Oregon’s top high school football players: Meet the state’s best defensive backs

By René Ferrán, Mike Wilson, Bob Lundeberg, Paul Valencia and Rockne Andrew Roll

Over the next week, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Oregon high school football. Our eighth list focuses on the defensive backs. 

There are hundreds of standout football players in Oregon and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive! Use the comments section to discuss the other defensive backs worthy of fans’ attention in 2021.

Find our team-by-team previews for every 6A, 5A and 4A team in Oregon at this link

Tanner Volk (Aloha) photo by Taylor Balkom

Andrew Oliver, Sr., Lakeridge

Oliver has signed with The Citadel as a safety, but in his time at Lakeridge, he has been a quarterback, a punter (all-league honorable mention) and a cornerback — a new position last season at which he became a second-team all-Three Rivers selection with 40 tackles and six interceptions. “He’s everything you could want in someone leading your team,” said first-year Pacers coach Spencer Phillips. 

Andrew Simpson, Sr., Mountainside

Simpson is one of the most dynamic playmakers in Oregon — he’s ranked No. 19 among the state’s top prospects according to 247Sports. He was a third-team all-Metro cornerback with 51 tackles and six interceptions, and he recently signed with Western Oregon to play in the Wolves secondary in the fall. “His best days are still in front of him,” Mavericks coach John Mannion said. “I’m excited to see what his development from his junior to senior season will be.”

Armen Tarakhchyan, Sr., Newberg

As a junior, Tarakhchyan led the team in interceptions for the second consecutive season, picking off three passes and breaking up 11 more to go with 48 tackles in earning all-Pacific honorable mention. “He’s starting to mature physically and has gotten a lot quicker,” Tigers coach Kevin Hastin said.

Beau Stork, Sr., Henley

There are plenty of fathers coaching sons around the state, but how many brothers are coaching brothers? That’s the case at Henley, where Beau plays for 10-years-older brother Alex — and does so quite well, earning second-team all-Skyline honors after making 23 tackles and two interceptions last season. A third brother, sophomore Shaw Stork, joins the varsity squad this year after playing JV last season. “It’s really been one of the great joys in my life,” Alex said. “It’s been so much fun to share this experience with both of them.”

Andrew Simpson (Mountainside) photo by Taylor Balkom

Brody Ballard, Jr., Monroe

Ballard is a two-way standout for the Dragons, receiving second-team all-state recognition on defense last season and helping Monroe reach the 2A state semifinals.

Bryce Caufield, Sr., Lakeridge

Caufield transferred to Lakeridge from South High School in Torrance, Calif., after his mother got a job with Kaiser Permanente. As a junior, he made 59 tackles and five interceptions. He grew three inches and added about 40 pounds over the summer, and he signed a preferred walk-on offer from Oregon State this month. “He’s grown into this monster, big and strong with strong hands and a good route runner,” Pacers coach Spencer Phillips said. “He’s just got tremendous upside.”

Charles Willmott, Sr., Lincoln

A third-year varsity player, Willmott was second-team all-PIL as a defensive back last season. Cardinals coach Jeremy Johnson said Willmott has put on about 15 to 20 pounds of “good” weight since last season. “He’s always been a little undersized in his frame, but he’s as tough as they come pound-for-pound,” Johnson said. Willmott is headed to Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he hopes to play football and basketball. On defense, he is Lincoln’s top returner in tackles (53) and grabbed three interceptions at free safety.

Clay Masters, Sr., West Linn

Masters received all-Three Rivers recognition on both sides of the ball last season, garnering second-team honors as a cover corner with 27 tackles, six pass breakups and two interceptions. He has interest from several Division II schools. “An excellent two-way player,” Lions coach Chris Miller said. “He has very good speed and will be a top 3-5 wide receiver in the state and one of the best cover corners.”

Clay Masters (West Linn) photo by Taylor Balkom

Colby Guenther, Sr., Wilsonville

Despite missing time last season with a concussion, Guenther was second on the team in tackles with 72, broke up four passes and forced three fumbles, earning second-team all-NWOC West recognition. The son of Wildcats coach Adam Guenther, Colby orchestrated the secondary last season from his strong safety position and will be asked to do the same this season. “He’s just football-smart,” Adam Guenther said. “He knows how to put people in the right positions and controls the defensive backfield.”

Coleman Compton, Sr., North Bend

Besides earning all-MWL North recognition at wide receiver last season, Compton was a first-team all-league and 5A all-state honorable mention selection at free safety. “We’re excited to see what he can do,” Bulldogs coach Gary Prince said.

