STAYTON – The point is that there is no star.
The defense of the No. 6-ranked Stayton High School football team was built around the principal that all 11 players on the field need to get to the ball, and it has been effective at stopping opponents this season.
Going into Friday’s Oregon West Conference showdown against No. 4-ranked Cascade, the Eagles have held opponents to 29 points this season, the fewest of any team in the state regardless of classification.
It’s a stark turnaround under first-year defensive coordinator Jed Leeper for a team that allowed an average of 25.3 points per game a year ago.
“Coach Leeper brought swarm and punish to our team, and that is just having everyone around the ball as much as possible,” said senior linebacker Ryan Forrette.
“We’re focused on a team defense, and it’s not focused around one position where we specialize in one area, but it’s one guy will benefit another where it’s his job to make the play, but not to make the tackle.”
Stayton’s stifling defense – and a surprisingly balanced offense – have led the Eagles to start the season 6-0, including a 3-0 record in conference.
The Eagles rotate a lot of players through their defense.
In last week’s 21-9 win against North Marion, Stayton rotated nine players through the defensive line and seven players through the defensive back spots.
Forrette and Taren Ikea-Mario lead the team with 24 tackles each, but 30 players have made at least one tackle.
“I would just say we’re a whole lot more disciplined,” said senior cornerback Everett St. Clair, who has five interceptions. “Last year we ran to the ball a lot still, but I think this year we emphasize on it more.
“We try to get everyone to the ball instead of just like one man trying to do it. I just think we really work hard on that and it’s changed our defense.”
The three shutouts this season were the first time since beating Cascade 20-0 in 2011 that they shut out an opponent.
Stayton has intercepted a staggering 12 passes this season. Add to that 10 fumble recoveries and it’s given the offense a lot of opportunities.
“It’s a focus,” Leeper said. “They’re good athletes, obviously. Everett’s been playing since he was a sophomore. He knows the game pretty well. He’s a smart player.
“He does a good job of giving up space when it’s needed and he also knows if I can get tight on this guy and be aggressive, they can do that as well. It’s a lot about knowing who you are and having a great football IQ. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of football experience.”
Stayton has a statistical balance on offense is staggering: The Eagles average 211 yards rushing and 201 yards passing per game.
The Eagles are running the ball 63 percent of the time; quarterback Kyle Schwarm estimates that Stayton passed the ball 85 percent of the time last season.
“It’s something that was new to us this year, but when you got a kid like a Ryan Forrette, who is an outstanding lead blocker, we’re going to utilize that kid,” first-year Stayton coach Andy Campbell said.
“Same thing with running backs. We got three guys in Bryan King, Andrew Kuenzi and Seth Dailey —we’re running back by committee. That’s kudos to our offensive line. We’re averaging six, seven yards a carry.”
At Campbell’s previous stops, his teams have been run-heavy.
But then he came into a situation at Stayton with an experienced, confident senior quarterback in Schwarm (1,206 yards, 11 touchdowns, 57 percent passing) and experienced, talented senior receivers in St. Clair (24 receptions, 497 yards, five TDs), Ben Diehl (17 receptions, 339 yards, two TDs) and Charlie Weeks (16 receptions, 305 yards, four TDs).
So the team has done both.
“We changed our run game this year,” said Schwarm, who also has rushed for 173 yards and six touchdowns on 45 carries. “Last year we were downhill. This year it’s more off the edges. I’m running the ball more, running backs are good and everybody’s running the ball hard this year.”
Stayton’s 6-0 record is its best start to the season in a long time.
But the program’s return to relevance in the state almost been overshadowed by how it has happened.
“It’s weird to me,” Forette said. “It’s a weird feeling of being of being 6-0. I almost don’t even look at that. I look at being 1-0 every week and it’s easier because we’re not taking too much off to chew every week.”
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No. 4 Cascade at No. 6 Stayton
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Records: Cascade (5-1 overall, 2-1 Oregon West Conference), Stayton (6-0 overall, 3-0 Oregon West).