Oregon high school football preview: One big question for every 6A 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 6A team in the state.

Jesuit Crusaders photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

PORTLAND INTERSCHOLASTIC LEAGUE

Cleveland

Can having the head coach in the school building increase turnout?

This is the first season in at least the past three that Cleveland’s head football coach will be a teacher in the building. Ken Duilio coached in 2019 as an avocation while a Portland police officer, and Bill Smith coached the Warriors in the spring season during the pandemic. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Cleveland started preseason practices with three seniors. First-year coach Trevor Smith, who will teach strength training and physical education, referred to Cleveland’s enrollment and pondered what the program could look like if he could recruit the hallways well enough to get 10 percent of the boys in the school out for football.

Franklin

How well will the Lightning measure up to stiffer competition?

Not to take anything away from the Lightning’s 4-2 record in the spring, but the four teams they beat combined for three wins. This season, after opening with nonleague games against Class 5A South Albany and Oregon City (each was winless in the spring), Franklin plays Roosevelt, Grant and Lincoln in succession. How the Lightning hold up against those three will provide a better measuring stick of where Franklin stands in the PIL and in Class 6A.

Grant

Will the Generals win a playoff game (or games) this season?

It’s probably a safe assumption that most observers would predict that Grant will secure one of the PIL’s three guaranteed spots in the OSAA Class 6A playoffs. The bigger question is, what can the Generals do once they get there? Grant is seeking at least a share of its third consecutive PIL title and hopes to get over the hump of the first round. The Generals were less than a minute from a first-round win in 2019, leading Liberty 49-42 and having the Falcons at their 15 — only to see Liberty score, intercept a pass and kick a go-ahead field goal with 1.9 seconds left for a 52-49 win.

Jefferson

Could a Democrats team with less hype about recruits produce more wins than last season’s team?

At times leading up to and during the spring season, it seemed as if the potential college landing spots of some Jefferson players grabbed more interest than what those players were doing on the football field. The most prominent recruit, Damir Collins, got hurt during the season and wasn’t as effective as hoped, no doubt hurting the Democrats’ quest. A high-profile class of 2022 recruit, Lamar Washington, isn’t playing football for Jefferson this season (but is still an ESPN three-star player). Yes, the Democrats have Trejon Williams, who has committed to Oregon, so the offer/consider/accept cycle still affects Jefferson, but this season could result in a better winning percentage than the .400 the Democrats achieved in the spring.

Lincoln

How will the Cardinals handle the late transition to a new head coach?

Lincoln wasn’t alone in making an 11th-hour head coaching change. First-year coach Matt Caruso is revamping the Cardinals’ defense and doing a partial revision of the offense. It doesn’t take long into a conversation with Caruso to understand that he is an effective communicator. But his confidence in the team’s ability to adjust is founded largely on the players. “What’s great about Lincoln is that because it’s such a scholastically demanding institution, that when you give these kids new information to digest, they’re able to do so,” Caruso said. “They’re smart kids. They’re all critical thinkers. That really, really helps in being able to transfer knowledge.”

McDaniel

Can the Mountain Lions’ veterans convert experience into victories?

Coach Joe Salvador hailed the experience on his roster. Many seniors are third-year starters. This is their final go-round, their last chance as high school football players. Competing for an OSAA Class 6A playoff spot would appear to be a reach, but staying competitive in every game and plucking a few wins would make for close to a storybook ending.

Roosevelt

Having Imarion Kelly and Lindell Betts healthy will be huge for the offense, but can the Roughriders stop anybody?

Roosevelt gave up nearly 37 points per game in the spring. Three of the Roughriders’ six opponents set or matched their season scoring high against Roosevelt. Maybe Kelly and receivers such as Jackson Flatner (five touchdown catches in the spring opener) can simply outscore opponents, but better point suppression would help the overall cause.

Wells

Even if the Guardians do get better every day, will they be able to match the team’s two wins from the spring?

Before the season, second-year coach Keith Bennett said, “Our only goal is we just want to get better today than we were yesterday.” The increase in turnout for football ranging from the youth program to the varsity bodes well for Wells. As for on-field results this season, a nonleague schedule of McMinnville and Class 5A Dallas could leave the Guardians entering PIL play 0-2 and needing to pick whatever fruit is available against league rivals.

METRO LEAGUE

Aloha

Can the Warriors keep up their offensive production?

Aloha was second in the Metro League in scoring in the spring after leading the league with 45.8 points per game in 2019 (including playoffs). Last season’s offense relied heavily on seniors, and the Warriors will have to replace eight starters.