Cooper Bales, Sr., Dufur

Bales last season was a first-team all-state selection on defense, where he had 63 tackles (seven for loss) and six interceptions to help the Rangers reach the quarterfinals of the 1A state playoffs.

Dane Sipos, Sr., Lebanon

A second-team all-state selection at defensive back last season with 61 tackles and three interceptions, Sipos recently committed to Oregon as a preferred walk-on. Sipos has good size (6-foot, 185 pounds) and is a dangerous receiving threat. Warriors coach Ty Tomlin said Sipos transformed his body during the offseason, adding muscle while maintaining his speed. “I really want a big season for him to highlight himself so he can see that reward on the field,” Tomlin said. “He’s a great athlete and one of the best DBs I’ve coached in a long time.”

Colby Guenther (Wilsonville) photo by Leon Neuschwander

Darius Mims, Sr., Jesuit

Mims played nickelback last season beside all-state defensive backs Campbell Brandt and Seth Welsh and figures to claim one of the starting cornerback jobs this season. 

David Kanoff, Sr., Cascade

The only senior in the program, Kanoff is 5-7, 155 pounds, but he earned first-team all-Oregon West honors with 29 tackles and an interception last season. “He hits like a freight train,” Cougars coach Brandon 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.  

Dawson Muggy, Sr., Thurston

Muggy was first-team all-state as a defensive back and led Class 5A in interceptions last season with six while breaking up nine passes and making 25 tackles — all this after coming on strong during the Colts’ run to the 2018 state title. “That mindset shifted for him — he wasn’t just trying to compete. He was trying to dominate,” coach Justin Starck said. He signed with Western Oregon this month. 

Dylan Layne, Jr., Lake Oswego

Layne opened last season as a JV starter, began swinging up to varsity by Week 4, and by Week 7 was firmly entrenched in the rotation in the secondary, earning all-Three Rivers honorable mention and having a big game in the state final with nine tackles. He could play either safety position or slide into an outside linebacker role depending on need. “He just kept coming on as the year went on,” Lakers coach Steve Coury said. “He’ll end up being an Ivy League-type player or an academy kid.” 

Dylan Stroup, Sr., Newberg

Stroup earned first-team all-Pacific honors in his first season starting at strong safety in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 alignment, finishing with 43 tackles (four for loss), seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He’s received interest from nearby Linfield and George Fox. “He’s someone who does all the little things right,” Newberg coach Kevin Hastin said. “He could definitely play at the next level.”

Dylan Stroup (Newberg) photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Eriq Rodriguez, Sr., Ashland

A starting cornerback who earned second-team all-MWL South honors last season with 37 tackles and five interceptions, Rodriguez will see his playing time on offense increase significantly. Grizzlies coach Beau Lehnerz likened Rodriguez’s build and skills to Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett’s. “He’s probably our best skill player right now,” Lehnerz said. “He’s a guy who’s probably not going to come off the field.” 

Ethan Secor, Sr., Clackamas

Secor earned all-Mt. Hood honorable mention at linebacker last season, although he’s a natural safety. This spring, Cavaliers coach James Holan said, “We’re hoping we get the production from the linebackers that we need and he can stay at safety, because that’s where he excels.” Secor, whom Holan called a “special player,” is the team’s top returning tackler. 

Gavin Graham, Sr., Henley

Graham made the all-conference team at three positions last season — first team on defense after making a team-high four interceptions, second team as a punter (29.2 yards per punt average) and honorable mention at receiver. “He’s a dynamic playmaker and definitely a gamer,” Hornets coach Alex Stork said. “He likes the spotlight and is strong in big games. We’re hopeful he will have a big year again on both sides of the ball.”

Gunner Rothenberger, So., Toledo

Rothenberger grabbed a starting job at cornerback as a freshman and never looked like a first-year varsity player, earning first-team all-league honors with 58 tackles and an interception. He projects as a free safety in college and is rising on the Class of 2023 rankings. “He has not missed a single workout for us,” Boomers coach Jeff Taylor said. “He’s transforming into a special football player.”

Gunner Yates, Jr., Coquille

The son of Southern Oregon University Hall of Famer Griff Yates and brother of former Coquille standouts Sye and Caiden (the latter a two-time conference player of the year in 2018-19), Gunner started to make a name for himself as a sophomore, earning second-team all-state honors in the secondary with 90 tackles and three interceptions. Red Devils coach David Thomason said that while Caiden played with a bruising style, “Gunner is a lot more shifty.” Thomason plans to shift Yates from cornerback to safety this spring. “Defensively, he is our best defensive back and has been for the past two years,” Thomason said. “He can lock down receivers or fly up and lay a hit in run support.”

