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Cascade Christian running back Brandon Williams put together an award-winning season in 2011 with the help of four outstanding senior linemen.
Those trenchmen graduated, leaving the Challengers with some major holes to fill on the offensive line.
Their replacements will be asked to clear some major real estate for the Southern Cascade Hybrid offensive player of the year, as well as for his backfield mates.
With a buffet of other talent, unanimous league favorite Cascade Christian appears to have more solutions than problems. Just to be sure, though, the Challengers will put their personnel and preparation to the test when they kick off their campaign in high-stakes fashion: with a Friday road contest against none other than nemesis Santiam Christian, the team that has defeated them in the last two Class 3A state semifinals.
"A couple years ago we set out to get as good of an out-of-conference schedule as we could get," third-year Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman said. "Santiam Christian has been in the playoffs for a number of years. We're committed to playing them. It worked out that that would be the first game of the year ... certainly you want to go
up against the best teams and measure up and see where you need to go."
Cascade Christian will go often to Williams, and with good reason.
Last year, he rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and 25 touchdowns, and he caught 16 passes for another 375 yards and six TDs. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Williams had another six touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns.
The second-team all-state selection was just as dominant on the defensive end at safety, where he tormented the opposition.
Expect more of the same this fall.
"He's gotten stronger and has worked hard," Gettman said.
Senior quarterback Daniel Scottow — who has been the team's starter since his sophomore year — will run the show, and he'll have plenty of entertaining contestants. Senior wingback Levi Girardot and fullback Josh Brite, who missed a portion of the 2011 season with a hernia, are both dangerous in Gettman's double wing offense.
"It's exciting to have all three back," Gettman said, referring also to Williams.
The holes made for those three won't be formed by graduated senior linemen Dustin Polan (tackle), Dillon Huntley (tackle), Daniel Bohn (guard) and Daniel Killiam (center) though. Instead, the beef up front will include senior Dane Scott (center), senior Daniel Grissom (left guard), junior Tristan Jones (right guard), junior Aaron Cesaro (right tackle), senior Trenton Greisen (left tackle) and sophomore Collin Badura (left tackle), along with linemen like senior Jonah Smith and junior TJ Alvarez.
Along with Williams and Girardot, other passing targets include tight ends Tim Martin and David Sellers (6-5, 205) and receivers Dante Olson and Stephen Joffer.
Gettman is pleased with Scottow's continued growth.
"He has been great," Gettman said. "He's committed to the team, in winter workouts and spring ball and in camp. We're ecstatic about the progress he's made, just being a leader."
In total, Cascade Christian owns seven returners on offense and five on defense, which will be led by returning SCH first-team middle linebacker Scott and Grissom, a first-team linebacker in 2011.
At safety, Girardot will work with Williams in the secondary.
The team has 11 seniors. The Challengers lost 14 to graduation.
Cascade Christian played all but one home game last year on Saturday, but this year will suit up on Friday in all but one contest (a nonconference game against Nyssa in Bend on Sept. 22). In another change, the Challengers will be playing all their home games this season in the stadium at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Their nonleague schedule includes contests against 4A programs Henley and Brookings and defending 2A state champion Gold Beach.
And, of course, there is that bout against Santiam Christian, which graduated star running back Jeff Hendrix but returns a veteran gang of linemen and athletic quarterback Grant Schroeder.
The Eagles gouged the Challengers in the second half of their 56-36 win in the semifinals last year.
"We didn't execute well and there were some miscommunications," Gettman said of last year's final defeat. "So we've got to clean that up."
In 2011, Cascade Christian began its season 1-2 before winning nine straight.
The top two teams from the four-team SCH advance to the Class 3A state playoffs.
"We need to get off to a better start than that," Gettman said.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com