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

By Mike Wilson

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.

Aaron Brown (Banks) photo by Leon Neuschwander

COWAPA LEAGUE

Astoria

Can generally untested front lines find their rhythm quickly?

Legend Tuimato, a senior two-way lineman, is a player opponents will have to take note of. But overall, the players on the offensive and defensive fronts will need to grow up in a hurry. “Our young linemen are going to have to become varsity-ready in a short amount of time,” coach Howard Rub said. “As cliche as it is, games are won up front.”

Banks

Who will emerge as the leaders on an offensive line that lost five seniors?

Seniors Tayler Littlejohn and Braydon Ball figure to be the alphas on this season’s line. Reflecting on replacing five seniors, coach Cole Linehan said, “That comes with its challenges. It’s going to be fun to see guys step up.”

Milwaukie

Can the Mustangs have an effective two-dimensional offense?

Junior quarterback Kaden Harris has a strong arm and this season is expected to be given a full tank of gas in driving the Mustangs’ offense. Seniors Brody Thomson and Sean Lachapelle figure to be among Harris’ most frequent targets. Senior Zane Garvey and 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore Larenzo Dukes will be relied on in the running game.

Seaside

How will returners who got their first substantial taste of varsity experience in the spring grow from last season?

For one game in the spring, the Seagulls were reduced to 22 players in uniform. Younger players were thrown into the crucible of varsity competition sooner than they might normally have been. “We played a lot of young kids last year,” coach Aaron Tanabe said. How they benefit from that experience could have a large impact on how Seaside fares this season.

Tillamook

How far will the offensive line take the Cheesemakers?  

Four players up front will have at least two years of starting experience, including Aiden Johnson, who is a fourth-year starter on offense. The protection that line provides will have a huge say in how well Tillamook meets its goal of improving the passing game. The Cheesemakers reached the quarterfinals in 2019 and aim to make an impact in the postseason again this season.

Valley Catholic

How will the Valiants exploit the versatility of senior Luke Howes?

First-year coach Michael Snyder calls Howes “Mr. Everything,” in recognition of his multiple talents. Listed as a wide receiver/defensive back on the spring roster, Howes will have the ball in his hands a lot regardless of where he lines up for the Valiants of Beaverton.

TRI-VALLEY CONFERENCE

Crook County

What can the Cowboys’ running game achieve behind an experienced offensive line?

Easton Perrin is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior who will be a third-year starter on the offensive line. Senior Jacob Vanleuven is projected to start on the offensive line as well, to complement his play as probably the team’s best defensive lineman. Senior running back Triston Fischer is described as a game-breaker, and rugged senior Brayden Duke will play fullback for the Cowboys of Prineville. A running game with those components should take some of the pressure off Crook County’s quarterback, who will be in his first season as a varsity starter.

Estacada

Can Estacada challenge for the OSAA Class 4A championship?

The Rangers scored 39 points per game in the spring, fifth-most in Class 4A. They might be more prolific this season. “We bring back our entire offensive line and most of our skill guys,” coach Andy Mott said. “Our kids have a lot of confidence.” The offensive line is spearheaded by guards Devin Gotchall and Dominic Nacoste. “Our physicality is going to be the strength of our team,” Mott said. “We’ll come out and punch you in the mouth.”

Gladstone

Are the Gladiators, who return plenty of valuable players from a 5-1 spring season, state title contenders?

We should know by Week 3. Gladstone opens at Banks in Week 1, and in Week 3, the Gladiators travel to Eugene to tackle Marist Catholic. Gladstone won’t have to win either of those stern tests to have legitimate aspirations of a state championship, but remaining competitive against both would make a strong statement.

Madras

Will the White Buffaloes reap the benefits of starting so many underclassmen in the spring?

Madras started eight sophomores in the spring as the program’s numbers went down. Now juniors, those players have been indoctrinated to the varsity environment and should continue to develop and improve — something the team as a whole will need to do to reach its goals. “We want to compete in the league,” coach Kurt Taylor said. “I want to make the playoffs, in the top two or three spots. That’s very manageable.”

Molalla

Is improved turnout a sign of things to come?

At the end of the spring season, Molalla was down to 19 healthy players. As preseason practice for the fall approached, Molalla had 42 players. Better depth should lead to more players seeing the field should lead to more stamina late in games should lead to being more competitive more often.

North Marion

Can the fall season be more than a transition season for the Huskies and first-year coach Michael Bicknell?

Bicknell’s hire as varsity coach at the Aurora school wasn’t completed until August. He has installed a new offense and a new defense and said he wants to see players improve on a daily basis. “Good things are going to happen,” he said. “If we can tackle and if we can run the ball on offense, we should be OK.”

Cascade Cougars photo by Leon Neuschwander

OREGON WEST CONFERENCE

Cascade

What’s going to stand in the way of the Cougars winning the OSAA Class 4A championship?

There might be nothing between Cascade and the state title. The Cougars of Turner lost one senior from the spring season and are described by coach Brandon Bennett as talented and athletic. “They know what the end goal is,” Bennett said. “They’ve been putting in the work. They also know only one team gets to win it.”

