The Cottage Grove Lions football team has seen its fair share of successes on the gridiron.
From 2013-2019, the Lions went 36-20 while taking home three 4A Sky-Em titles. Under head coach Gary Roberts, Cottage Grove had become a juggernaut in high school football.
Since then, however, the Lions haven’t won a game.
In 2019 while still under Roberts, the Lions went 0-8. The closest game they had all season was a 14-point loss to Junction City.
“This season already feels better,” Ayden Freeman, a senior linebacker said. “It feels coordinated.”
After a lackluster 2019, Cottage Grove hired a new coach ahead of the new season: Joe Polamalu.
Polamalu comes from a big football background, and was the perfect candidate for the job.
He played linebacker for the Oregon State Beavers in the ‘80s, and his cousin, Troy Polamalu, is an NFL hall of famer.
Not only does he have the name for football, but Polamalu has the experience as well. He spent six seasons coaching at Sandy High School and five seasons coaching at Douglas High School in Winston combining for a record of 69-49.
“Joe knows what he’s doing,” Freeman said. “He’s confident in what he’s doing. He’s got plans, he just knows. He’s not winging it like everyone else.”
Unfortunately for Joe, his first season as the Lion head coach was canceled due to COVID-19. He coached the team during their brief spring schedule when sports were approved, but it still didn’t hit the same as a full fall season. In that spring season, the Lions went 0-2.
Now, with a full slate of games on the horizon, Polamalu and the rest of the Cottage Grove players are looking to flush the last few years of both football — and life in general — and go play the game that they all love.
“Being competitive right now is what I’m looking for,” Polamalu said. “Trying to get this foundation laid back down because they (CG) have had a history of being competitive, so we got some work to do to get our reputation back up.”
With practices finally beginning on Aug. 16, high school football is officially back in the Grove, and no one is more excited than those taking the field themselves.
“We got a great facility, great area, great kids, great administration, a new athletic director,” Polamalu said. “I see good things happening behind that need to carry over to the field.”
With just a few days until their first game, the pressure of winning for the first time in nearly two years doesn’t hang on any of the players’ shoulders.
“That doesn’t linger in my mind,” Freeman said. “Not even close. We have the heart and potential to be better this year, that’s what matters.”
The Lions will host games against Marist and North Bend on Aug. 27 to kick off the Jamboree tournament held at Cottage Grove. The game is set to start at 5:30 p.m.
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