Mazama primed for championship run
It’s little wonder Mazama is the unanimous choice to win the Skyline Conference title.
Boasting 22 seniors and eight all-conference players, the Klamath Falls team is loaded.
“Honestly, we’d be very disappointed if we weren’t playing for a league championship this year,” said second-year coach Vic Leafe. “Everyone in the community, the kids and coaches have high expectations. But we haven’t lined up against anyone, so we’ll see. We have to stay healthy and if we continue to improve every week, we’ll be fine.”
Leafe believes defense will be the catalyst for the Vikings, who went 5-5 last year.
It will be anchored by first-team all-league senior lineman Alex Joe-Burns, and behind him, a corps of outstanding linebackers. Senior linebackers Ben Lane, Brandon Tron and Jon Cran will be joined by returning middle linebacker Eddy Medina, who was an all-conference standout two years ago as a sophomore. Medina sat out his junior season with a knee injury but has made a full recovery and looks stronger than ever as a senior.
“He’s gonna be something special and a playmaker for us,” said Leafe. “He looks good and he’s improved greatly.”
The Vikings’ secondary should also be stout with first-team all-conference defensive back Joey Lancaster and Skyline honorable mention Sylvester Hall.
The two double as running backs, with Lancaster landing on last season’s second-team all-conference squad and Hall earning honorable mention.
A group of all-conference offensive lineman will open running lanes for the backfield duo as well as protect senior quarterback Dallas Devry, a second-year starter.
Seniors Mitchell Saunders, a guard, and Michael Edwards, the center, will accompany junior tackle Cody Wright on the front line.
Klamath Union looks to make another run at the conference title, something it’s achieved two of the last four seasons, including last year, when it tied Henley with a 4-1 record.
The Pelicans suffered a heartbreaking loss to Central in the second round of the playoffs on a last-second missed field goal and finished 5-5. Despite losing a few big-time players in a solid class of seniors, fifth-year head coach Tom Smith thinks his group is again postseason material.
“I think we've got a good mix of some older guys that haven’t played a lot and some younger players that are good athletes,” he said. “We lost lot of guys that can play and a couple superstars. But we have a lot of guys that can play and that will fill in those superstars’ efforts. It’ll be more of a team effort this year.”
Commanding the ship will be quarterback Vaughn Vallejos, who starred as an all-league tight end last year. His last stint behind center was as a sophomore, but in the offseason, his ability to run an offense has grown immensely.
“I think having him back there is good for us,” said Smith. “He seems confident and kids look to him as a leader.”
Vallejos will run a spread offense that features senior wide receiver Cody Fonseca and a pair of versatile running backs in Joe Rose and Triad transfer Josh Hutchinson, each of whom will occasionally line up as receivers.
“We run a lot of different formations, full house, no-back sets,” said Smith. “We’ll also run quite a bit of motion at the line to see what the defense is going to try to do against us.”
The Pelicans’ rock on the offensive line will be junior Gray Prescott, who was tabbed as an all-league selection on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Prescott an all-league defensive end, and middle linebacker Chase Anderson will be solid run-stoppers alongside outside linebacker Vallejos.
The secondary will be buoyed by Fonseca, who reaped all-league honors at cornerback as a junior, and Hutchinson at either cornerback or safety.
Although they’re coming off an 8-4 season in which they tied for the conference title and reached the Class 4A quarterfinals, the Henley Hornets graduated a big group that left many positions vacant, particularly on defense.
Depth, however, will be an asset.
A prime example is at quarterback, where three players challenged for the No. 1 spot: Dan Goodell, Chase Fernlund and Gary Jantzer. Each possesses his own skill set and is capable of contributing in coach Wayne Amos’ spread offense.
“Kinda like the Ducks, we’ll run multiple formations but not a lot of plays,” said Amos. “I’m gonna run with different guys in different packages to give defenses a lot of looks.”
Even with a lot of untested starters, the Hornets, who lost 28-21 to Ridgeview in the quarterfinals, expect to be in the Skyline playoff mix again.
“Whoever wins the league, I don’t think they will be undefeated,” said Amos.” I think we can have three, maybe four make the playoffs again. It’s gonna come down to which team doesn't get key players hurt. I’m assuming most teams don’t want to lose their starting quarterback, and it’s not like I want any team to lose that. But that’s why we’re blessed because of our depth. It’s a nice problem to have.”
The Hornets will rotate as many as six six wide receivers during games.
Garrett Kujawski will be one of them, Connor Noonan will most likely get the bulk of carries among three running backs.
Returning starters on the offensive line are Taylor Fleming and Alec Mozingo, while the defense will be led by Goodell at safety. Kujawski and Hunter Rasica will both start at corner, and Trenton Robinette should be a big playmaker at middle linebacker.
“I think we have a good chance,” said Amos. “We looked a lot better than we thought in our (intrasquad) scrimmage. The kids are playing hard and I’m pretty optimistic about how things have gone so far. I’m kinda looking forward to it.”