Aug. 28, 2021 — This school year, Mapleton’s football program is going through some sizable changes, including moving from an eight-man to six-man style of play, as well as hiring an entirely new coaching staff. Luckily for the Sailors, both new coaches are alumni themselves, so although the modifications to the program are notable, familiar faces to both the kids and the community will be helping guide Mapleton football into the future.
Mapleton’s new head high school football coach will be Tyler Beers-Krueger, who graduated in the Class of 2012 and is starting his fourth year working for Mapleton School District. Coach Krueger previously coached middle school football for Mapleton.
“Last year, they didn't have middle school football because of COVID, but I started coaching middle school years ago,” Krueger said. “We only had two actual seasons out of those years; one was cancelled due to COVID, and one we didn't have a season because of not having enough kids. That's when we went from eight-man to six-man.”
The position Krueger is filling is a special one, as Mapleton’s previous head football coach, Jeff Greene, was at the helm of the program for 20 years. Krueger understands the importance, as he played for Greene himself when he was at Mapleton.
“I feel like I’m stepping into a big pair of shoes, definitely, and it’s going to be a lot to try and live up to,” said Krueger.
Luckily, Greene has been a willing mentor to Krueger since he started coaching.
“I've talked with him, and I've also talked with another old coach from Triangle Lake at the middle school level,” said Krueger. “Coach Greene did a lot more with eight-man football, and that's what I played when I was in school.”
When Krueger first started coaching middle school, Greene gave him one of his old playbooks, and he was able to teach the kids that
“Now I'm having to redo a little bit of that and figure out some of the new rules of six-man,” he said. “I’m making sure that we have enough plays and enough stuff that the kids can comprehend and understand easily.”
Another benefit Krueger brings to the table is the fact that he has had at least some experience coaching kids in six-man football. According to the coach, it was quite an adjustment in the beginning.
“My first year of coaching six-man in middle school was definitely difficult because I hadn't been told any of the new rules, besides that you had to get 15 yards for a first down, and the quarterback can't run or keep the ball; it has to be pitched or handed off every time once the ball is hiked,” said Krueger. “I’m having a lot of help from my assistant, Tucker Ford. He's also an alum, and him and I actually played together when we were in school.”
Ford came on last school year as an assistant basketball coach for the high school, and also played for Greene, having graduated in 2015.
“It's been nice because the kids know me, so it's not really a new face to them, and I feel like that's a big thing with a new coach,” said Ford.
With all of the adjustments being made to the program, familiarity with Krueger and Ford have made the shift much easier for all involved.
“Transitioning from eight-man to six-man, there have been learning experiences for not just the athletes, but also for us coaches,” Ford added.
The change to six-man for Mapleton might have come earlier, but the Sailors had a unique circumstance in the last year that caused them to hold off on the switch at that time.
“We just graduated one of the more athletic classes Mapleton has seen in quite a while, and one of the best athletes Mapleton has ever seen, in at least decades,” said Ford. “And it's not like we are trying to replace that, because in reality, we're trying to replace the entire system that we had last year, because changing from eight-man to six-man is making us do that. So, it's been a lot of learning as we go.
“The reality is, Mapleton should have transitioned last year, but because of the level of player that JJ Neece was, Jeff Greene did not want to go down from eight-man to six-man, because it wasn't going to be worth it for the team that we had; they could compete in eight-man just as well. If they would have played six-man, they probably would have won a state championship, but it wouldn't have looked as good for the players because it was kind of easy, and just not as much competition.”
Greene and his players were dedicated to elevating the level of play for Neece, who as a result will be playing football for Western Oregon University this fall. This doesn’t happen often—because Mapleton is such a small school, generally, athletes like Neece don’t have a chance to get noticed, which is why it was so important to everyone in the football program to try and hold on to eight-man until that point.
“That's what I've seen my entire life growing up in Mapleton, at least since high school; you see a really good athlete, but because of the fact that they're not facing competition, they don't make it [to play] beyond high school,” said Ford.
He said that the teams Mapleton played six years ago when he was still in high school, have been playing six-man for at least two years now.
“Triangle Lake has been playing since 2018, so we’re coming in pretty well behind schedule, in terms of the other teams that we've been playing,” Ford said. “The newest team that I know of is Siletz, and they decided to drop down to six-man last year. And other than that, every other school has been playing six-man for a few years now.”
Because it’s so new for everyone, the coaches are working with patience and understanding to help the kids get to where they need to be. Their current goal is to ensure that everyone learns as much as possible this year.
“I've been telling the kids that right now, this is all brand new to us,” said Ford. “We're going to put our time in, we're going to prepare you, you guys just need to be preparing yourselves as well. So, I've been giving them homework, I've been telling them they have to go watch videos. We can get better up here with our fundamentals and our technique, but they actually need to understand the game that they’re about to go and play. … We just have to keep learning, because that's what this entire year is going to be about.”