Beaverton

Who will be the Beavers’ No. 1 running back?

Beaverton lost Koffi Kouame, whose family moved to West Linn. Kouame was the only Beaverton player to rush for 100 yards last season, so his absence presents a puzzle. Heading into preseason practices, Jeremy Flaxel, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior, and junior James Coats (5-11, 185) — whose six carries in the spring are the most among Beaverton’s returning running backs — looked like the strongest contenders.

Jesuit

Can the Crusaders score more points than in the spring?

Jesuit averaged 13.6 points per game, and that’s not going to win you many games. There is confidence in a young offensive line (two starters return), and Michael Rincon (718 yards) was among Class 6A leaders in rushing, but the Crusaders will have an unproven quarterback.

Mountainside

Every player who caught a touchdown pass last season is gone; who will be the No. 1 receiving target?

The answer appears to be senior Keenan Speer-Johnson, who transferred from Tigard over the summer. He and senior quarterback Brian Mannion used 7-on-7 events to hone their connection. “Each game, you could see them becoming increasingly comfortable with each other,” coach John Mannion said. “Keenan’s obviously a talented football player. He’s a playmaker.”

Southridge

How quickly can an almost all-new offensive line find cohesion?

The Skyhawks hope senior center Danny Battilega, at 6-feet-3, 310 pounds, builds off a spring season in which he became a full-time starter. The other starters in charge of protecting senior quarterback JC Klee have less experience and are less proven. “We have good size up front, and a lot of our success will be up to how fast some of our younger linemen progress as they transition to varsity football,” coach Kevin Bickler said.

Sunset

Who will succeed Kyle Jaekel at quarterback?

It’s hard to imagine a repeat of the ball protection the Apollos’ quarterbacks turned in last season, when Jaekel threw 120 times without an interception (and had 16 touchdowns). Seniors Jackson Knight and Grady Newsom and junior Jeff McMillan — who all have different aspects to their game — entered the jamboree in competition for the starting job.

Westview

The Wildcats have Division I prospects, but what can the team achieve in this high school season?

Senior wide receiver Darrius Clemons, senior running back Aaron Jones and junior quarterback Sam Leavitt are well-known to the self-professed recruiting experts and talent evaluators, but the success of the Wildcats’ season probably lies somewhere other than these highly skilled skill-position players. Campbell Sager, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior who got varsity experience in the spring, figures to anchor the offensive line. Players such as senior Bryce Cordell (6-3, 300) and junior Jackson Sager (6-2, 290) will need to blossom in starting roles if Westview’s skill players are to have time and space to show what they can do.

Campbell Sager (Westview) photo by Taylor Balkom

PACIFIC CONFERENCE

Century

Can Century compensate for what it lost on defense?

Brody Reese, a unanimous first-team all-conference selection who headed to the University of Washington, and Va’atausili “Tau” Tofaeono were the leaders on defense as Century allowed 17.2 points per game in the spring. With them gone, adhering to the Jaguars’ system could be more important than ever. “We must make sure that we are disciplined and stick to our keys to be successful,” coach Danny Kernan said.

Glencoe

Will Royce Fasel stay at quarterback the entire season?

The Crimson Tide moved Fasel from running back to quarterback midway through the spring season and converted the offense to a two-tight end, power running attack. Getting the ball in the hands of the player widely regarded as the team’s best — and doing so immediately — seems to make sense. Glencoe hopes sophomore Trevor O’Leary will develop in the early going and be ready to take over from Fasel at quarterback around midseason, allowing Fasel to return to his role of punishing defenders from his indigenous tailback spot.

Liberty

Can the Falcons stop opponents from scoring?

Liberty allowed 36 points per game in the spring after yielding 35.7 in 2019. The Falcons will probably need repeat all-conference performances from junior linebacker Nate Smith and senior linebacker Cade Hammond to make a sizable improvement in point suppression.

McMinnville

Can the Grizzlies enter conference play undefeated?

McMinnville opens at home against Wells of Southwest Portland (2-3 in the spring as Wilson High School), plays at Forest Grove (0-6), plays host to Oregon City (0-6) and travels to Roseburg (1-4). Such a runway might be a good thing for the Grizzlies as they deal with a new coach, a new defensive scheme and a quarterback (Ky Hoskinson) returning after a year’s hiatus.

Newberg

What will a new coach mean for the Tigers’ offense?

Newberg averaged 6.6 yards per rush last season, led by Price Pothier (10 rushing touchdowns). This season, expect quarterback Levi Durrell to pass more than last season, when he threw 11.5 times per game. When Durrell did pass, it frequently was effective. He threw for a touchdown every seven passes.

