Oregon high school football preview: Meet each 4A team’s most indispensable player

By René Ferrán, Paul Valencia and Rockne Andrew Roll

The Oregon high school football season kicks off this week, and SBLive has rolled out a comprehensive statewide preview.

Here, our reporters examine each 4A team’s most irreplaceable player. Who is one player that if he were to miss a game, his team’s chances would take a big hit? We answer below.

Aiden Tyler (Sweet Home) photo by Leon Neuschwander

COWAPA LEAGUE

Astoria

Senior QB/DB Bo Williams earned the starting job at quarterback when he was a sophomore. His experience will stand out this season. “He has really grown in understanding the concepts of our system, whether in the passing tree or in our run-pass option scheme,” Fishermen coach Howard Rub said. “We think he has a chance to have a great senior season.”

Banks

Senior OL/DE Tyler Exline was injured in the first league game in 2019 and missed the rest of the team’s run to the final. “He would have been an all-state guy if he had not been hurt,” Banks coach Cole Linehan said of Exline, who signed with Eastern Oregon. “We missed him big-time. We made it to the championship game, but we were still down one of our best linemen.”

Milwaukie

“Best guy on the line, both ways,” Mustangs coach Colin Schaeffer said of junior OL/DL Jake Cooper. “A real quiet leader.” Cooper is 6-2, 240, and he is extremely athletic and very quick for his size. He’s coachable, too. “He was one of our best players (last season), and he still has a tremendous amount of upside,” Schaeffer said.

Seaside

Senior RB/LB Andrew Teubner was all-league on both sides of the ball last season, and he received honorable mention all-state as an outside linebacker. “He probably weighs about 170, but he plays a lot bigger than that. A great tackler,” Seagulls coach Aaron Tanabe said. “Just a tough kid.”

Tillamook

Last season, senior RB/LB Miquel Niemi had six sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. “Miquel could probably be in the defensive player of the year category,” Cheesemakers coach Kye Johnson said. “One of the best blitzing linebackers I’ve seen in years.” He is also smart, a coach on the field, the guy who organizes others during pre-snap. “He’s very in tune with what we’re doing from a scheme standpoint,” the coach said.

Valley Catholic

Valiants coach Nick Hegwood called senior TE/LB Will French “the kid that every coach wants to coach.” Hands down, French is the team leader. He does everything he is asked to do, and he does everything at a high level. At 6-3, 220 pounds, he has the size to go with his skill and commitment, tools that should help him at the next level, Hegwood said.

TRI-VALLEY CONFERENCE

Crook County

When he was a freshman, junior OL/DL Easton Perrin’s coaches were unsure whether he’d become something special. By the end of the year, they knew. Perrin gained confidence and emerged, and last season, Perrin led the defensive line in sacks. “A lot of teams had to double-team to try to contain him,” Cowboys coach Ryan Cochran said. Good luck containing him now — Perrin is 6-5, 270 pounds. “We expect some great things,” Cochran said.

Estacada

Rangers coach Andy Mott called junior OL/DL Devin Gotchall “our classic guard. We call him a road grader. He’s just that guy.” Estacada runs the veer offense, and Mott noted that “he’s the guy we’re looking to follow. He’s one of our go-to guys if we’re looking to run between the tackles.” Gotchall is solid on defense, too. “He’s tough to move,” Mott said. “He’s going to be a plugger, opening space for our linebackers.”

Gladstone

Senior TE/LB Jude Ashpole made second-team all-state last season as a linebacker, and, according to Gladiators coach JJ Jedrykowski, the postseason accolades could have been even better. “We underutilized him as a tight end last year,” Jedrykowski said. “If we had done a better job scheming, he would have been all-state both ways.”

Madras

Senior TE/DE Jacob Hulsey is the White Buffaloes’ leader, someone who will do what’s best for the team — so much so that he sacrificed personal glory last season by playing on the offensive line rather than tight end. Madras coach Kurt Taylor is looking forward to seeing Hulsey this season, using those blocking skills at tight end but also with his receiving skills. “He just has amazing hands. He’ll catch anything that flies in front of him,” Taylor said. 

Molalla

Entering camp, junior Isaac Thomas-Klementis was penciled in to be the quarterback, coach Sean McElhaney said. “He’s the prototypical quarterback, body-wise,” McElhaney said. “He’s tall, with a really strong arm. Also happens to be a very good runner. As much as we like him at quarterback, he could end up at running back.”

North Marion

Senior WR/DB Tanner Saucedo received all-state honors on both sides of the ball last season. “He’s just an all-around athlete, dynamic in every aspect,” first-year coach Grant Carmichael said. Look for Saucedo to line up as a receiver on some plays, at running back other plays. “No matter where you put him, he’s going to excel,” the coach said. “We’ve got a little trick for any team that tries to stop Tanner. There’s nothing they can do about him.”

