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11:37 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Cougar football program filled with optimism for 2016 (AUDIO)

Coach: 'I think we're an above .500 team this year'

Chino Valley's Josh Fisher (1) watches the action as the Cougars play a scrimmage against Winslow High School in Prescott Valley Wednesday, August 17, 2016. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Chino Valley's Josh Fisher (1) watches the action as the Cougars play a scrimmage against Winslow High School in Prescott Valley Wednesday, August 17, 2016. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

CHINO VALLEY – Coming off a 2015 campaign that saw his football program win as many games as it had in the previous three seasons combined, Chino Valley head coach Wade Krug is optimistic to say the least.

But with the loss of their top three running backs, and nearly the entire offensive line to graduation in May, Krug will have his hands full.

“I [still] think we’re an above .500 team this year,” Krug said confidently at practice Wednesday afternoon. “We have the athletic ability, and we have the schedule that’s going to allow us to do that.”

Krug, entering his third season at the helm of the Cougars, continues to build a program to sustain success, with the first building block placed in 2015 when Chino Valley finished 4-6 overall.

“We have a lot of four-year seniors, kids that have been around for the three years that I’ve been here,” Krug said. “They understand the nuances of building a program and what it takes to be above .500, to get us competitive year in and year out, and at some point being a regular playoff team.”

Last season’s win total followed a winless 2014 (0-10) campaign, Krug’s inaugural season leading the blue and orange.

“I think with the teams we’re playing this season, we could potentially start the season 5-0,” offensive lineman Ian Cudney said. “Hopefully, at minimum, 5-5, but we could potentially have a winning season.”

Junior tight end Colton Sandberg agreed.

“We’re pretty confident that we can easily go 5-0 through our first five, then go into conference and play it by ear,” Sandberg said, adding that to accomplish that, the Cougars will need to keep their heads up and not get down on themselves, while focusing on a strong start to the season.

https://soundcloud.com/sportswriter52/interview-chino-valley-football-coach-wade-krug

That starts tonight with the 2016 season opener against rival Camp Verde in the second annual “Battle for the Boot.”

“I’ve been thinking about [Camp Verde] the last three weeks. I can’t wait and I think it will be great,” Sandberg said. “[The bronze boot] is going to be ours. If our guys do what they are supposed to, we should have no problem bringing that boot home.”

The Cowboys took home the inaugural bronzed boot last season with a 26-12 win over Chino Valley, halting the program’s first two-game winning streak since the 2011 campaign under then-head coach Bob David.

Chino Valley last finished above .500 in 2010 when they went 5-4 overall. The Cougars last made the state playoffs in 2009, but were dealt an early first-round 43-7 exit loss to Snowflake.

Krug said he has great respect for head coach Steve Darby and his Camp Verde program.

“They are a team that we have a mutual respect for, it’s not a hatred rivalry. It’s not where we despise them. It’s a mutual respect where we just want to go out and have fun,” Krug said. “We put the trophy out there where the kids have something to play for. It’s motivating them. It’s motivating our guys, and I’m pretty sure it’s motivating Camp Verde.”

OFFENSE

Chino Valley will depend heavily on senior quarterback Josh Fisher to make plays not only with his arm, but his legs in 2016.

Fisher only completed 35 of 120 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns in 2015, but he was third on the team in rushing with 279 yards and three touchdowns.

“Josh has grown tremendously over the last season. He’s starting to understand the concepts of reading the defense, which allows him to understand where he needs to go with the ball when he throws,” Krug said. “He’s grown into one heck of a runner, and that’s going to be an advantage for us … We’re going to use his feet to create more of our offense with him.”

Fisher said it will be important for his leadership skills to shine this fall if the Cougars are to have success.

“I need to do my part, set an example for the younger guys coming up,” Fisher said.

DEFENSE

Krug said the Cougars will have a similar look defensively as they did in 2015 with their 4-3 scheme.

“Our defense hasn’t changed from last year … and we’ll let the linebackers and the safeties come flying up there, and our defensive line will control the gaps,” Krug said.

NEXT UP

Chino Valley (0-0, 0-0 3A West) will face a Camp Verde squad tonight that finished 4-6 overall under Darby in 2015, but ended the season with wins in three of their last five games.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is a sports writer and columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him by phone at 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.