Newport

What to expect from junior quarterback Markus Everitt in his second season starting?

A three-sport athlete, Everitt draws raves for his football IQ, his athleticism and his leadership. “The guys really respect and listen to him,” coach Dan Schaffeld said. “He’s a culture guy. We love having him around.”

Stayton

What can the Eagles do with size and speed among their pass-catching assets?

Brock Hubert, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior, and Jonathan Daniels, a 6-4 senior, are expected to play at tight end. Dynamic senior Nick Frith and explosive junior Travis King are among the wide receivers. Whoever plays quarterback for the Eagles shouldn’t lack for targets.

Sweet Home

With a first-year coach and a new starter at quarterback, what can the Huskies achieve?

“Our goal is to compete for that league title and hopefully get a playoff berth and build a foundation for where we want to go,” coach Ryan Adams said. “I’m not going to say we’re a state championship team, but we’re definitely a playoff contender.” One source of optimism is depth on the defensive line. Adams said the coaches have 10 players they trust to get the job done. That could mean rotating players in and out with an eye toward staying strong in the fourth quarter.

Woodburn

What can Tómas Veliz do as a senior?

As a junior, Veliz was an all-conference receiver. This season, he is ticketed for a running back position, but the key thing will be to get the ball in his hands frequently. “We’ve got to find a way to get him the ball as much as we can,” coach Ken Mace said. “He runs. He catches. Just a good all-around athlete.” Veliz also plays at defensive back and is the team’s kicker.

SKY EM LEAGUE

Cottage Grove

What will the Lions’ offense look like?

Cottage Grove will operate out of a spread with junior Brayden Crump at the wheel, but nuances will be adjusted to suit the personnel of this particular team. “I’ve always been able to be flexible with the personnel that we have year in and year out,” coach Joe Polamalu said. “We’ll continue to do that.”

Elmira

Based on dimensions alone, is there a more intriguing Class 4A player than Jacob Janezcko?

Janezcko was listed at 6-feet-7 and 260 pounds as a sophomore. Coach Justin Peeler plans to get the most out of the talented junior on the left side of the offensive line. “He’s a kid who is growing into his body right now as a junior,” Peeler said. “He’ll be nice for us to have off the edge as well.”

Marist Catholic

How will the Spartans fare in their transition to Carter Greene as starting quarterback?

Don’t expect the Spartans’ offense to miss a beat. Greene nearly won the quarterback job in the spring, and Marist Catholic had several packages with Greene under center to take advantage of his athleticism. This season, he will be the full-time quarterback for the Spartans of Eugene and could add an entirely new dimension to the offense. “Carter’s an athlete — there’s no doubt about it,” coach Frank Geske said. “Carter has got a load of talent. I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”

Marshfield

Should we just pencil in Marshfield as one of the teams in the OSAA Class 4A final?

The Pirates of Coos Bay return quarterback Dom Montiel, who led Class 4A in passing yards and touchdown passes last season. Key players on defense, such as senior linebacker Ezra Waterman and senior defensive back DJ Daugherty, also return. The key might be establishing a more consistent running game to create a more balanced offense than they had last season. “It’s going to be about coming together as a team,” coach John Lemmons said. “Buying into the team atmosphere, putting the time in and working hard.”

North Eugene

Can the Highlanders’ defense be as strong as it was in the spring?

Discount the season opener against Class 5A Willamette, and North Eugene allowed 13.3 points per game. This season, defensive back Nolan Wyers returns for his senior season and might be capable of erasing every opponent’s best receiver. Seniors Zion Puha and Michael Warren return at linebacker.

SKYLINE CONFERENCE

Henley

The Hornets lost 10 all-conference players; what’s next?

Henley of Klamath Falls will be short on experience but long on athletic ability. The Hornets showed that athleticism during a summer team camp, where they held their own against Grants Pass, an OSAA Class  6A playoff team in 2019, and 2019 Class 5A runner-up Crater. “We have a lot of guys with playmaking ability,” coach Alex Stork said.

Hidden Valley

For all of the focus on the Mustangs’ offense, is their defense the stronger unit?

Hidden Valley of Grants Pass finished 4-0 last season partly on the back of an offense led by quarterback Nate Vidlak. Perhaps underappreciated was that Hidden Valley allowed 6.3 points per game in the spring. Linebacker Blake Schubert and nose tackle Chris Woods return for their senior seasons, and they and others are armed with the experience of last season’s lockdown defense.

Klamath Union

How does having a young roster affect the Pelicans’ goals?

Underclassmen might make up more than half of the 22 offensive and defensive starting positions. “This year’s team goal is to get better every game and every week,” coach Tom Smith said. “The kids are pretty committed, and it’s a fun group to coach.” Junior center/defensive lineman Hayden Smith and senior twins Silas Dutra (quarterback) and Jaymus Dutra (wide receiver) are among the upperclassmen the Pelicans will rely most heavily on.

