Cascade football: state champion in 2021? Players can do it, if coaches ‘get out of their way’

By Paul Valencia

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 Cascade Cougars of the Class 4A Oregon West Conference.

CASCADE TEAM PAGE

HEAD COACH 

Brandon Bennett, fifth season (23-15)  

2019 AT A GLANCE 

Overall record: 7-2 

League record: 5-0, first in Oregon West  

Playoffs: Lost 38-21 to Baker in first round

ALL-LEAGUE PLAYERS DEPARTED 

Brandon White DL (defensive player of the year), OT (1st team)

Caleb Sell OT (lineman of the year), DL (1st team)

Ethan Coffey RB (1st team), DL (1st team)

Joe Baxter RB (1st team), DB (2nd team)

Elijah Nolan WR (1st team), DB (honorable mention)

Raymond Pasay LB (1st team)

Matt Johnson DB (1st team)

Westin Nelson C (2nd team)

Ryan Diehl LB (2nd team)

Tyler Marquez RB (honorable mention)

Kane Nixon LB (honorable mention)

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Jacob Hage, junior, QB

He has been a starter since Week 4 of his freshman year when the coaches realized he needed to be on varsity.

“For a kid to come in and mentally take on the quarterback role is not easy. To do it as a 14-year-old was more impressive,” Bennett said. 

Hage is a gifted athlete as a running quarterback. He was given some opportunity to pass the ball early, then a few more chances as a sophomore. As a junior, he knows his job is to become a true dual-threat quarterback.

Blake Lewis, junior, RB/LB

“He’s one of those freak athletes, with three-percent body fat at 195 pounds,” Bennett said. “Speed. Quickness. Balance. Everything you’d want from a running back.”

Lewis is a threat to break one any time he touches the ball but also has no problem finding the space for a two- or three-yard gain when the team needs it. 

As a linebacker, his natural instincts are “insane,” Bennett said.

“You look really good as a coach when that kid is on the field.”

Isaac Schnepp, junior, TE/DE

“This kid wants to be great,” Bennett said. 

Schnepp broke his hand his freshman year but didn’t miss any weightlifting opportunities, working out with a cast. He is the toughest player in the program, the coach said.

“We pride ourselves on being a hard-hitting, grind-you-out, old-school, 1960s-type football team, and he’s the cowbell for that,” Bennett said. “He doesn’t take a rep off in practice. Great kid, too.”

At 6-3, 205 pounds, Schnepp begs the coaches to keep running the ball so that he can pancake somebody. 

Braxton Tucker, junior, OL/DL

A reserve at the time, Tucker received his opportunity in the third game of last season after a senior lineman was injured.

“Braxton came in and just shocked us all,” Bennett said. “Tougher than nails. Loves to go out and hit people.”

Not only that, but he started taking on a leadership role within the offensive line group. 

Bennett said Tucker is a technician who understands what it takes to be an O-lineman. 

“It is impressive to see,” Bennett said.

David Kanoff, senior, WR/DB

A senior? No, not just a senior for Cascade football. THE senior for Cascade football. Yes, the only senior in the program.

He is 5-7, 155 pounds, but he “hits like a freight train,” Bennett said, noting that Kanoff plays like a linebacker. “The kid loves contact.”

And his coverage skills give opposing teams reason for concern.

“He has a swag about him. ‘You throw to my side of the field, it’s probably going to be mine.’ Nobody throws to his side of the field,” Bennett said. 

On offense, besides receiver, he is the backup quarterback, the utility player.

“I told him, ‘If we get a season, you’re not coming off the field. You’re playing every snap,’” the coach said.

Colin Smittle, junior, WR/DB/K

Is it possible Cascade has an athlete who could one day play on Sundays?

“I tell him all the time, he has an NFL leg,” Bennett said. “I’ve played with NFL kickers. He stands out above all of them.”

As a tall receiver (6-4), Smittle loves to high-point the ball. He is a major addition to the offense. 

On defense, he is a ball hawk, using that size from his safety position to give the opposing quarterback second thoughts. 

OUTLOOK  

Kanoff is great friends with all of the juniors, so for this bizarre season (one senior!), it is Kanoff and the juniors who will lead the sophomores and freshmen.

“David and our juniors are super close,” Bennett said. “It’s awesome to see their leadership skills develop.”

Today’s juniors learned from last season’s senior class that the program needs everyone on board to be successful. Those seniors embraced the sophomores, and Cascade won a league championship.

“For this shortened season, our expectation is to get kids experience, along with going out and winning a league title,” Bennett said. 

The goal is a state title in the fall of 2021.

“We have the kids to do it. It will be up to me and the coaching staff to get out of their way,” Bennett said. “This spring season is preparation for the ’21 fall season.”

COACH SAID 

There is a legacy that the coaches and players understand, playing for Cascade, representing the communities of Aumsville, Marion, Shaw and Turner. 

“We are expected to put out a good product every year,” Bennett said, and it’s not just for the players, coaches and present-day students. It is for the alumni.

“It is a special place here. You walk anywhere, if you have a Cascade hat or shirt on, you’re going to talk to two or three people.”

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