Ontario High School Tigers football team. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

ONTARIO – It is the dawn of a new era for the Tiger football nation and head coach Tony Cade can’t wait to get started.

“Our goal will be to be physical and going in and competing every game. If we compete every game we will be OK,” said Cade.

Cade is the new man at the helm of the Tigers, taking over from former coach Erik Johnson who departed to coach at Eagle Point High School.

Cade said he is optimistic about the upcoming season but said the Tigers will struggle with depth.

[ KEEP YOUR LOCAL NEWS STRONG - SUBSCRIBE ]

“Our problem right now is we don’t have a lot of kids out. We are at 45 total right now and that isn’t enough,” said Cade.

The Tigers will have some key returning starters back from a team that finished 5-4 in 2018 and reached the postseason where they dropped a first-round playoff game to Estacada.

Highlighting the returning impact players for the Tigers will be senior quarterback Kenji Teramura, senior running back/linebacker Jose Flores and receiver Brandon Rodriguez. 

“Jose is a great fullback and he is also tough on defense. And Kenji is going to be good,” said Cade.

A large number of Tigers, though, will have to master varsity playing time quickly. That’s because Ontario graduated a core group of experienced players.

“We have five senior starters and everyone else is pretty young,” said Cade.

 Cade hesitated to label the upcoming season as one of rebuilding. 

“We do have some experience and we will be fine in our skill positions,” said Cade.

Cade said his defense is in solid shape.

“We have six returning on defense,” said Cade.

Cade, who previously coached at Burley High School in Idaho, said, overall, he is confident about his team but he is also focused on the long-term. 

“You always want to win your district, go to the playoffs, but right now it is team culture, building that foundation and we have great kids,” said Cade.

One interesting element to the new season will be the structure of the Greater Oregon League. Milton-Freewater dropped out of the league to play an independent schedule. 

That means there are only three teams – La Grande, Baker and Ontario – and each will play each other twice.

The Tigers open the season on the road against Mazama High School in Klamath Falls. 

Cade said a game against the Vikings will be a good, early-season test. 

“That will be a good stable of where we are at,” said Cade.

Cade said Mazama, which finished 7-2 and reached the state quarterfinals, is a physical, sturdy squad.

“I am focused on Mazama right now. If we can go out there and compete, then I’ve accomplished my first goal of the season,” said Cade.

Contact: Reporter Pat Caldwell: pat@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

SUBSCRIBE TO HELP PRODUCE VITAL REPORTING -- For $5 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news produced by a professional and highly trained staff. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.