Oregon high school football preview: One big question for every 4A team

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

Here is one big question for every Class 4A team in the state.

Find each team’s complete breakdown at this link

Sweet Home photo by Leon Neuschwander

COWAPA LEAGUE

Astoria

Can the Fishermen find the offense needed to avoid another winless season?

In Astoria’s 100 previous seasons, it had gone winless only four times before last season, when the Fishermen scored just 99 points — fourth-fewest among 4A schools — in finishing 0-8. For them to avoid back-to-back winless seasons for the first time, they’ll need improvement on that side of the ball — and that starts under center, where three-year starter Bo Williams can make a big difference.

Banks

What’s next for a program that made back-to-back finals?

The Braves graduated nine all-league standouts, including the offensive and defensive players of the year, from last season’s No. 1 seed that fell one win short of consecutive 4A titles. Don’t expect much of a drop for the program, however. They have three juniors — RB/DB Jamar Flippen, TE/LB Charlie White and QB Cooper Gobel — who should form the nucleus of another state championship contender.

Milwaukie 

How much will the move to 4A help the Mustangs?

Coach Colin Schaeffer committed to a long-term rebuild when he took over three years ago, and the timing of the drop from 5A to 4A couldn’t have been better. The roster is comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors who will have a chance to develop at a level more suited to Milwaukie’s pool of available athletes. The future looks bright for the program.

Seaside

Will the spring 2021 campaign be a springboard for fall success?

The Seagulls will have only three or four seniors starting on each side of the ball this season, creating plenty of opportunities for youngsters to gain experience in anticipation of a fall season. Juniors such as QB Carson Kawasoe and TE/LB Lawson Talamantez will be counted upon not only this spring but six months down the road as well.

Tillamook

Can the Cheesemakers maintain the momentum from their 2019 playoff run?

They had gone 20 years between playoff victories before winning their play-in game against Elmira, then stunning No. 2 seed Mazama on the road in the first round before losing a wild quarterfinal matchup against The Dalles. Many of the stars of that run were freshmen and sophomores, so this revival could last a while.

Valley Catholic

Can new QB Beck Blau lead the Valiants to a winning record?

Blau has played all over the field during his first three seasons and could have a collegiate future as a kicker, but this spring, he’s being asked to take over at quarterback for three-year starter Daniel Pruitt. As coach Nick Hegwood said, “Sometimes when you don’t have a quarterback, the best thing you can do is put your best athlete out there and see what happens.”

TRI-VALLEY CONFERENCE

Crook County

What is a realistic goal for the Cowboys this spring?

Coach Ryan Cochran wasn’t sure how to answer that question during the heart of the pandemic shutdown, but a realistic goal with how the schedule sets up would be to finish above .500 in Tri-Valley Conference play. Their three road games are against 2019 playoff qualifiers, and if the Cowboys can knock off one of them while holding serve at home against Molalla and Madras, that would give them a winning season for the first time since 2015.

Estacada

Can a young squad continue the Rangers’ streak of winning seasons?

Estacada has finished above .500 every season since 2015. The Rangers have only five seniors on this season’s squad, meaning they’ll count on some youngsters to step into critical roles this spring. If they come through, it’ll be six consecutive winning seasons and counting as they head into the fall campaign.

Gladstone

Will a Gladiator win TVC defensive player of the year honors again?

A Gladstone defender has won the award each of the past two seasons, and if senior linebacker Jude Ashpole has another season like his 2019 campaign — when he was second-team all-state — he could make it three in a row for the Gladiators.

Madras

What should the expectations be for the White Buffaloes moving back to 4A?

The White Buffaloes made the 3A state playoffs each of the past two seasons to end a six-year postseason drought and finished with winning records in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1996-98. They graduated 10 all-league selections from last season’s squad but have several small-college prospects to build around, meaning a third consecutive plus-.500 record isn’t out of the question.

Molalla

What does the move from the Cowapa to the Tri-Valley mean for the Indians?

It’s been a tough three-year stretch for Molalla, which is 7-19 during that time and won just one game in each of its two seasons in the Cowapa. The Indians are back in the TVC playing natural rivals, and that’s probably the most significant benefit of the move. 

North Marion

What can the Huskies do for an encore?

