COTTAGE GROVE – It hasn’t been easy for the Cottage Grove Lions football program recently. Since going undefeated and winning the state title in 2017 Cottage Grove has struggled. The Lions are 1-26 in the last four seasons, and enter this season on a 14-game losing streak.
That’s where new head coach Steve Turner comes in. The 68-year-old Turner takes over at Cottage Grove with a 121-89 record in 21 seasons as a head coach, including leading Mountain View to a Class 5A title in 2011 and Cascade to a Class 4A championship in 2015.
Turner’s been away from the game the last two seasons though, living on a ranch in Cottage Grove. Turner said he “just loves coaching,” and got the itch to come back to the game. The timing and location worked out perfectly at CGHS.
“I missed the game. I missed being around the energy of the kids. I had some physical issues that I had to get through, and moved to Cottage Grove two years ago so we’ve been living here,” he said. “I was just going to volunteer, and then the job opened up and one thing led to another.”
Turner found the right opening and is back as a high school head coach. Now he has to find answers for the struggling program. One of the biggest questions: who will play quarterback.
Last season both Brayden Crump and Nathin Lemon started under center. Crump graduated and Lemon won’t play this season after suffering an injury in the final game of last year. David Culbert, the JV quarterback last year, is running cross country this season.
That means whoever starts this season will have no high school football experience at quarterback, and Turner said the coaches are, “still trying to put guys in place and see what these kids can do.”
The good news for the Lions is that Turner has experience running the I-formation, meaning Cottage Grove will have a fullback and an opportunity to rely on the run game.
The other good news: Cottage Grove’s non-league schedule. The Lions open the season at Pleasant Hill and versus Elmira, two Class 3A opponents who won three and four games last year, respectively. They also end the season against Hidden Valley, who the Lions lost to 28-26 in the last game of last season.
Despite all of the obvious onfield hurdles, Turner is focused on setting the tone.
“You got to get the kids and the parents to believe what we’re doing is good for them. Oftentimes, you get so wrapped into teaching football that you’re not teaching the other things that go on to make kids successful,” Turner said. “We’re also teaching accountability, responsibility, teamwork. If you teach those things along with the skills, that constitutes success.”
Turner said he’s liked what he’s seen from the team so far, and there’s still more work to be done to fix the root of the issue.
“They’re enthusiastic and they’re open to new things. That’s always important. The real issue (in the football program) is the culture. That’s a word that’s used a lot now in football and athletics. But it’s all those things I listed, being accountable, being responsible, being a good teammate, learning to commit,” Turner said. “In the last four years, that’s gone away. And that’s why the program has slowly dipped. We need to teach those things back to the kids.”
So while people can talk about the program’s recent record on the field, Turner will be working on the foundation. He’s too focused on the kids who show up every day to work to worry about what’s going on with the team’s opponents.
“We really haven’t talked about season goals. It’s cliche, but we’re gonna take care of ourselves day-to-day and week-to-week,” Turner said. “We can’t really worry about what our opponents are going to do. We just got to do what we do, take care of ourselves, and go from week to week. It’d be ridiculous for us to be thinking about our second opponent right now or even our first opponent. We have to take care of ourselves.”