Sherwood

With almost entirely new personnel starting on defense, can the Bowmen be as strong as they were in the spring?

The Bowmen allowed 11.8 points per game in the spring, among the top marks in Class 6A. First-year coach Kevin Hastin retained defensive coordinator Rich Hannan, so wholesale changes aren’t expected in the scheme or philosophy of Sherwood’s 3-4 look. That continuity should be a plus, as Sherwood will likely have at least nine new starters on defense in Week 1.

MT. HOOD CONFERENCE

Barlow

What will Barlow’s new offensive philosophy mean to opponents?

First-year coach Tracy Jackson is riding with a double-tight end, power running game. The Bruins return four of five starters on the offensive line, so the personnel are in place for success. If nothing else, opponents probably will realize whom they’ve played after Barlow week; coaches who faced Jackson at other stops in his long career still recall Jackson’s offensive approach and the … well, the lasting impression it made.

Centennial

Is this the season that the Eagles’ quarterback plans reach fruition?

Junior Hayden Boyd will be at the controls of Centennial’s triple-option offense. At least that’s the plan. Boyd was moved to quarterback, somewhat out of necessity, after Langston Williams-Lomax — who got extensive varsity experience as a freshman in 2019 and created optimism among the coaching staff — moved to Texas before the spring season. Williams-Lomax got so much experience as a freshman because starter Kyle Fitzgerald was injured early in the 2019 season. What Boyd accomplished in a shortened spring season and what he showed in the summer — as well as an offensive line that might be the strength of the team — have Centennial thinking big for this season.

Central Catholic

Will having another first-year starter at quarterback hinder the Rams’ offense?

The Rams are going with sophomore Cru Newman or senior Emerson Dennis at quarterback. After four seasons of Cade Knighton at starter, Newman-or-Dennis will make it two new starters in two seasons, following Luke Johnson, who was a junior in 2019. Regardless of who wins the No. 1 job, the Rams have proven skill-position players — such as Jordan King, Zach Grisham, Stryder Todd-Fields, Ellis Bynum and others — who should ensure Central Catholic’s offense stays in stride.

Clackamas

Is the lack of a returning starter at quarterback an issue?

Probably not. The Cavaliers’ offensive line is a “special group,” in the words of coach James Holan. Junior Luke Ash emerged as a prolific running back in the spring, and the Cavaliers’ receivers — bolstered by Riley Peterson and Brody Crowley, transfers from La Salle Prep — look to be the envy of most other teams. Whoever wins the starting quarterback job — junior Blake Baker was trending toward No. 1 heading into preseason practice — will have plenty of support around him.

David Douglas

Who will emerge to fill vacancies on the offensive line?

The Scots will indoctrinate a quarterback into the starting role, but coach Cal Szueber said the front lines will determine the team’s success. Three starters on the offensive line return from the spring, but the other two spots were available for the taking as preseason practice began.

Gresham

Will the Gophers’ offensive line allow the team’s new offense time to click?

First-year coach James Allen talked about an offense that exploits the Gophers’ tight ends (including 6-foot-4 senior Brody Booze) to create mismatches. For that system to work, senior quarterback Zach Kaufman could use time and space to operate, which falls to the offensive line, whose starters hadn’t been solidified as the team headed to preseason practice

Nelson

Can the coaching staff keep the program in a positive frame of mind during what might be a long season?

New school. New facilities. New history to be written. There’s so much enticing about being part of a school’s charter varsity football team. But as a team lacking seniors, Nelson could struggle on the field. The plan is to use the coming season as a springboard to 2022, when every player should be a returner. Keeping spirits high and expectations aligned might be as important as creating game plans and executing in-game tactics.

Reynolds

Other than Miles Baldwin, whom does Reynolds have at skill positions?

Baldwin led the Raiders with two touchdown catches last season. Miles Wilson and Emmanuel Igbonagwam, the team’s top two rushers, are gone. The Raiders will have a first-year starter at quarterback. Heading into preseason practice, first crack at No. 1 running back was going to go to Dre’Quan Williams, a junior who received limited time in the spring.

Sandy

Can senior quarterback Teague Clemmer pick up where he left off?

In the two games Clemmer was able to play in the spring, he completed 26 of 47 passes (55 percent) with four touchdowns and no interceptions. “He throws the ball with great accuracy,” coach Josh Dill said. “He can drive the ball down the field.” Clemmer (6-feet-2, 175 pounds) also is a threat with his feet, Dill said. Based on his cameo in the spring, Clemmer appears to be a strong candidate for the Mt. Hood Conference’s first-team quarterback.

