TRI CITY — This is what it’s come to for football teams in southern Oregon trying to prepare for the 2018 season: repeated bus rides to find purer air conditions than they have at home.

While Roseburg High has been relegated to a small grass practice field due to delays in replacing the turf at Finlay Field, Southwest Conference rival Grants Pass High has been loading up for five days to work out at South Umpqua High.

And the Cavers haven’t been alone in visiting Tri City, either. S.U. Athletic Director Sean Radford said that Phoenix High has been using a middle school field in Myrtle Creek for the same purpose, and other high schools from the Rogue Valley have made inquiries about using S.U.’s practice facilities.

“Steve Stebbins and these guys at (South) Umpqua have been amazing in letting us do it,” Grants Pass head coach John Musser said after Thursday afternoon’s practice. “I think this is our fifth time doing in the last week and a half. They’ve opened up their facilities for us and it’s been wonderful.”

Stebbins, the head football coach at S.U., declined to allow any teams to practice on S.U.’s field. Then again, the Lancers only do special teams work on their own field.

It’s not an ideal situation for Musser’s men — that would have the Cavers practicing on the brand new turf that was installed this summer at G.P. and keeping their gear in their own lockers instead of in gear bags that have to be loaded and unloaded from the luggage compartments of school buses — but for the second straight summer forest fires have blanketed southern Oregon in a thick layer of smoke, creating air quality conditions best left to the planet Venus so far as outdoor activities are concerned.

“It hasn’t been great, but we just made the comment to the kids that it’s been two weeks between coming up here or practicing in our gym — these kids didn’t sign up to do the gym stuff, they signed up to play football — and these guys have stayed so focused that I feel like we’re right on track for where we need to be,” Musser said.

That meant going through their first practice in full pads at S.U. The Cavers had a morning practice inside their gymnasium, while the freshman team practiced at S.U.

“I’m thinking they’re going to let me vote in the Douglas County primary in November, since we’ve taken up residency here,” Musser joked. “The good people here have been allowing us to do it and it’s great.”

Musser is committed to turning the situation to his advantage — road trips are already old-hat for the Cavers — and a pragmatic approach to the circumstances is what he’s embraced.

“They have no choice. We have 130 kids in our program, we brought three buses up for varsity and JV practice; the freshman bus was up here this morning,” he said. “It’s almost like they don’t know any different, they just go and march uphill. It’s almost been a positive thing because it’s been an obstacle to overcome that has been kind of naturally built in.”

G.P.’s football team hasn’t been the only extracurricular group to shift practice to the Umpqua Valley. The G.P. marching band — with 240 members — has been using the infield at Umpqua Community College’s track to practice for the upcoming season and an appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in November. The band has been using six buses on a daily basis for those practices.

The Cavers open the football season — like most of the other teams in the state — on Aug. 31. They’re supposed to host Oregon City, assuming the smoke has cleared out sufficiently. S.U. won’t be available that night as a stand-in home field, either. The Lancers host Notre Dame of British Columbia that night.

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Sports Reporter

Aaron Yost is a sports reporter for The News-Review he can be reached at 541-957-4219 or by email at ayost@nrtoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @aaron_yost.

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