Mazama

With a largely made-over roster, can the Vikings sustain their success?

Mazama won the 4A Showcase championship game in the spring, capping a 6-0 season, with huge contributions from now-departed players such as wide receiver Cole Brosterhous, quarterback Tristan Lee and offensive lineman Dominic Hankins. Coach Vic Lease thinks the experience of the perfect spring season will have lingering effects this fall — to the good. “We need to adjust to the talent we have, but if we do, we will win our eighth conference championship, and we will beat some teams that people think we shouldn’t,” Lease said. “Our kids believe now, and the power of belief is everything.”

Mazama Vikings photo by Leon Neuschwander

North Valley

Can the Knights capitalize on their spring season?

Even judged against the baseline of playing during a pandemic, North Valley’s spring season was an outlier. The team started the season with 27 players — three of whom were seniors. The Knights of Grants Pass used their four games (a shortened season was shortened further owing to a 10-day quarantine at the start of the season) to mix and match personnel at various positions to evaluate who can help the team make a run at one of the Skyline Conference’s three playoff berths this fall. “A realistic goal for the season is the playoffs,” coach Neil DeForrest said. “This is a great group of kids to coach, and the experience gained last year will lead to a more experienced, confident team this year.”

Phoenix

Are better days in store for Phoenix?

Well, it would be hard for things to get worse, given what Phoenix has dealt with, dating to the Almeda fire. The Pirates struggled mightily on the field in the spring, and first-year coach Michael Robinson II hopes to establish a foundation for the future. “My goal for Phoenix Pirates football is to be extremely competitive,” Robinson II said. “I believe the season will take care of itself, one game at a time. So far, this summer has shown the athletes are bonded with one another, support one another, and fight through adversity with a great attitude.”

GREATER OREGON LEAGUE (4A/3A)

Baker

What can sophomore Paul Hobson do in his first full season as a starting quarterback?

Hobson’s stats from his freshman season weren’t great (seven interceptions and two touchdown passes), but he showed glimpses of the skills needed to be a dynamic quarterback in coach Jason Ramos’ system. “We are counting on Paul to improve his decision-making, leadership and maturity,” Ramos said. “He’s athletic and has a good arm and good football IQ.”

Burns

After playing two games in a junior varsity schedule, what is the Hilanders’ outlook this season?

Burns had fewer than 25 players on the roster in the spring, but there were 30 players from the school at a camp at Eastern Oregon University in July. Many of the upperclassmen who received little varsity action during the team’s OSAA 2019 playoff run and then were limited to two games in the spring gained valuable experience at the camp in La Grande. “We have a lot of juniors who are going to be starters who have never had varsity experience,” coach Terry Graham said. “We’re going to be pretty young.”

La Grande

Could a junior-heavy roster move the calendar up a year and help the Tigers challenge earlier than some expected?

The senior class includes several top-notch players, including Brody MacMillan and Braden Carson, but a 20-strong junior class has the Tigers’ coaching staff excited. As it stands now, La Grande doesn’t have any nonleague games against other contenders to assess where things stand. “We still have much to work on, but I feel confident in our team and know they will rise to the challenge of this season,” coach Rich McIlmoil said.

McLoughlin

Will the Pioneers’ point suppression continue to be all or nothing?

In the three games the Pioneers won in the spring, they allowed zero points. In the three games they lost, they allowed an average of more than 42 points. If the defense can keep games in hand and the offense can find its rhythm more consistently, look for McLoughlin to play more meaningful games this season.

Nyssa

Will the Bulldogs develop enough depth in case injuries strike?

Even though Nyssa lost 15 seniors from the spring season, first-year coach Lance Lovitt had confidence in the first-string players heading into preseason practices. “My biggest concern is to get our No. 2s ready to back them up in case someone goes down,” Lovitt said. Nyssa has made the OSAA playoffs every season since 2010, and to extend the streak — with only two berths available from the GOL hybrid this fall — the Bulldogs will need at least a split of their annual rivalry games against Vale in the Black and Blue Bowl and at Burns.

Ontario

Besides senior Manny Ramirez, whom can the Tigers count on for effective play up front?

Ramirez is a 6-foot-2, 235-pound guard and defensive end who might be the best lineman east of U.S. 97. But after him there’s not a lot for the Tigers to bank on — yet. “It’s about him growing into a leadership role, grabbing his teammates and bringing them up to his level,” coach Greg Simmons said. “He’s a physical, strong kid who understands our offense and defense well enough to put his teammates in the best positions.”

Vale

Can the Vikings turn the close calls into wins this season?

Vale’s 2-3 record in the spring doesn’t do the Vikings justice. The three losses were by a combined nine points — including a one-point loss to Class 4A La Grande. The Vikings allowed 16 points per game. This season, the defense will have seven new starters, but there is excitement about some newcomers. “We should be competing for a league championship with the goal to make a deep run in the playoffs,” coach Jeff Aldred said. “We need to stay healthy and improve week to week with our tough schedule.”

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