Indeed, the coaches have a lot to contend with in teaching a style of play that is new to everyone for the most part.
“I have a little bit more experience under my belt at least with the six-man aspect, but it's still a big learning curve to try and step into Coach Greene’s shoes,” said Krueger. “I still want to do a lot of the same stuff — what he stood for when it came to football and playing the game.”
For Krueger, defensive Coach Bryan Moore was a big role model when he attended Mapleton.
“I'd like to see our defense do fairly well,” Krueger added. “We're teaching a new shoulder tackling in order to make it a lot safer for the kids, not having that head-to-head contact. There have been a bunch of videos that every coach in Oregon has to go through and watch, and that's what they're trying to progress it into to make it better and safer for all the kids. It’s part of Oregon School Activities Association’s (OSAA) Heads Up Football Program.”
Because of the change in staff and the timing of the new hires, unfortunately, the Sailors have not had as much time for summer practice as they would in a typical school year.
“Principal [Brenda] Moyer and the rest of the staff from the school talked to us about it and asked if we were interested in it, and I was, because I was already the middle school coach,” said Krueger. “They contacted us in the beginning of August, so we didn't have a whole lot of time to really get something set up to where we could get the kids into the weight room before school.”
“Football pretty much started with daily doubles for the most part, just because of the whole transitioning into new coaches,” echoed Ford.
The coaches are already preparing the athletes to plan on summer camps next year.
“Another interesting and unique thing about this team is the fact that we have no seniors,” Ford added. “That's why they have to really understand that this is a learning experience this year. We want to go out there and work hard and try to win every game — that's a given — but we want to go out there and have fun because all of them get at least another year to go and do this. We don't really know what we're getting ourselves into, so we want to have fun with it, and prepare ourselves for next year.”
With the work they have been doing this summer, the kids are definitely having fun, and they’ve had the opportunity to earn some money in the process.
“I had a close family friend help me out with bucking hay this summer, so hopefully I’ll be able to get more of the kids to do that to give them a little bit of outside weightlifting experience,” said Krueger.
His family owns a 150+ acre farm with approximately 40 head of cattle.
“We have to put away hay every summer, and I've always had a hard time trying to find help until I started coaching,” Krueger said. “Now it's like, ‘Hey, I know these kids, this would be good for them for football!’ They make a little bit of money, and most kids like to make money during the summer.”
As the season begins, Krueger is also looking toward the future of Mapleton football by aligning his program with the new middle school football program that is starting back up this year under coach Brian Barrows.
“I'll be looking forward to having some kids that are at least a little bit experienced with the game if they've played in middle school for me before,” said Krueger. “I'm going to talk to the middle school head coach now, to let them know some of the fundamentals of the route tree and certain things that [the kids] will be using at the high school level, so they aren't just completely blindsided or blown away by a whole bunch of new stuff. Then they can work on some of the minor things at the middle school level, but that will help them out when they get to the high school level.”
It was one of the things Greene and Krueger worked on with the kids so they could be ready for high school football. Several students Krueger coached when they were in sixth and seventh grade will be on the team this year.
Both Krueger and Ford anticipate a learning curve as they get used to the new level of play.
“Now, with six-man football, we have to think about the fact that we have two less players,” Ford said. “So, you have even more ground to cover.”
At this point, the team is fairly small as well, so the players will have to build their strength because most of them will play the entire game.
“As of right now, we have seven, and we’re hopefully trying to get a few kids out with registration,” said Ford.
Fortunately, the players Krueger and Ford do have definitely want to be there and are already demonstrating prowess on the field.
“Keevyn Walker (a sophomore) has been showing good potential at being the quarterback, as has Alex Burnett, a freshman, and this is his first year ever playing football,” said Ford. “We have some players who are lineman material, but everyone's a skilled position in six-man football, because even the center can be a wide receiver. It all just depends on how your formation is set up.”
He explained, “Everybody has to be able to catch, run and block. Really, the only position that's been kind of looked at more specifically has been the quarterback. For everyone else, it really depends on the play and where we think you need to go.
“I feel like that's going to be another unique thing about six-man — your position is not going to be very permanent in any way whatsoever. Maybe more on defense, but on offense, who really knows? You could have three linemen, but sometimes you might just have the center.”
The coaches hope to have more kids come out after registration this week, but in the meantime, they are working with what they have, and they are excited to get the season going.
“I'm just looking forward to going out and having a good time with the kids and teaching them all the fundamentals that'll help to keep them safe and grow them into being good, outstanding young adults,” said Krueger.
The Sailors play their first game of the season at home against Jewell on Friday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m.