Jackson Hannan (Sherwood) photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Hagan Stephenson, Sr., Marist Catholic

Stephenson was named to the 2019 all-Sky-Em first team as a receiver, defensive back and kick returner, and he was a league defensive co-player of the year and a first-team 4A all-state defensive back. Spartans coach Frank Geske describes him as a “little, quick, aggressive guy that makes plays all over the field.” Expect another massive season from Stephenson in every phase of the game.

Hayden Ellis, Sr., Ashland

A returning starting safety who earned first-team all-MWL South honors with 66 tackles (three for loss), Ellis carries plenty of responsibility in coach Beau Lehnerz’s hybrid defense.  

Hewitt Sullivan, Sr., Tigard

As a junior, Sullivan played primarily in the secondary, where he was a second-team all-Three Rivers honoree after making 48 tackles, sharing the team lead with four interceptions and breaking up a team-high eight passes. “He was an unknown to some people, but we knew he was talented,” Tigers coach John Kemper said. “He’s been working his tail off and been a leader when we’ve been able to get together. I’m excited to see what kind of season he can have.” 

Hudson Carter, Sr., Santiam Christian

Carter made contributions offensively for the Eagles (19 catches for 213 yards), but his importance for the state champions is on the defensive side of the ball, where he was a first-team all-state selection.

Tyler Cox (Glencoe) photo by Taylor Balkom

Ian Smith, Sr., Crescent Valley

Smith was all-MWC on both sides of the ball as a junior and projects to be one of the Raiders’ top playmakers again this season. He is a rangy free safety on defense who likes to fly around and attack the ball, finishing with 62 tackles and three interceptions. “We’re expecting him to have a very, very good year,” Crescent Valley coach Mike Connor said. “In a normal year, he’d be a first-team all-conference kid — and maybe more, depending on how we did.” 

Jackson Hannan, Sr., Sherwood

Hannan overcame a sore arm sustained during summer baseball that hampered him the first part of last season to make the all-Pacific first team in the secondary. “He’s a multi-positional type of kid who played mostly defense last year,” Bowmen coach Greg Lawrence said. “But he can really throw the ball and spread teams out.”

Jackson Monfort, Sr., Grant

Monfort played a key part in the Generals’ first outright PIL championship since 2014, earning first-team all-league recognition at safety and finishing with more than 70 tackles.

Jackson Monfort (Grant) photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Jacob Tackett, Sr., Hidden Valley

Tackett plays the “Spur,” or the hybrid safety position in the 3-3-5 defense Hidden Valley runs, and he received first-team all-league and second-team all-state recognition last season after finishing with 80 tackles, including a team-high nine for loss. He has an offer from Presentation College, an NAIA school in Aberdeen, S.D. “He’s one of the fastest kids on our team and a tenacious player,” Mustangs coach James Powers said.

Jacob Winchester, Sr., Bend

A second-team all-MVC safety who made 42 tackles last season, Winchester has been one of Bend’s strongest performers during practice. Lava Bears coach Matt Craven said Winchester will continue to anchor the team’s secondary while playing some wing back on offense. “I don’t think there’s a kid who works harder and is more committed,” Craven said. “Having that extra year of playing in the secondary always slows the game down for those kids.”

Jamar Flippen, Jr., Banks

Flippen has been on varsity since his freshman year, when Banks won the state title. As a sophomore, he went back and forth from cornerback to safety, finishing second on the team with 90 tackles (five for loss) and three interceptions. “Blazing speed. Super athlete,” Braves coach Cole Linehan said. “I think he’s a high-level college player eventually as a defensive or running back.”

Jaymus Dutra, Jr., Klamath Union

Dutra started the 2019 season on the JV team, but a midseason injury led to his call-up to start at safety, and by season’s end, he had earned all-Skyline honorable mention. “He really made a difference for us,” Pelicans coach Tom Smith said. “He’s a raw talent, very athletic, and really came on as a force on defense.”

Justin Hughes (Mountainside) photo by Taylor Balkom

Jett Hood, Sr., Grants Pass

Hood last season led the Cavemen in tackles from the free safety position with 77, earning second-team all-SWC honors. He had seven pass breakups and an interception. “He has a nose for the ball and is our quarterback on the defensive side,” Grants Pass coach John Musser said. 