THREE RIVERS LEAGUE

Lake Oswego

Is senior Gabe Olvera the Lakers’ latest game-changing running back?

Olvera made a huge impact in the playoffs his sophomore season and was a first-team all-league selection in the spring, even though Lake Oswego was limited to four games because of a COVID outbreak stemming from a social gathering. Given a full season, Olvera could post some remarkable numbers. “He’s always been a really explosive player who can make big plays in the run game as a ball carrier as well as a receiver in the passing game,” Lake Oswego offensive coordinator Nick Halberg said. “Right now, he is playing with a lot of confidence and has continued to improve each year.”

Lakeridge

The Pacers’ offense looks stacked; who will lead the defense?

Lakeridge allowed at least 35 points in three of its five spring games. To improve that figure, senior safety Jake Reichle and senior defensive end Nui Tovey will play crucial and leading roles. Reichle led the team in tackles and was a second-team SBLive Oregon all-state selection. Tovey was a third-team SBLive Oregon all-state pick after wreaking havoc on opponents (51 tackles, nine tackles for loss).

Oregon City

Will the Pioneers’ offense under first-year coach Shane Hedrick be recognizable?

Hedrick installed a run-oriented, two-back offense in a change from the system former coach Dustin Janz operated. Hedrick allowed that once he knows who the starting quarterback will be and sees how he grows, the offense might evolve. “It all depends on how much time we have to install our offense and the development of our quarterbacks,” he said. One consequence of running the ball more should be that the opponent will have it less often — and that should help address the Pioneers’ defense and its efforts to lower the points allowed from last season’s 38.8 per game.

Tigard

Will one tailback emerge as the No. 1 for the Tigers, or will it be running the ball by committee?

As preseason practices began, a three-way competition at tailback was coming into shape. Junior Konner Grant got some carries in the spring, and senior Tommy Martin and junior Luke Davis also were in the rotation. “All three bring a little different element,” coach John Kemper said. “Konner is a physical back, while Luke has good speed and vision, and Tommy is that guy who just has a knack for being slippery and always seems to fall forward after contact.”

Tualatin

Who will do the heavy lifting of giving the Timberwolves’ skill position standouts time and space to operate?

A generally inexperienced offensive line is led by guard Nico Webb, a 5-foot-11, 275-pound senior who has earned all-Three Rivers League recognition the past two years. Newcomers to the starting lineup such as seniors Jake Helton (5-11, 250) and CJ Hazelett (6-2, 275) will be called upon to become leaders on the offensive front so that running back Malik Ross, quarterback Jackson Jones and receiver Cole Prusia can exploit their skills.

West Linn

What will an experienced offensive line mean for the Lions?

Right tackle Jake Rams and guard Eric Mee earned all-Three Rivers League recognition last season. They and fellow senior Braylon Cornell will be expected to anchor an offensive line that has one other starter back. For the two positions without a returning starter, the Lions had four seniors in competition. The experience and maturity in this position group are in relative short supply after West Linn’s losses to graduation.

Braylon Cornell (West Linn) photo by Taylor Balkom

MOUNTAIN VALLEY CONFERENCE

Bend

How will the Lava Bears benefit from having a 40-player junior class?

More players means more intrasquad competition for playing time means improvement. Then there’s the depth factor. Fewer players playing on both sides of the line of scrimmage means fewer players who might have too little in the tank at the end of games. “We are going to be a team that has the ability to platoon quite a few kids, and that’s really going to help us out,” Bend coach Matt Craven said. “Playing 6A the last few years, you can’t play with 11 kids both ways the whole game. You get to the fourth quarter, and you’re gassed. And when you get to the end of the season, you’re just beat up.”

McNary

Can the Celtics build off a tough nonconference schedule to play a leading role in the Mountain Valley?

Before conference play, McNary plays South Medford (4-1 in the spring, the loss by three points), Grants Pass (4-2, the losses by a combined eight points) and Newberg (5-1). As the saying goes, what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger, right? The Celtics should find out. “We have a very tough nonleague schedule, and we’ve had very tough nonleague schedules before while some teams have softened theirs up,” coach Jeff Auvinen said. “We haven’t done that, and we will continue to press on and play a demanding schedule, which I think is good for you in the long run.”

Mountain View

Did Jakoby Moss have the most underappreciated and overlooked season by a quarterback in the spring?

In his second season as a starter, Moss completed 64 percent of his passes for 943 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions as the Cougars of Bend went undefeated. Moss played in the Les Schwab Bowl as a junior, and Mountain View coach Brian Crum — who coached in that game — said Moss was conspicuous by his presence. “He stood out for his leadership and his moxie,” Crum said. “He just has this nature about him where people want to follow him. He really motivates his teammates, and he’s tough.”