The Huskies last season won their first outright league championship since 1982 (they shared an Oregon West title in 2016). They underwent a coaching change during the long offseason — Grant Carmichael becomes the fourth coach in the past four seasons at North Marion — and must replace 10 all-TVC players, but they have two-way all-state senior Tanner Saucedo to build a title defense around. Plus, Gladstone and Estacada have to travel to Aurora for their league games. Back-to-back titles are definitely not out of reach.

OREGON WEST CONFERENCE

Cascade

Can the Cougars give David Kanoff a proper sendoff?

Kanoff is the only senior in the program, a year after the Cougars had 11 seniors earn all-conference recognition as part of an Oregon West championship. They might be the youngest team in the state, but they still have the talent to mount a successful title defense while still being poised to contend for a 2021 state title in the fall.

Newport

Is Markus Everitt due a sophomore slump as a starting quarterback?

Everitt started about half the games last season as a freshman. Now, he’s had to quickly learn a new offense installed by first-year coach Dan Schaffeld, although Schaffeld praises his ability to pick up the schemes without too much difficulty. Everitt also can lean on veteran skill players such as senior Mitchell Johnson and junior Kaden Bruns.

Stayton

Can the Eagles really rely upon sophomores to remain a top team in the Oregon West?

They’re looking at a couple of 10th-graders — Eli Brown and Cody Leming — to replace OWC offensive player of the year Ben Rash at quarterback and two others — TE Brock Hubert and WR Wyatt Connally — as key pieces in the passing game. If they can quickly make the transition to playing under the Friday night lights, the Eagles once again will be one of the top teams in the conference.

Sweet Home

Who steps up to become the leader on defense?

The Huskies graduated 10 players on defense who earned all-Oregon West recognition, so they need quite a few players to fill critical roles on that side of the ball. One candidate appears to be senior LB Cade Gaskey, who besides being the lead back on offense has the nose for the football needed of a linebacker.

Woodburn

Is the third time the charm for new coach Ken Mace?

Mace has had head coaching stops at La Grande and Marsing, Idaho, compiling a 3-21 record. Each time, he’s stepped into a challenging situation, and that’s what he’s facing again with a Woodburn program that has one playoff appearance since 1973 and one winning season since 1991.

SKY EM LEAGUE

Cottage Grove

What can new coach Joe Polamalu accomplish this season?

Because of low numbers, the Lions opted to play a JV-only schedule during this shortened spring season. They’re coming off a winless 2019 season that followed a playoff appearance in 2018. Polamalu has built programs at Douglas and Sandy, but this might be his toughest challenge yet. This season will be about keeping morale high with the players who turned out while building ties with would-be players who could be convinced to join the team in the fall.

Elmira

Can the Eagles find the consistency they lacked in 2019?

Their inconsistent play cost them in the second half of several games, including a play-in loss to Tillamook that kept them from getting back to the state playoffs after a six-year absence. Coach Justin Peeler has installed a new I-formation offense that will be tested in road games at Marshfield and North Bend and a Week 4 matchup with Marist Catholic. He hopes, though, that it will provide more balance to the attack and bring out the best in his team.

Marist Catholic

Can anyone stop the Spartans’ high-powered offense?

The Spartans might have the best running back-receiver combination in Class 4A, with two all-state receivers in seniors Hagan Stephenson and Lucas Patterson and an all-state back in junior Lucas Tuski. The team’s schedule is loaded — the Spartans open with 5A playoff qualifier North Bend and play 5A semifinalist Silverton and 4A playoff teams Cascade and Marshfield — but if they get solid quarterback play from whoever takes over for departed league co-offensive player of the year Max Campbell, they’ll be extremely difficult to beat.

Marshfield

Are the Pirates a season away from being something special?

They won’t be too shabby this spring, but they certainly have the look of a team that could contend for a state title during a fall 2021 season. Junior QB Dominic Montiel will be a three-year starter by then, and junior LB Ezra Waterman will have established himself as a favorite for 4A defensive player of the year. With the young talent the Pirates are putting on the field, Marshfield should remain competitive for both of 2021’s seasons.

North Eugene

Can the Highlanders turn a 7-on-7 title into the start of something bigger?

When the OSAA pushed the football season to the spring, North Eugene participated in a 7-on-7 league against the larger 6A and 5A schools in the Eugene area — and won it. For a program coming off a 1-8 campaign in 5A and dropping to 4A for competitive reasons, that meant a lot. With a strong sophomore class set to take the field for the first time this spring, the Highlanders should be able to build off their passing league title and transform themselves into a 4A contender sooner rather than later.