Justin Hughes, Sr., Mountainside

Hughes is the ultimate Swiss Army knife-type player. He began last season under center while Brian Mannion developed on the JV team and was more than serviceable. Once Mannion was ready in Week 8, Hughes shifted to receiver. All the while, he also started in the secondary, finishing with 78 tackles (most among Mountainside’s returning players) and three interceptions. “His stat line reflects his versatility,” Mavericks coach John Mannion said. “He’s been one of the backbones of our program since we started.”

Kaden Myer, Sr., Baker

Change is the theme for Myer this season. He was a first-team all-league cornerback in 2019, but Bulldogs coach Jason Ramos is considering moving him to safety. After serving as the primary backup quarterback as a junior (9 of 19, 185 yards, three touchdowns, one interception), he’s set to battle Gabe Gambleton for the starting job. If he remains the backup quarterback, he’ll also remain one of the team’s top receiving options (17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns last season). Ramos called him “a dynamic playmaker and dual-threat quarterback.”  

Kristian Fralich, Sr., Cascade Christian

As a junior, Fralich was a three-way all-state honoree, making the second team on offense and defense (team-high 76 tackles, seven interceptions, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles). “He is a smart player, which allows us to move him all over the field,” Challengers coach Jon Gettman said. “He is a dedicated player and teammate that willingly sacrifices his time and himself for the betterment of the team.”

Kristian Fralich (Cascade Christian) photo by Eunora Fralich

Lucas Patterson, Sr., Marist Catholic

Patterson is better-known for his work on offense, but he also excelled in the secondary last season, earning 4A all-state honorable mention with 33 tackles and a team-leading seven interceptions. Patterson is by no means slight — at 6-foot-1, he’s up to 195 pounds and squats more than double that. “He’s not a little kid anymore,” Spartans coach Frank Geske said.  

Myles Broadous, Sr., Central Catholic

Broadous played a fair amount at safety and cornerback last season in nickel and dime packages, finishing with 42 tackles and seven pass breakups. “We expect good production from him,” Rams coach Steve Pyne said. “He has great instincts, ball skills and is very competitive.”

Noah Martinez, Sr., Grants Pass

Martinez has good size at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. He was a second-team all-SWC selection on defense last season and has scholarship offers from Southern Oregon, Pacific and George Fox. “He is a physical corner who can lock down the opponent’s best receiver,” Cavemen coach John Musser said. 

Myles Broadous (Central Catholic) photo by Taylor Balkom

Noah Niblett, Sr., Marshfield

Two seasons ago, Niblett was thrust into a starting role when the Pirates took on Banks in a Class 4A semifinal. He’s been starting both ways since, playing wide receiver and defensive back, a position at which he earned all-state second-team honors in 2019 with 36 tackles and five pass breakups. He’ll return to both roles for his senior season, and his performance on both sides of the ball will be key for Marshfield.

Nolan Morris, Sr., North Medford

Morris, one of the fastest players on North Medford’s roster, tied for fourth in Class 6A last season with six interceptions. He earned first-team all-SWC honors at cornerback. “I believe he is even better now than he was last year,” Black Tornado coach Steven Turner said. 

Ryan Giard, Sr., Glencoe

Giard started most of his junior season and earned all-Pacific honorable mention, making 31 tackles, breaking up four passes and recording two interceptions. He committed to Pacific University. “He had a really good fall and hopefully built some confidence for the season,” Crimson Tide coach Ian Reynoso said.

Ryan Giard (Glencoe) photo by Taylor Balkom

Ryan Lee, Sr., Gladstone

Lee is a returning starter at safety for the Gladiators who made the all-Tri-Valley second team last season. “He’s kind of like having an extension of a coach on the field,” Gladstone coach JJ Jedrykowski said. “He asks all the right questions. More importantly, the kids go to him with questions. He’s the leader of our secondary.” 

Spencer Kuffel, Sr., Tigard

If there’s one senior Tigers coach John Kemper most wanted to see take the field for one last hurrah, it’s Kuffel, who missed the second half of his sophomore season with an ACL tear, then tore it again during the summer and sat out his entire junior year. “He’s been crushing his rehab and is someone who could turn some heads if he gets the opportunity,” Kemper said. “He’s not afraid to come downhill and make tackles.”

Tanner Saucedo, Sr., North Marion

Saucedo received all-state honors on both sides of the ball last season, receiving honorable mention in the secondary. “He’s just an all-around athlete, dynamic in every aspect,” Huskies coach Grant Carmichael said. “No matter where you put him, he’s going to excel.”

