Tyler Turner, Cascade's JV coach the last two seasons, has assisted in the program for nine years. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)
Tyler Turner, Cascade's JV coach the last two seasons, has assisted in the program for nine years. (Photo by Jeremy McDonald)

The resignation of football coach Brandon Bennett in late spring didn't give Cascade much time to search for his replacement.

So the Cougars, coming off a 4A quarterfinal appearance last season, opted to go with a known quantity by promoting assistant Tyler Turner to interim coach.

Turner has assisted in the program for nine seasons, the first five at the junior high and the last four at the high school. The last two seasons, he was the junior varsity head coach and varsity receivers coach.

“It's a one-year deal,” Turner said. “After the season, things will be re-evaluated.”

Turner, who teaches science at the junior high, said his familiarity with the players makes for an easy transition.

“They all know me. They've been in my classroom,” Turner said. “I've coached them and taught them for years. So I felt comfortable stepping into a role where the players trusted me and could buy into what we're doing.”

Bennett went 36-19 in six seasons as the team's coach, taking over after Steve Turner (37-9 in four seasons) led the Cougars to the 4A championship in 2015. Bennett's best season was last year, when Cascade went 10-1 and lost to Marist Catholic in the state quarterfinals.

Bennett stepped down to move to Texas and be with his wife and two stepdaughters.

“There was talk of him staying for another year. It was really up in the air,” said Tyler Turner, who is no relation to Steve Turner. “He had planned to stick around for the following season, but obviously plans changed.”

The Cougars have ruled the Oregon West Conference in recent seasons, riding a 15-game winning streak that dates to 2018.

“The bar has been set really high,” Turner said. “That's the expectation, to kind of keep the bar where it is, if not exceed it. … We still have talent. We lost a good senior class, but we still have dudes that can make plays and really compete at a high level.”

Turner played football at North Eugene as a freshman before moving to Junction City, where he graduated in 2008. He played basketball for the Tigers but a series of injuries kept him from continuing with football.

He landed his first teaching job at 23 in the Cascade district. He assisted in the Cascade boys basketball program before coaching football at the junior high, guiding the eighth-grade team to an undefeated season in 2017.

Turner said the coaching staff will return mostly intact. Assistant Dan Bowman has been promoted to defensive coordinator to replace Will Baldwin, who also moved to Texas. Assistant Jacob Lowther, Baldwin's nephew, takes over as offensive coordinator for Bennett.

The Cougars will continue to run the pistol wing-T, an offense they installed four years ago in a break from the power running game favored by Steve Turner. They graduated several key linemen from last season, when they had a dominant running game, but Tyler Turner is confident they can retool around junior left tackle Teagan Allen (6-2, 275).

“We have some younger guys that are going to step into roles that are going to be very important for us,” he said. “And they're big guys, too. We're filling the gaps with some big bodies.”

Cascade lost its quarterback in Jacob Hage and leading rushers in Lance Van Hoose and Blake Lewis, but Turner likes what he sees in junior quarterback Nolan Abrams and senior tailback Jacob Bell.

“Nolan is very smart and athletic. We're in good hands,” Turner said. “Jacob runs hard, and he has great vision and great feel. When you put on the helmet, the switch flips.

“Losing all the senior talent we had, we have guys to fill those gaps. There shouldn't be much drop-off. … The nice thing is, we're not just relying on a senior class. We have juniors and sophomores who are going to compete and battle. The future is bright.”

The Cougars expect to compete for a state championship, according to Turner, who said the seniors are eager to step out from the shadow of the 2022 graduating class.

“Now they're in the limelight and they get a chance to shine, and they want it bad,” Turner said.

Cascade starts daily doubles next week in preparation for its season opener against Baker on Sept. 3. What happens in the next few months will go a long way toward how Turner views his future as a head coach.

“Initially when I took it, I thought maybe this was a hold-down-the-fort job,” he said. “But as we progress through it, we'll see what it looks like and how I feel. If it's something I'm really passionate about and want to pursue, I'll make that decision.”