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Freeman coach optimistic

The Freeman High School football team practices amid a haze of smoke from the Yale Road fire on  Aug 22 in Rockford. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The Freeman High School football team practices amid a haze of smoke from the Yale Road fire on Aug 22 in Rockford. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

It was difficult to look to a sky filled with billowing smoke last week and think about anything but the safety of friends and neighbors living in the path of a raging wildfire.

But Jim Wood, the long-time football coach at Freeman High, insists things looked much worse than they were.

Wood and his Scotties went through their first week of high school football practice with one eye on their playbook and the other on the smoky horizon.

“The news reports had things wrong most of the time,” Wood said. “They had the fire located closer to us than it really was. It was two canyons over.”

Still, he said, the fire was a concern. One day the local air quality was so bad he cut practice in half and sent his players home to find better air indoors.

“We had a kid miss practice because his family was being evacuated from their house,” Wood said. “And we had a couple kids miss practice because they were fighting the fire.

“But nobody lost their home and everyone is fine.”

Fire season is part of summer and fall in the Pacific Northwest.

“I live in Chattaroy, myself,” Wood said. “We had fire right near us last week, too. It puts things in perspective, that’s for sure.”

Wood said his Scotties have fewer numbers this season, resulting in part from a smaller-than-average sophomore class.

“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “Our overall numbers are down this year, but I think our overall depth is better than it was the last few years.”

Finding the best spot for their players has been a Freeman strength, and it comes from an understanding of both the player’s needs and the team’s needs – then striking a balance between the two.

“It’s important for us to find a place where our players can thrive,” Wood said. “If your kids aren’t happy, your team won’t be successful.”

Freeman enters the season with a solid core.

“We don’t have the big horses up front the way we’ve had in the past, but I think we can be pretty solid,” Wood said. “We have our quarterback, J.T. Neely, back and he’s another year older and another year more experienced. We get (running back/linebacker) Ben Darcy back this year and he’s fully recovered from last year. And we’ve got our tight end back, McKabe Cottrell back.

“We have a good group of linebackers, but we’re young. I only have one senior at linebacker.”

The Scotties open the season Friday night at Spirit Lake, Idaho, where they take on Timberlake.

“We played them last year and it was a really good game for us,” Wood said. “I was very happy with it. Of course Timberlake already has a game under its belt, but it should be another good game for us.”

Wood said the home-and-home series was the result of a scheduling swap with Northeast A League rival Riverside.

“They had this home-and-home and wanted to get out of it, so we swapped with them.”

Wood said he’s not too excited about putting the Tigers back on the schedule anytime soon.

“I think so much of football is about playing the same teams year after year that it’s good to see new faces whenever you can,” he said. “I liked that we were able to schedule Pullman for those four seasons. It’s always nice to see how you do against a new face and see new teams, new offenses, new ways of doing things.”

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