Hillsboro could be the state’s youngest football team — for better or worse

By Mike Wilson

SBLive Oregon will break down every 6A, 5A and 4A team in the state leading up to the 2021 fall football season. Here’s our look at the Hillsboro Spartans of the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference West Division.

Photo by Taylor Balkom

HILLSBORO TEAM PAGE

HEAD COACH 

Dan Shuff, fourth season (12-12)

PAST 3 SEASONS

2021 (spring): 2-3 overall, 2-2 in NWOC West

2019: 6-4 overall, 4-2 in NWOC West (lost in first round)  

2018: 4-5 overall, 2-4 in NWOC West  

KEY PLAYERS DEPARTED 

RB/DE Slade Shufelt

RB/DE Adonai Nava-Perez

WR/DB Jackson Godsey

TE/DL Dillon Condit

OL/DL Mario Hernandez

WR Josiah Kuhlman

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Senior WR/S Michael Ellis

Ellis was Hillsboro’s leading tackler by a considerable margin through two games of the spring season, but he then suffered a season-ending injury. Trying to find the best place for him, the Spartans moved Ellis all over the field on defense in the spring before settling on safety, where he is the “security blanket,” Shuff said. A good all-around athlete, the 6-2 Ellis also wrestles and runs distances on the track team. “He’s a fun one to watch,” Shuff said.

Sophomore QB Calvin Perkins

Perkins was thrust into the starting quarterback spot midway through the Spartans’ Week 3 game at Scappoose when the starter was injured. Shuff is very encouraged by what Perkins can do. “The kid is a stud,” Shuff said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s smart, a coachable kid.” Though 5-feet-6, Perkins has what Shuff called a cannon for an arm. “He’s the guy we’re going to rely on for the majority of our offense,” Shuff said. Perkins played safety in the spring — “He never left the field for us last year as a freshman,” Shuff said — but he will get limited time on that side of the ball this season.  

Junior WR/DB Nahum Chavez

Chavez (6-1, 200 pounds) is among the Spartans’ leading returning tacklers and probably will play cornerback this season. On offense, Shuff said Chavez is projected to be the team’s go-to receiver, counted on to make big plays. “He’s a big, tall kid,” Shuff said. “Runs good routes, has good hands.”

Junior OL/DL Sebastian Echeverria

Echeverria’s tenure as starting center dates to his freshman season, when Hillsboro made the OSAA Class 5A playoffs. The Spartans will lean on the third-year starter for stability and smarts. “He’s going to be the rock of our offensive line this year,” Shuff said. “Other than him, the rest of the line is going to be pretty young.” Though Echeverria has limited experience playing on the defensive line, he will be counted on there, too, to help replace the losses of Slade Shufelt and Dillon Conditt. “He works hard,” Shuff said in praise of Echeverria. “He’s been in the weight room all summer.”

Sophomore OL/DL Greg Wallace

Much like Perkins, Wallace began starting midway through his freshman season and, Shuff said, never looked back. “He’s a good young talent, has really good feet, a super coachable kid,” Shuff said. “He works super hard.” Wallace and Echeverria are both about 6 feet and 200 pounds. “Both he and Sebastian aren’t the biggest kids, but they’re going to give us everything they’ve got,” Shuff said.

Sophomore WR/S Dylan Ott

After starting some games as a freshman, Ott is expected to be a big contributor this season. Shuff said the coaching staff likes Ott at running back, but he might provide more value as a slot receiver, where his shiftiness and speed can be advantages in the passing game and in fly sweeps. Ott will stay busy on defense, too. “He’s probably not going to leave the field as a sophomore,” Shuff said.

OUTLOOK

There is no sugarcoating the Spartans’ youth. Sophomores are projected to play big roles all over the field. The positive side is that a lot of those sophomores got varsity action in the spring. They’ve made the transition to the big-time environment already.

“We kind of expected we’d play a lot of them as sophomores; we didn’t expect to play a lot of them as freshmen,” Shuff said.

“It was nice to get some experience in the spring, so they’re not going to be thrown into the fire this year. They have experience. That sophomore group has been working pretty much all summer getting ready.”

Muddled as it was by the quirks and challenges of playing during a pandemic, the spring season offers little insight into the coming campaign for most football teams. That certainly holds with Hillsboro, which won two games (opponents’ combined record: 1-11) and lost three (opponents’ combined record: 11-7). Injuries cost the Spartans their top tackler and their starting quarterback.

“Spring turned into survival mode,” Shuff said.

On the other hand, the Spartans are only six games removed from an OSAA Class 5A playoff appearance.

“We’re hoping to get back to where we were in 2019,” Shuff said. “It’s going to be hard, obviously, with the young talent that we have. But it’s a good chance to build for the future.”

The Spartans open their Northwest Oregon Conference West schedule at home against St. Helens (one of the teams they defeated in the spring). Hillsboro doesn’t face any of the generally acknowledged conference favorites — Wilsonville, Canby, Scappoose — until Week 5.

If the Spartans stay healthy and their young players can continually develop and improve during the season, a winning record in conference play doesn’t look out of the question.

COACH SAID 

“I think we’ll still be battling for a playoff spot. If we stay healthy, we should be able to compete with a lot of teams in our league.” — Dan Shuff

MORE TEAM PREVIEWS

2021 SPRING FOOTBALL

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