SKYLINE CONFERENCE

Henley

Can the seniors set the tone for the program’s future?

The Hornets have a small but talented senior class that coach Alex Stork is counting upon to pass the torch after helping the program rebound from a two-win season in 2018 to win seven games in 2019 and advance to the state playoffs. Avenging a last-minute loss to archrival Mazama in Week 1 would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Hidden Valley

Is Nate Vidlak ready to take the reins from his brother at quarterback?

The plan had been for Sam Vidlak to lead the Mustangs on another long playoff run — and maybe even a state title in a triumphant return to the 4A ranks — before departing for Oregon State and handing over the quarterback job to younger brother Nate. The pandemic accelerated those plans when Sam graduated in December and headed to Corvallis. At least Nate’s transition will be eased by having a deep receiving corps led by OSU-bound senior Jeremiah Noga and Western Oregon signee Lawrence Matusik.

Klamath Union

Can the offensive line carry a young group of skill-position players?

The Pelicans return two all-conference linemen in senior OT Carson Endacott and OG Donovan DeLosReyes to start alongside two of coach Tom Smith’s sons, senior Dawson and sophomore Carson. Their presence will allow newcomers such as the Dutra twins, juniors Jaymus and Silas, to feel comfortable as they get accustomed to the Friday night lights.

Mazama

Will the Vikings show off Tristan Lee’s arm more this spring?

The senior quarterback didn’t throw the ball much last season in the Vikings’ veer option (44 passes in nine games), but he still won Skyline offensive player of the year honors, and his potential was enough for Eastern Oregon to sign him for next fall. It would not be surprising to see Mazama open the playbook a little more this spring to allow Lee to put the ball in the air more often and take advantage of that potential.

North Valley

How crucial is this season to the Knights’ future?

Coach Neil DeForrest fretted in January that if the season were canceled, he’d have a team that looked good on paper going into the fall 2021 campaign but one that would be paper-thin in varsity experience. The five (or six) games North Valley will get this spring should serve as a springboard to the fall, when a strong senior class led by QB Jaydon Twedell and the Comyford brothers will lead the way.

Phoenix

What will a successful season look like for the Pirates?

All across the state, you’ll hear stories of how grateful and fortunate players and coaches feel about getting a season after all the uncertainty of the past six months. However, considering everything that Phoenix has undergone over the past year — on top of the pandemic, the community dealt with the Almeda fire that raged through the town of around 4,500 people just south of Medford, devastating families and making many instantly homeless — just getting to play six games and build a foundation for the fall 2021 season will be more than enough to constitute a successful season.

GREATER OREGON LEAGUE

Baker

Are the Bulldogs the best team in Eastern Oregon?

With eight starters back on defense and seven on offense from a team that reached the quarterfinals and whose four losses were to opponents with a combined 34-2 record, Baker certainly can make that argument. Senior Kaden Myer won the starting quarterback job and has some talented skill players surrounding him, while the defense returns seven players who earned all-GOL recognition.

La Grande

How much of a drop will there be from last season’s “golden generation”?

The Tigers’ 2019 state championship team was a once-in-a-generation group to come through the school. They graduated 22 of the 35 players on that roster, returning just three seniors but boasting a loaded junior class and a strong sophomore contingent, so perhaps the next title-winning generation will come along a lot sooner than 45 years this time.

McLoughlin

What can the Pioneers expect in their return from a one-year stint as an independent?

They had around 25 players turn out under first-year coach Jorge Estrada, who has spent the past few years building the youth program in Milton-Freewater and knows what’s coming through the pipeline. However, McLoughlin rejoins one of the state’s most difficult leagues, with defending state champion La Grande and adding a trio of 3A state playoff teams in the 4A/3A hybrid. Don’t expect miracles, but you can expect a solid start to a rebuilding effort that could pay dividends in a few years.

Ontario

Can the Tigers put the nightmare of 2019 behind them?

Between having a coach dismissed just three weeks into the season to having injuries decimate the program to the point that it turned down a spot in the state play-in round — and then dealing with a worldwide pandemic — Ontario is another program that can use all the good news it can get during the spring season. With Greg Simmons stepping into the coaching breach, the future looks much brighter already.

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

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