By Bob Lundeberg
Over the next few weeks, SBLive Oregon will break down every 6A, 5A and 4A football team in the state in anticipation of a six-week season in March and April. Even if the season is postponed or canceled, we will continue to highlight more than a hundred teams and more than a thousand players in Oregon. Here’s our look at the McNary Celtics of the Class 6A Mountain Valley Conference.
Jeff Auvinen, sixth season (25-26)
2019 AT A GLANCE
Overall record: 4-6
League record: 4-0, first in Mountain Valley
Playoffs: Lost 49-7 to Sherwood in first round
ALL-LEAGUE PLAYERS DEPARTED
RB/LB Junior Walling, first team offense and defense (MVC defensive player of the year)
QB Erik Barker, first team
OG/DL Michael Ridgway, first team offense and defense
OT Nic Shepherd, first team
DL Drew Brown, first team
CB Alex Tavera, first team
WR/DB Junior Nunez, second team offense, honorable mention defense
K Daniel Mood, second team
DL Spencer Delacruz, second team
WR Riley Flores, honorable mention
WR Noah Lelack, honorable mention
C Nathan Young, honorable mention
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Dyami Rios, sr., TE/LB
A top contender for Mountain Valley Conference defensive player of the year, Rios has started at linebacker since his sophomore season. He didn’t catch a pass on offense last season but still was voted first-team all-MVC at tight end for his blocking prowess. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Rios is committed to Princeton and rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports. “As a lark, we nominated him for all-conference on offense last season because he was just a blocking machine, and I think the other coaches saw that,” Auvinen said. “He’ll run the ball some this year as a power back and obviously he’ll lead the defense.”
Gavin Anderson, sr., OL/DL
An honorable mention all-MVC offensive selection a season ago, Anderson likely will be moving to tackle after playing guard as a junior. Auvinen said Anderson also will be in the rotation at defensive line. “He can get out and block in the open field and he’s got a mean streak to him,” Auvinen said. “He is definitely a lineman that will block to the whistle every time.”
Coleman Young, sr., OL/DL
Young received honorable mention all-MVC on offense last season starting next to older brother Nathan Young, who also was an honorable mention recipient as a senior. Young and Anderson will be the core of McNary’s offensive line. “If we need to get a yard or two, I feel pretty good about running behind them,” Auvinen said. “Coleman is very physical, and for a big kid, he’s got good feet as well.”
Zane Aicher, jr., WR/DB
Aicher can play all three safety positions in the Celtics’ defensive scheme and received all-MVC honorable mention as a sophomore. On offense, Aicher could play running back or in the slot. “He was our most consistent safety last year and he has very good instincts,” Auvinen said. “He is super smart, so we can put him anywhere we want. We are expecting great things from him on both sides of the ball.”
Hayden Kaiser, jr., TE/DL
Standing 6-foot-4 at 255 pounds, the sky is the limit for Kaiser on the football field. He played basketball growing up and is a dangerous left-handed hitter in baseball. “He is kind of new to football, but he’s a big, strong, athletic kid and I think he’s got a world of potential, but he’s totally unproven at the varsity level,” Auvinen said. “I expect big things from him.”
Jack McCarty, sr., QB/DB
Stepping in for departed three-year starter Erik Barker, McCarty is undersized at 5-foot-9 but has all of the necessary tools to run McNary’s offense. Auvinen said McCarty, who recently picked up an offer from Lewis & Clark, brings excellent mobility to the quarterback position while delivering accurate balls. “He’s got some arm strength and he has very good instincts,” Auvinen said. “I’m really looking forward to him showing what he can do this year.”
Tyler Copeland, jr., QB/DB
Copeland will be McCarty’s backup and a starting safety. The junior is up to 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and has impressed the coaching staff in practice. “He can play free safety like he’s quarterback of the defense,” Auvinen said. “And it’s still a competition between him and Jack, but Jack has really solidified himself. But Tyler looks really good at quarterback; he throws great balls.”
Gunner Smedema, jr., WR/DB
Smedema shared quarterback duties with Copeland on junior varsity a season ago but will start both ways at wide receiver and defensive back as a junior, Auvinen said. Smedema has dealt with lower-body injuries in the past but has excellent instincts and athleticism. “Gunner is also a shortstop and point guard, and I expect big things from him in all three sports,” Auvinen said. “He’s an unproven junior, but I really like the way he’s grown.”
Quinn Bach, jr., WR/DB
Bach is another returning starter at safety who can play multiple positions on offense. Auvinen said Bach is the smartest kid in the program. “He does a great job of running routes and knowing where everybody should be all the time,” Auvinen said.
McNary’s past two seasons have followed a similar script: an 0-5 start in nonleague play against elite competition followed by a complete turnaround in MVC play. The Celtics haven’t lost a conference game since 2017 and would have been in decent shape to go for a three-peat in the fall of 2020.
Instead, McNary will take anything it can get this winter and spring before gearing up for another title defense in the fall.
“It’s weird not having a league and a league championship and a playoff run this season, because that’s where we really want to put our goals, to look a little better in nonleague and the playoffs,” said Auvinen, who is 1-5 in the postseason at McNary. “But we don’t have that this season, so it’s a little bit different of a feeling.”
The Celtics graduated six first-team all-conference players from last season’s roster, a talented group that included Oregon State linebacker Junior Walling (MVC defensive player of the year) and Montana tight end Erik Barker. Despite the losses, Auvinen believes there is enough talent in the program to continue competing for titles.
“I really like what my juniors have done — they are looking good,” Auvinen said. “And I’ve got a handful of seniors that I think are top-level kids. We have some talent on the line and skill positions, and we are just a little thin overall, which I think is the norm at the moment with COVID. But I like what we’re doing.”
Auvinen has noticed something else as the team has tried to piece together workouts during the pandemic: The Celtics seem to be having more fun in practice. It feels like a winning environment at McNary, Auvinen said. That bodes well for the upcoming season and beyond.
“These guys just seem a little different,” the coach said. “I’m not ripping any past players or teams, but these guys play for each other, they love the game and seem to have fun doing it, and it’s super refreshing in today’s society of, ‘Well, what can you do for me?’ They love being around each other, competing and playing and hanging out.”
“I think we’re only going to have eight-to-10 linemen, and that’s a hard spot to be in if we’re playing with tempo. So, we will be rotating a lot of guys to keep everyone fresh.” — Jeff Auvinen
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