Marist tabbed the favorite once again
Losing 10 starters on defense and parting ways with the offensive and defensive players of the year would be too much to handle for most high school football programs.
Not at Marist.
The Spartans, the Class 5A state runner-up a year ago, have reloaded and are primed for another run at the Midwestern League title and a deep postseason run.
The MWL coaches overwhelmingly picked Marist to repeat as league champions with seven first-place votes.
Head coach Frank Geske is not convinced.
"We'll have our hands full replacing everybody," says the fourth-year coach. "We'll get there at some point, but we're probably going to get scored on a little bit."
Class 5A state offensive player of the year Logan Silver, who amassed 5,162 all-purpose yards last season at quarterback, is now a defensive back at Holy Cross.
Defensively, Logan Mayes, a linebacker at Washington State, left after racking up 84 tackles and 131/2 sacks as the state's top defensive player a year ago.
"They're guys that you can't really replace," Geske says. "We'll do our best. I think we have guys that can, maybe not replace them, but do a good job."
Defensive tackle Paxton Miller is the lone returner on that side of the ball for a team that finished 12-1, with its only loss a 26-23 defeat in overtime to Sherwood in the 5A title game.
Geske expects James Banks and Colten Boden to help ease in a new defensive era for Marist at linebacker.
Boden also performs the punting duties and is a weapon that, despite not being used much last year, Geske believes will come in handy this season.
Offensively, the Spartans will be loaded.
Filling in for Silver will be junior Kamerun Smith, who transferred to Marist after leading the MWL in passing last season at Willamette.
Smith, at 6-foot-5, 170 pounds, is a more prototypical passer than the shifty Silver.
"He has a beautiful throw and release," says Geske. "I check in with the guys playing in college and I told (Silver) that Kamerun's going to be an all-state player. He's that good."
Austin Baird, who caught a team-best 20 touchdowns last season, and Taylor Walcott (19 TDs) team up at wide receiver to give Smith a pair of dangerous targets.
Banks will head up a fullback-by-committee approach.
Eighth-year head coach Darrell Mehl led his Lancers into the 5A state quarterfinals last season.
Mehl, despite a few key losses from last year's MWL runner-up club, has high hopes again.
"I think we're gonna be pretty competitive," Mehl says. "We have some really good skill guys, a few big, physical linemen ... I think we'll be fine."
Senior running back Aaron Ingram, a first-team all-MWL player last season, returns for his third varsity stint.
Ingram will run behind a potent line led by senior tackle Colin Smith (6-foot-3, 225 pounds).
Sliding in at quarterback is Mitch Reese.
"He throws a nice ball and runs pretty well," says Mehl of the 6-3 junior. "He has really improved since his freshman year, no question about it."
Wide receivers Tucker Molinski and Josh Han — both 6-3 track standouts — give Reese a pair of lanky targets.
Han focused primarily on soccer last season but will do double duty this fall.
Skip Raish calls his offensive line the best he's seen in almost 30 years.
That's saying something from a coach with 40-plus years of experience.
"They're strong and athletic," Raish says. "We have four or five kids that are very good. It's a tremendous group."
All-league linemen Clanton Self, who tips the scales at over 300 pounds, and Chase Towlerton (285 pounds) lead the group.
"They're both talented and very, very strong," Raish says.
The Millers still haven't settled on a quarterback, although senior Britton Auxier holds a slight edge over junior Ty Mannilla.
"They're both pretty identical," Raish says. "They both throw well and are power runners."
Replacing running back Thomas Spikes, last year's leading scorer, won't be easy, Raish admitted.
But Springfield welcomes the elusive running styles of juniors Dayshean Price and Jevon Garcia.
Defensively, Raish says the Millers are better now than they were a year ago.
"I'm very comfortable with my defense," he says. "There's not one guy that stands out. It's just a strong unit as a whole."
The Pirates graduated 16 starters from last year's 3-6 squad but return some key pieces.
Among those is 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive/defensive lineman Dalton Milburn, who has been recruited by nearly every Division 1 college in the Northwest, says coach Justin Ainsworth.
"He's a kid who has great hands, great feet for his size and a lot of potential at the next level," says Ainsworth.
Milburn's goal will be to protect junior quarterback Jason Sweet (5-11, 175), who "has all the intangibles. He is reliable, consistent and is everything you'd want in a quarterback," says Ainsworth.
Marshfield will incorporate four or five different running backs into the offense in search of a replacement for first-team all-MWL performer Ryan Scoville.
Ainsworth says fullbacks Tyler Johnson and Max Whitley and tailbacks Alex Brown and Chase Meserly will get a bulk of the carries.
Defensively, the Pirates hope to take advantage of their quickness by switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 formation.
The Wolverines were besieged by injuries early last fall, which led to a handful of narrow defeats and a 1-8 mark.
But Willamette, behind a revamped offensive system and a new quarterback, is back and raring to go, says head coach Dan Fritz.
"Injuries just decimated us by the time we got into league," Fritz says. "I think our record was a little deceptive because of that. But I feel good about this team."
Fritz and new offensive coordinator Eric Johannsen, the head coach at North Eugene last season, worked during the summer to install an up-tempo, spread offense that focuses on zone reads.
With last season's quarterback, Kamerun Smith, transferring to Marist, senior Dustin Leber will get his shot at running the offense.
Leber (5-10, 175) is more suited to the new system than Smith.
"He's a running type," says Fritz of Leber. "He'll do well with the zone reads."
Getting a bulk of the carries in the backfield will be lightning-quick senior Jordan Visarraga and junior Dante Giles.
Mitch Crownover and Zach Hatefi head up a dangerous receiving core, while Tyler Johnson, Sam Duncan, Mitch Wilkens, Trent Wagner and Lane Henderson will help form a strong offensive line for the Wolverines.
Edmund Rivera gets his second shot at turning things around for the Highlanders.
Rivera previously coached football at North Eugene for three seasons but was dismissed after winning just one game.
Rivera, a former University of Oregon quarterback, had successful head coaching stints at Harrisburg and Marist before his first go-around with North Eugene.
"I'm ready for another shot," Rivera says. "I feel like I'm ready this time and I see things differently. I have a new perspective on what is important and I am really enjoying myself here."
Rivera will have his hands full.
The Highlanders went 5-5 in Eric Johannsen's first season in 2005 but have managed just one winning campaign since 1993.
North Eugene finished 1-8 a year ago.
"We don't have a lot of depth," says Rivera. "We are going to try to minimize mistakes and not shoot ourselves in the foot. I think we'll be in games but because of our depth we have to limit our mental mistakes late in games."
Tyler Knabe is the front-runner at quarterback, says Rivera.
Also in the mix is senior running back Ryan Koth and Sean Collum, who just returned from Alaska.
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or email firstname.lastname@example.org