South Salem

On a generally young team, is there a position group around which the Saxons can build and regain their footing?

Look for South Salem’s front linemen to take leading roles this season. The Saxons return five linemen who logged substantial snaps a season ago: Preston Cepeda, Jaime Guzman Huazo, Paul Ehenger, Trevor Goldman and Hatimu Letisi (the first freshman to start under Scott Dufault in the coach’s first 20 seasons).

Sprague

Do the Olympians have the best skill-position players in the Mountain Valley Conference?

At quarterback, there’s 6-foot-4 senior Logan Smith, for whom coach Jay Minyard predicts a college future. Junior Riley Davis, who received regular duty in the spring, is at running back. Junior Drew Rodriguez caught six touchdown passes in the spring and, Minyard said, “should be one of the most explosive players in our conference as a wide receiver.”

Summit

Is this the season the Storm of Bend finish with a winning record as a Class 6A school?

Summit, the 2015 OSAA Class 5A champion, finished the spring season 3-3 after successive 2-7 records. A winning record looks highly attainable this season. The team returns its entire defensive backfield, offensive playmakers and junior Hogan Carmichael at quarterback. “We are athletic, we can run, and we’re strong,” coach Corben Hyatt said. “We were two plays away from being 5-1 last year.”

West Salem

What do new faces in key places mean for the Titans?

Senior Brooks Ferguson will be in his first season as a starting quarterback. Senior Hudson Giertych had to bide his time last season behind standout running back Nate Garcia. Senior Zach Dodsen-Greene missed last season on account of an injury. The Titans also will be young at several spots on the line. “Inexperience across all groups will be our weakness, so we may have some ups and downs early on as we learn to play at a Friday night level,” coach Shawn Stanley said. But, he added, “We have plenty of talent to be successful.”

SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE

Grants Pass

How will the Cavemen compensate for losing all but five starters from the spring?

Grants Pass’ continuity from the spring to the coming season probably can’t be properly reflected in a raw count of starters lost. The Cavemen had 20 seniors on the roster heading to preseason practices. Many of the players who will be first-year starters seem ready for expanded roles. “We may be still feeling our way through things early on in the season,” coach John Musser said, “but look for a quick learning curve as most of these players have been running our systems since youth football.”

North Medford

Will defenses be able to counter the Black Tornado’s offensive line?

First-year coach Nathan Chin is altering the offensive look to a spread formation, but running will continue to be the preferred method of attack. Junior David Fuiava (6-foot-2, 315 pounds), senior Erick Santacruz (6-1, 275) and sophomore Terrell Kim (6-4, 315) provide a nucleus for what might be a dominant position group. “It is a big group of kids, but they aren’t just big bodies — they move really well as a group,” Chin said. “I think they can fit into a spread offense really well.” Fuiava and Kim could join tight end AJ Pugliano (who reportedly has been offered a scholarship by Oregon) as being Division I-level recruits.

Roseburg

Who might help Roseburg improve its point suppression?

Roseburg allowed 30 points per game last season, but coach Dave Heuberger sees signs of improvement. “Defensively, we should be pretty strong,” he said. Tiger Black, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior, returns after being voted first-team all-Southwest Conference as a sophomore defensive lineman. Senior linebacker Dawson Gillespie is an impact player wherever he lines up. “He anchors our defense,” Heuberger said.

Sheldon

Will the Irish kick their passing game up a notch?

As a sophomore, Brock Thomas passed for eight touchdowns and ran for a team-high five. “We’ve seen some real strides with Brock in the last couple of months with his play and his knowledge of what to do,” coach Josh Line said. “We’re going to depend on him to make a lot of plays for us.” Having a variety of receivers who can do the job should enhance the offense. “All of them will be able to execute, make plays, catch the ball and advance the chains,” Line said. “Nobody will blow your doors off, but all of them are solid athletes.”

South Medford

Can the Panthers’ linemen catch up to their skill position standouts?

Nine of the players South Medford lost after the spring season were linemen. Sophomores probably will get varsity time on the offensive line this season. “We’ll have to find ways to do the best we can up front and give our skill kids a chance,” coach Bill Singler said, “because we do have a good skill group coming back.” That skill group includes senior running back Carson Joe (first-team all-Southwest Conference in the spring), senior running back Brycen Guches (second-team all-Southwest), junior receiver Andrew Walker and junior quarterback Deacon Edgar (honorable mention all-Southwest).

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