Spencer Kuffel (Tigard) photo by Taylor Balkom

Tanner Volk, Sr., Aloha

Volk earned second-team all-league honors on both sides of the ball as a junior, making 30 tackles and two interceptions in the secondary. The Central Washington commit learned from an early age the ins and outs of the game as a fly on the wall during his father’s coaches meetings, sitting in the corner and absorbing everything. “His savviness has paid dividends. He always seems one step ahead of the play as it comes,” Warriors coach Bill Volk said.

Thomas McNamara, Sr., West Linn

McNamara earned first-team all-league honors at linebacker last season, making 79 tackles despite missing the first three weeks, but he’ll move to his more natural position at safety, where he reminds Lions coach Chris Miller of a couple of former Oregon standouts in Brady Breeze and Chad Cota. “He’s got ‘it’ — a great leader and is a ball-hawk,” Miller said. “He loves balling and is a tireless worker.”

Timon Davis, Sr., Grant

Davis was a first-team all-PIL selection as a utility player on defense as a sophomore, then saw a promising junior season cut short by a broken collarbone. Otherwise, Generals coach John Beck said, “He would have been all-state.” Davis, who signed with Western Oregon in early February, ran a laser-timed 4.41 seconds for 40 yards at a National Preps Collegiate Showcase event in October. “He’s the best cover cornerback in the state — by far,” Beck said.  

Timon Davis (Grant) photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Trejon Williams, Jr., Jefferson

Williams was first-team all-PIL at wide receiver (14 catches for 251 yards and two touchdowns) and defensive back (37 tackles, two interceptions) last season, and in Democrats coach Houston Lillard’s opinion, he might be the best all-around football player in the state. He’s vaulted up the recruiting lists as well. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams is the No. 9 junior safety in the country in 247Sports’ rankings — No. 21 in ESPN’s rankings — and the state’s No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2022 according to both services. 

Trent Walker, Sr., Beaverton

Walker had interest from service academy teams and several FCS schools, with 4.52-second 40-yard speed and 2019 statistics — 59 tackles (49 solo), two interceptions, three forced fumbles and four pass breakups at safety — that helped earn him first-team all-Metro honors on both sides of the ball. He decided to accept a preferred walk-on offer from Oregon State in early February. “He’s gotten stronger and put on weight, and he looks great,” Beaverton coach Bob Boyer said. “He can do just about anything.”

Tristan Lee, Sr., Mazama

Besides earning Skyline offensive player of the year honors at quarterback and signing with Eastern Oregon in early February, Lee also garnered first-team all-conference honors on defense last season, making 33 tackles (four for loss).

Thomas McNamara (West Linn) photo by Taylor Balkom

Tyler Cox, Sr., Glencoe

Cox received all-Pacific recognition on both sides of the ball last season, making 35 tackles (4½ for loss) and four pass breakups at free safety. A four-year starter, he entered the lineup at cornerback in Week 3 of his freshman season and transitioned to safety last season. A 4.0 student and class president, he’s been accepted to the Naval Academy as he awaits word on a West Point appointment. “He makes sure that our defense rolls and functions well,” Crimson Tide coach Ian Reynoso said. 

Tyler Pfeifer, Sr., Silverton

Pfeifer received 5A all-state honorable mention on defense as a junior and was a first-team all-MWC defensive back. “He is a phenomenal defensive player and incredibly intelligent,” Foxes coach Josh Craig said. “He’s just a very sound player. You are going to rely on him to be in the right spot, make a tackle, those kinds of things.” 

Will Curran, Sr., La Salle Prep

The team leader in interceptions last season, Curran was second-team all-NWOC East. At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he can cover a lot of ground and match up with big and tall receivers. “He definitely came on, had some big plays last year for us in some games that sealed games or gave us some momentum,” Falcons coach Aaron Hazel said. This season, the plan is to have Curran assigned to an opponent’s top receiving threat. “We feel confident in that matchup,” Hazel said.

Xanden Unciano, Sr., Liberty

Unciano didn’t hang his head when he didn’t win the starting quarterback job last season, instead becoming a valuable jack-of-all-trades (receiving all-conference honorable mention at cornerback) and taking over for several games when quarterback Hiro Diamond was out with an injury. “Xanden’s an athletic and explosive player who can play just about any position on the field,” Falcons coach Eric Mahlum said.

Xanden Unciano (Liberty) photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Find our team-by-team previews for every 6A, 5A and 4A team in Oregon at this link

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