to “go out with a bang.”
McDaniel, a defensive lineman, said he’s excited to play Dayville/Monument on Friday, Oct. 18, for homecoming.
“I think we have a stronger team than last year,” he said. “My goal is to try to have a winning season.”
Rounding out the roster are 10 juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.
Prairie City/Burnt River is in the 1A Special District 5 (six-man) with the Dayville/Monument Tigers, Echo Cougars, Huntington/Harper Locomotives, Joseph Eagles, Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler Loggers, Sherman/Condon Huskies and South Wasco County Redsides.
The Panthers are among sixteen Oregon 1A teams playing six-man football, in the second year of a two-year pilot program.
This season OSAA officials have implemented a Week 8 six-man showcase in Sherman Friday, Oct. 25, with semifinal games the following night.
The following week an unofficial champion will be crowned at the finals at Madras High School with third-place games and some other possible matchups. Details are still in the works.
Dean said six-man is a game where “speed dominates.”
He said his team has a lot of good size, but they’re still determining how much speed they have.
“You need to understand your opposition and take heed,” he said. “Take advantage of what you have instead of looking for something you wish. You’ve got to know your team and what they can do and what they can can’t do.”
He added six-man is still a fundamental game.
“The game doesn’t change whether it be six-man, eight-man or 11-man,” he said. “You have to block and tackle, and if you don’t it’s just like anything, you’re not going to be successful.”
Moving to eight-man football is the coach’s goal.
Attitude, attacking the weight room and accepting the new program will be key for his players this season, he said.
He said they’ll succeed if they “have a positive attitude with positive coaches, playing fundamental football, blocking and tackling and making sure you get better, one game at a time, one practice at a time, one drill at a time.”
“Hopefully, we’ll be more into contact this year, because it makes a difference,” he said. “The mental aspect of it is huge.”
Prairie City football schedule
Sept. 6: @ Mitchell/Spray/Wheeler in Spray, 2 p.m.
Sept. 13: vs. Sherman/Condon, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: vs. Huntington/Harper, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: @ McKenzie, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18: vs. Dayville/Monument, 7 p.m. (homecoming)
Oct. 25: @ TBD in Sherman, league playoff, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1: vs. TBD in Madras, league playoff, 7 p.m.