Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Even 75 days later, the hit still reverberates.
On his team's first offensive series of the year on Aug. 31, Cascade Christian senior wingback Levi Girardot was on the field to block last year's Class 3A state co-defensive player of the year, Santiam Christian's Jordan Lange. The play was a toss to teammate Brandon Williams on the right side.
Girardot sprinted down and leveled the talented outside linebacker, putting his entire body into the hit and forging space for Williams. His teammates erupted on the sidelines.
"I think honestly he set the tone for the season with that," Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman says. "We have to go and attack people."
The part of the story that Girardot (pronounced with a silent "t") loves the most is the ending, when the Challengers beat the Eagles 33-7. Cascade Christian beat up the team that had defeated it in the previous two state semifinals and ignited an 11-game winning streak.
For a player who just two years ago could only dream of such success, Girardot savors the thought that he is now helping lead the charge toward something so special. The 18-year-old transferred from Rogue River High — which competes in the same conference as the Challengers — after his sophomore year.
Undefeated Cascade Christian is just three wins away from a championship, and Girardot's contributions to that cause have been as seismic as that opening block.
"It's a blessing," says Girardot, who leads the squad in rushing attempts with 93 and is second in rushing yards (685) and touchdowns (nine). "It's really fun. I'm not used to winning. I didn't know how to act coming into the playoffs. It's still new. Everyone is working their butt off. I've never been a part of anything like this."
Girardot, a Rogue River resident, and the Chieftains were 3-6 in 2010 and went 6-4 in 2009, Girardot's freshman year. Neither campaign yielded a playoff opportunity. He played quarterback and linebacker then.
Like The Monkees in the song Pleasant Valley Sunday, Girardot needed a change of scenery.
While at a track and field meet during his second year in high school, Girardot was introduced to members of the Challengers' squad by former Cascade Christian standout Tyler Stickler. The students made a point of cheering on Girardot during his jumping events, he recalls, and he never forgot about that.
"I started to look into (transferring)," Girardot says. "I was begging my mom."
Girardot, who now makes the daily 20-plus-minute drive from his home in Rogue River to the campus in Medford, has established many good friendships — he even has 196 followers on Twitter. He is getting used to it, just like he's getting used to playing a different offensive position.
"The start of my junior year, I definitely saw myself more as a quarterback," says Girardot, who aspires to be a firefighter. "I had no idea I would be a wingback coming here, but I knew they ran the double wing and were known for running. This year I definitely see myself as a running back."
Gettman calls Girardot an emotional leader.
"If he is up and running at full strength he gets everyone going and everyone else flying around," the coach says.
In last year's semifinal loss to Santiam Christian, Girardot had 42 yards on 11 carries and recorded six tackles. Gettman says that Girardot has only gotten better since.
"He's a physical back who doesn't go down on contact," Gettman says. "It takes a number of people to take him down."
Girardot did much more than just lay the big block against Santiam Christian this year, concluding the season-opening contest with 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
Still, the hit may have been most memorable.
"After I hit him I was ready to go," he recalls. "It kicked in that it was game time."
When he's not running or catching the ball Girardot often blocks for Williams, who owns a team-best 1,591 rushing yards and 445 receiving yards. Defensively, the two patrol the field as safeties.
Whatever it takes to win, Girardot says, he'll do. In this new environment, saying yes is easy.
"At Cascade Christian, it's a lifestyle," he says. "We are here to win and do the best we possibly can."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org