Payette football players huddle on the practice field during morning practice on Aug. 16, 2019 at Payette High.

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The Idaho Press is counting down to the start of the 2020 high school football season by spotlighting all of the teams and the top players from the Treasure Valley. Next up is Payette.

There’s no denying that the Payette football team took its share of lumps during the 2019 season. But after having to cancel the 2018 season midway through due to mounting injuries, just being able to complete a full season was a step forward.

Many of their underclassmen had to play a level up last year, as the Pirates were often forced to start four of five freshmen in games. With a year of experience under their belt, Payette coach Kip Crofts is hopeful the team can take another step forward. Having a turnout so big he expects to be able to field a junior varsity team this year helps as well.

“If I had a crystal ball, I would say this is going to be a better year, there’s no doubt about it,” Crofts said. “But there are some things it’s dependent on. We have to get the participation that we need. If we don’t, we’re going to be right back where we’ve been at. But we expect that participation. We’ve had a pretty good summer, despite all the distractions. We’ve probably had our best summer yet, which is nice.”

The Pirates will be looking to improve on a 1-8 season, a season which they were shutout six times. The defense also allowed 40 points or more in seven of their losses, but Crofts said that was a partially a product of having to be on the field so much.

“Last year we just couldn’t ever get a first down, so the defense was on the field the whole game,” Crofts said. “We might have had 10 minutes, if that, of clock on offense.”

To improve on that, Crofts hopes to add a little bit of unpredictability to the offense. Last year, freshman running back Gabe Ramos was the Pirates’ top play making option, and Crofts says opponents knew it.

Ramos will play a big part in the Payette offense again in his sophomore season, but the Pirates are hoping a change in the other skill positions can lead to more success. Senior Cody Bennett, who Crofts says is one of the most athletic players on the Payette roster, will shift from quarterback to wide receiver.

“He’s the type of kid, that if he catches the ball and breaks a tackle, he can score,” Crofts said about Bennett. “We just haven’t had that game breaker, and during the offseason, we had a lot of time to think about it. I know this probably hasn’t been an easy decision for Cody. But for us to move him out, if we can just get him the football, he’s going to get us touchdowns.”

Getting the ball to Bennett will be the job of sophomore quarterback Abe Rodriguez, who Crofts describes as “calm and cool.”

Crofts says they key to a successful offense will lie in it’s offensive line. The Pirates graduated just one offensive lineman last season and return everyone else, including All-3A Snake River Valley Conference honorable mention Joe Carl, who will be a junior.

“We feel pretty good about them, they got one year better,” Crofts said. “I’m not sitting there saying they’re All-Conference O-Linemen, every one of them. But they’re a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger and a little bit more athletic. So we hope we can move the ball around, running wise and that will help us pass the ball a little better.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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