Originally Published: July 19, 2014 6 a.m.
CHINO VALLEY - New Chino Valley High football coach Wade Krug inherited a team that finished with a 3-7 record last fall, although he's not concerned about wins and losses at this point.
With the opening kickoff of the 2014 season a little more than a month away, Aug. 29 at Camp Verde, Krug first wants players who are committing themselves to the program.
The squad has conducted preseason drills since June 9, and the 37-year-old Krug has driven home the message loud and clear.
"It's kind of what we've been talking about all summer long - a commitment to change," said Krug, a former freshman head coach and varsity defensive coordinator at Division 2 Gila Ridge in Yuma who owns no previous varsity head coaching experience. "We want to change the perception of the football team, change the perception of 3-7, 2-8 (records)."
But how do you do that?
For Krug, a one-time offensive lineman at NAIA Kansas Wesleyan who played eight-man football at a small high school in Colorado, changing a culture of losing comes by placing more responsibility on the players' shoulders.
Krug said he and his assistant coaches will focus on X's and O's - the game planning - to put the players in a position to succeed. The boys will have to take it from there, whether it's in the weight room or on the field.
"We're not the ones who play the games," he said of the coaches. "It's them."
Cougars senior quarterback/defensive end Bud Cain (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) credited Krug and his coaching staff for starting to build a foundation for the program.
"The players actually care about what they're doing (as opposed to what's transpired in the recent past), and we're trying to come together more," Cain said. "We're all more determined to do better."
Krug added that between 25-30 players have consistently participated in summer workouts, although the coach should have 40 boys in uniform once August arrives.
"We're just working hard every day, coming out here busting our butt trying to turn things around," 6-1, 170-pound junior quarterback/receiver Jake Classen said. "But we'll just do our best."
Chino Valley will likely have only a handful of seniors on its roster, but Krug isn't fretting.
After all, he expects to have 20 juniors in the fold, and they'll receive plenty of playing time, along with some sophomores. Many of the incoming juniors have played varsity since they were freshmen under former coach Chuck Apap, who resigned after two seasons in 2012 and 2013.
"I've just got a lot (of guys) on vacation right now," Krug said from practice at Del Rio Elementary earlier this week. "Our junior class is going to be the core. They're coming in with almost three years of experience. They're hungry. They want to do something."
In the off-season, particularly since the early spring, the Cougars have concentrated on getting stronger and faster.
Cougars assistant coach Kirk DeHamer leads the strength and conditioning program, working with the linemen and the defensive backs on improving their agility.
The players have also focused on developing and improving basic football fundamentals - the habits that good teams adhere to.
"We've got two or three kids that have never played football before," Krug said. "I'm used to that. Down in Yuma, football wasn't big as well. So by the time kids get to high school, they have no playing experience. And we work with them."
On offense, the Cougars are implementing a flexbone option package this season, one that focuses on running first and passing second, in the mold of the service academies. Krug will serve as offensive coordinator.
"We've got a ton of tailbacks," said Krug, adding that he has fairly decent size and quickness on the O-line. "And my whole thing is I've got to find a way of getting those guys the ball. The kids really like it."
Defensively, under coordinator Mark Thomas, Chino will line up in a 4-4/4-2-5 alignment, which should allow the Cougars to adjust more easily to various different styles of opposing offenses.
"Our strength will probably be our defense," 5-8, 198-pound sophomore fullback/middle linebacker Blaine Goodman said. "We want to get to the playoffs."
Chino Valley won't have a deep roster this season. Nevertheless, the players who have practiced this summer have shown an enthusiasm and willingness to learn, Krug said.
"I enjoy their energy," he added, "and I think they're going to do really well this year."
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc