Gervais lineman William Perry remembers his first year playing football for the Cougars. An incoming freshman entering Gervais High School for the first time, he was unfamiliar with first-year head coach Josh Crawford's summer workout and training regimen.
When Perry reported for fall practices in August, he received a rude awakening.
"I showed up the first day, we had a team meeting and we just conditioned," Perry said. "I couldn't finish it. I was out of shape and was not prepared."
Between the late-summer heat and the rigors of high school football, Perry spent the first few weeks catching up to the level where the veteran players had already been in July. By the time the league opener came around, Perry was finally starting to get into shape, but due to lack of experience and conditioning, he spent his first year with the team getting only occasional playing time and watching his older teammates from the sidelines.
Flash forward two years and Perry is slated to take over the starting center job, the most important position on the offensive line. Perry is one of dozens of players in the Gervais football program who have been putting in the work and dedication over the summer to prepare for the coming fall football season.
As Crawford enters his third season with the team, he has seen the team grow by leaps and bounds every year. When Crawford first came on board for the 2015 season, the Cougars were in a rough spot to say the least. Essentially starting the program from scratch in his first head coaching position with only a volunteer coaching staff, Crawford's team went winless. Gervais was outscored by 421 points on the season, gave up the most points of any 3A team and was shut out in five of nine contests.
But the Cougars, and Crawford, didn't give up. Instead, the losses galvanized the Gervais football team to come back the next season and prove that the program was better, that the 2015 season was the first floor toward building a program.
Crawford came back with a full staff for the 2016 season, and players like Perry bought in, taking part in summer 7-on-7 passing camps, practices, workouts. Whatever work could be done, the Cougars did it.
"My sophomore year we got a new group of coaches and we were working through everything," Perry said. "When season came I was in shape and ready to get to work."
Gervais came out and went 2-2 over its first two games of the season. Though the team went on to lose its final five contests, it wasn't the 76-0 beatings the team took the year before. Three of the team's seven losses were decided by a single touchdown. Given an extra first down here and a missed turnover there, and the Cougars' 2-7 record could have easily been 5-4.
And that's the goal this season.
"Obviously our goal is always to go 9-0, but I think a great accomplishment would be a winning season," Perry said. "This year we truly believe we have the talent, and in the league we're in, we have the ability to get it done."
After starting at guard his sophomore year, Perry enters his junior season taking over for departed center Calen Bichsel, a job he doesn't take lightly.
"There's a lot to work on. It's obviously a bigger responsibility," Perry said. "You have to work on getting the snap down and not have it go over his head or through his legs, to the left or right."
Perry is the first person to touch the ball on every offensive snap for the Cougars, and he has to be perfect. One misplaced snap turns a play into chaos, and in an effort to prevent that, Perry and starting quarterback Nathan Corpuz have been working every day after school since May to get their timing down just right.
"We did about 50 to 100 snaps every day," Perry said. "It all begins with fundamentals, since I'm taking over a crucial spot on the line at center where we've had some veteran leadership my last few years."
Also a junior, Corpuz entered his sophomore season as the starting quarterback for the Cougars, but an early-season injury forced him to the sideline. That forced coaches to turn to senior River Moss, a 220-pound wrecking ball who became Gervais' top offensive option last season.
Crawford handed Moss the keys to the offense, and the senior quarterback turned in an incredible season, leading the Cougars in rushing yards and touchdowns while finishing as a Second Team honoree in the all-conference awards.
But with Moss gone the route of graduation, the offense will become much more diversified with the variety of skill players at Crawford's disposal. Senior running back Kaneali'i Kawamura gives the Cougars much of the same physicality that Moss had last year, while sophomore Dyontae Navarrete returns the strength and speed to be an every-down back, though he'll need to split time with his various skilled teammates.
Out wide sits senior Noel Vasquez, a speedy receiver who can come out of the backfield to catch balls in the flats, go out wide for reverses or stretch defenses as a deep threat. Vasquez leads a receiving corps that includes juniors Chazz Fobert, Elvis Vallejo and Pedro Villegas, giving Corpuz a veritable cornucopia of threats with which to punish opposing offenses. As long as he has the time to get his job done, that's where Perry and the offensive line comes in.
The line is the engine that drives the bus, and Perry is the ignition that starts it. With fall practices looming on Aug. 15, the team's jamboree at Woodburn on Aug. 25 and the season opener at home against Sheridan on Sept. 1, the Cougars will be putting their wheels to the field soon enough.
"The potential is there, we just have to dig down, go deep and get it," Perry said. "I'm excited. I can't wait for the season to start."