OREGON WEST CONFERENCE

Cascade

Junior RB/LB Blake Lewis was a first-team all-conference pick on defense last season with 52 tackles (three for loss). On offense, he is a threat to break one any time he touches the ball, but he also has no problem finding the space for a two- or three-yard gain when the team needs it. “He’s one of those freak athletes, with three-percent body fat at 195 pounds,” Cougars coach Brandon Bennett said. “Speed. Quickness. Balance. Everything you’d want from a running back.” As a linebacker, his natural instincts are “insane,” Bennett said.

Newport

Junior WR/DB Kaden Bruns will play receiver. Or maybe running back. He might line up in different spots on defense, too. “He can play anywhere on the field,” Cubs coach Dan Schaffeld said. The coach said to call him an “A for Athlete, because he’s going to be everywhere, probably.” The team’s key on offense is to get the ball to Bruns. He is elusive. 

Stayton

Sophomore TE/LB Brock Hubert does it all. Strong blocker. Runs well. Catches. On defense, he’s a fundamentally sound tackler. A returning starter. Oh, and he’s only a sophomore. A sophomore at 6-5, 250 pounds. “He’s bigger, stronger and faster than he was a year ago,” coach Randy Nyquist said. “He has the potential to be a very good high school football player.”

Sweet Home

With no season in the fall, senior QB Aiden Tyler traveled to Texas and played in a showcase game in Texas Stadium. “He’s done everything he can in the offseason to perfect his craft,” coach Dustin Nichol said of Tyler, the returning starter and a Western Oregon signee. “He’s got a mind for the game.” 

Woodburn

Junior WR/DB Tomas Veliz is a wingback. A halfback. A receiver. He’s Woodburn’s put-him-anywhere-and-let-him-shine player. “He’s a great team guy, too,” coach Ken Mace said. On defense, he plays a pretty mean cornerback. His father is the school’s boys basketball coach, but Veliz is committed to football. 

Hagan Stephenson (Marist Catholic) photo by Leon Neuschwander

SKY-EM LEAGUE

Cottage Grove

A strong, versatile athlete, junior FB/LB Hemi Scott has played linebacker and on the line, but Lions coach Joe Polamalu thinks he’s built like a fullback. “There’s a lot of places we can play him,” Polamalu said. “(He’s) definitely one of those prospects where you walk out there, it’s, ‘Yeah, that’s a kid I need.’” Whatever Scott’s role, it’ll be an important one.

Elmira

Entering his senior year as the starting quarterback, QB/DE Cobyn Herbert also serves as a hard-hitting defensive end. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, he’s a game-changer on both sides of the ball. “Defensively, he’s that guy that helps us shut down the run and the pass from length and speed,” coach Justin Peeler said. “Our offense, we’re going to either excel or struggle off of him.” Though he’s struggled with injuries in the past, Peeler said Herbert looked as healthy as the coach has seen him entering camp.

Marist Catholic

Senior WR/DB Hagan Stephenson’s first start for the Spartans came three years ago in the playoffs. As a wide receiver, he was shut down by a future Pac-12 defensive player of the year (Talanoa Hufanga, then of Crescent Valley, now of USC). “Things have gotten easier for him since then,” Spartans coach Frank Geske said. The list of honors Stephenson received in 2019 is long: first-team all-conference as a receiver, defensive back and kick returner; league defensive co-player of the year; first-team all-state defensive back; and second-team all-state receiver. 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.

Marshfield

Two seasons ago, senior WR/DB Noah 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. He’ll return to both roles for his senior season, and his performance on both sides of the ball will be key for Marshfield — coach John Lemmons rates him as one of the program’s top pass-catchers.

North Eugene

North Eugene is awash with passing targets this season, including Dawson Davis, Jack Lemley, Nate Cook, Michael Warren and others. However, senior WR/DB Dylan Coughran, who led the Highlanders in touchdown catches last season (five) among his 41 catches for 452 yards, is the cream of the crop. “He’s just a really good athlete,” coach Rick Raish said. “He’s got a lot of open ceiling — he’s just tapping into it.”

SKYLINE CONFERENCE

Henley

Senior QB Tim Orr took over the starting job as a junior and made the all-conference second team after going 90 of 183 for 1,385 yards and 18 touchdowns (six interceptions). He holds offers from Willamette and several West Coast junior colleges, and he put in extensive work in the offseason to improve his athleticism and sculpt his body as he looked forward to what he hoped would be a big senior season. “I feel like we’re going to be able to do more and expand our playbook with him this year,” Hornets coach Alex Stork said. “He’s just so smart and gets us into good positions in our offense. He’s a hard worker and dedicated leader.”

