It’s a slow process, building a football program designed to last.
Roseburg High coach Dave Heuberger has a specific plan to do that and a firm belief that time will turn the tide on the gridiron.
A key component in the process is developing the youngest players in the system and giving them the best chance to succeed against athletes of like age and ability.
To accomplish that, Heuberger is committed to keeping a freshman team in full action — RHS is the only school in the county with a freshman team; it’s also the biggest school by about 1,000 students — since his first year in 2016.
“I think it’s valuable for them to play against other freshmen, especially with the timing of when a kid develops and when they develop, it’s huge,” Heuberger said. “If you’re a freshman having to go up against a junior on a JV team, you’re behind the 8-ball a little bit.”
So Roseburg has fielded three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshman — regardless of the turnout for the program. Heuberger’s first season in Roseburg there were 64 players in the program — half were freshmen and they spent the year playing against other freshmen.
In 2017, many of those sophomores were ready and able to help the varsity. This fall as juniors, they are big factors in RHS being able to put 18 different starters on the field between offense and defense.
“We’re excited about having three teams — there are a lot of schools in the state like Westview with 2,800 kids and only two teams; Reynolds, who we play this week, only has two teams,” Heuberger said. “It’s part of the reason our freshmen play on a different schedule.
“We’re excited to be able to continue to do three teams. Is it always easy? No. There are times where you’re biting your fingernails if you can keep it safe, but our numbers have supported it fairly easily this year. We’re excited that they get to develop against kids of their own age.”
The freshmen aren’t outcasts from the rest of the program, either. They practice alongside the JV and varsity. Seniors are often working with freshmen in position group settings.
Three days a week every freshman gets direct attention from the varsity coaching staff.
“We get to know them for four years,” Heuberger said. “We get to track them for four years, we know what their home life is like, we know what classes they struggle in, we’re able to create a relationship with those kids for four years.
“The skill development is good, but we’re also creating relationships with those kids so we can get the best out of them.”
Heuberger is working to create similar relationships throughout the youth programs in Roseburg. He has met repeatedly with youth coaches throughout the city, and those youth programs are moving in new directions.
A year from now the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley won’t be involved in youth football in the city. It may not be a popular decision throughout the county, but Roseburg youth football is aiming to join a league with more like-sized programs in the Eugene area.
“There have been some subtle changes,” Heuberger said. “In the next year the Boys & Girls Club is transitioning out of it. The idea is to have a K-12 seamless progression for kids. That’s no different than what our elementary, middle and high school does with their curriculum; they want to have all their English aligned, so we can get a kid to their full capacity.”
By the time the current fourth graders arrive at RHS, they’ll have a deep understanding of what Heuberger expects and what he coaches.
“You talk about sports and the studies of how to educate a kid, and sports is part of that education for a kid,” Heuberger said. “So we want to mirror some of what they have in the classroom. What are they learning in the fourth, fifth, sixth grade and transitioning over into the seventh and eighth grades? Some of that is the trust issue of having one organization to work with rather than have them go from YMCA to Boys & Girls Club to middle school and then high school.
“It’s a lot of transitions for a kid or parents to go through and get lost. If we can keep that under one hat, I think it’s going to help us down the road eventually.”
It’s a tried and true formula already in the Roseburg school district.
“Look at our mat club,” Heuberger said. “Look over at another program in the city and how they did it — let’s not reinvent the wheel. I am smart enough to take other people’s good ideas and try and build off of what’s already been done in the community, and our wrestling program with coach (Steve) Lander is a top-notch one to take a peek at.”
Roseburg has won five straight and 10 of 12 Class 6A state team championships under Lander’s leadership.
By following that plan, and incorporating the younger players with the older, the football program will grow and the players will see the varsity coaches monitoring their progression.
“As we do start to rely on them as juniors and seniors our depth will only get better,” Heuberger said. “Those lower-end players that need the most hope, it’s brought our lower end up in just a year or two of working with them.
“Now, at the high end, we still have some deficiencies there, but that thing where you’re only as good as your weakest link, well that has to be a program-wide deal. You’re only as good as your weakest freshman.”
There are 29 freshmen in the program this year, and the overall numbers have blossomed. Heuberger had 92 players on the practice field before the season began, the best turnout at the school in some time.