Hidden Valley

Senior C/LB Matt Iwamizu started last season at tight end but when the need arose for a replacement at center, he stepped up and immediately took to the position, earning co-lineman of the year honors for the league and first-team all-state recognition as well as offers from Western Oregon, Pacific and Linfield. He was a second-team all-league outside linebacker with 68 tackles and a team-high 5½ sacks, but this season he’ll man the middle linebacker spot in the Mustangs’ 3-3 scheme. “He’s a super team guy, a super smart kid,” coach James Powers said. “He’s worked tirelessly in the offseason and become more mobile and athletic.”

Klamath Union

Senior OT/DT Carson Endacott, the younger brother of graduated center Connor Endacott, received all-conference first-team recognition on the offensive line last season. He has worked hard in the weight room in the offseason and added about 15 pounds in preparation for his senior campaign. “I think he’s going to be a solid player for us,” Pelicans coach Tom Smith said.

Mazama

Mazama quarterbacks won’t win Skyline offensive player of the year honors showing off their arm — not in coach Vic Lease’s triple-option veer offense. No, senior QB/FS Tristan Lee won the award for how he masterfully directed the Vikings to a sixth consecutive conference title, running for 768 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also garnered first-team all-conference honors on defense, making 33 tackles (four for loss), and signed with Eastern Oregon last month. “Tristan is one of the best quarterbacks I have had to run our offense,” Lease said. “He makes us go.”

North Valley

Junior RB/LB Chase Comyford will get his chance to shine after serving primarily as a returner (17.3-yard average) last season, taking over for Drew Hansen, who led the team with 755 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. “Chase will be one of our guys who’ll touch the ball a lot,” coach Neil DeForrest said. “He just backed up a lot of upperclassmen last year and didn’t get a lot of opportunities, but when he did, he did very well for us.”

Phoenix

Senior QB/FS Justin Wilcox played receiver and free safety last season, making 23 tackles (two for loss), but he’s competing with classmate Eli Page to replace two-year starter Zach Dungey (1,159 yards, 10 touchdowns) at quarterback.

GREATER OREGON LEAGUE

Baker

Junior RB/LB Gauge Bloomer was a first-team all-league selection on both sides of the ball last season, rushing for a team-high 713 yards and six touchdowns on 156 carries. “He’s a tough, downhill runner, one of the hardest-working players on the team,” Bulldogs coach Jason Ramos said. “He’s a workhorse who will get the bulk of the carries the next two years.”

Burns

Senior WR/S Justin Winn has bulked up since last winter, when after earning first-team all-league honors at receiver (22 catches for 262 yards and a team-high five touchdowns) and honorable mention at outside linebacker (70 tackles, nine for loss), he won a state championship wrestling at 132 pounds. Burns coach Terry Graham plans to move him to safety this season, saying “he fits that mold perfectly.” He’ll also serve as QB Jaden Tiller’s primary backup, but he’s a much better fit at receiver. “He understands what he has to do to run routes,” Graham said.

La Grande

Junior RB/LB Brody MacMillan, an honorable mention all-league selection last season at outside linebacker, has become one of the team leaders during the pandemic, being voted team captain and, as Tigers coach Rich McIlmoil put it, “taking the reins for us off and on the field. He’s really passionate about the game and always wants to learn. He’s just a really tenacious, physical young player.”

McLoughlin

Junior TE/LB Mikey Doherty is on the move under first-year coach Jorge Estrada, shifting from the interior offensive line and defensive end to positions where his athleticism will be of better use. “He’s gotten stronger and has great hands,” Estrada said. “He’s just a great kid to coach — eager and a quick learner.”

Nyssa

Senior RB Caleb Benson took over for all-state back JoJo Sanchez (now at Idaho State) last season, and Nyssa’s rushing attack hardly missed a beat, with Benson named first-team all-league and all-state honorable mention. Willamette and College of Idaho have him on their radars. “He had limited reps behind JoJo, but last year, he just continued to flourish and had a great season,” coach Lee Long said. “If we do have a season, I think he should be the best running back on this side of the state.”

Ontario

A returning starter and three-year varsity contributor who earned all-league honorable mention on defense last season, senior TE/DL Ruben Chavez will be counted upon to provide leadership on a young team. “One of our toughest defenders, he plays with a nasty attitude,” Tigers coach Greg Simmons said. “He will be somebody on the offensive side that not only can block but will do great things with the ball in his hands.”

Vale

Junior WR/LB John Wolfe showed his versatility and athleticism on both sides of the ball last season, earning second-team all-league honors at linebacker (he had two interceptions) and honorable mention at receiver, where he caught 12 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns. “He will play all over the field,” coach Jeff Aldred said. 

Find our team-by-team previews for every 6A, 5A and 4A team here

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