Mazama again is the team to beat
Reigning Skyline Conference champion Mazama nearly had it all last season.
The co-offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year and coach of the year all played pivotal roles in helping the Vikings reach the Class 4A state semifinals with a flawless record last season. It wasn’t until that game that Mazama suffered its lone blemish, falling to North Bend, 41-40.
With Joey Lancaster, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards, top defender Eddie Medina and four other first-team all-conference players lost to graduation, you’d think the rest of the Skyline would breathe a sigh of relief.
Not exactly, as the Vikings, who were 10-1 last season, are unanimous picks to win the conference again
Vikings coach Vic Lease has his sights set high and exudes enthusiasm about the team he wants to take to the peak of the Skyline again.
“If we continue to get better as the season progresses, and that’s the key, and we push ourselves and have good practices; if all that happens, we should be right there with the top teams in the state,” said Lease.
"It’s hard to beat those kind of athletes (from last year). They were big and strong. It's a small senior class this year, but we’ve got some pretty good kids.”
First-team all-conference Cody Wright will anchor the offensive line alongside Matt Yuchniuk, Michael Saunders and Charlie Rajnus.
Defensive back Curtis Anderson grew about 4 inches and gained at least 15 pounds since last season, jumping up to about 195 pounds. He’ll take over at quarterback.
“He’s got the keys to the truck for sure,” Lease said of Anderson, who also improved by participating in Nike SPARQ training over the summer.
He’ll replace the graduated Dallas Devry.
Giving Mazama a different look from recent years at running back will be junior Jordan Westlake.
“He’s gonna be something special, too,” said Lease. “He’s got good speed and good hands. He rarely makes mistakes and is a pretty physical kid. He’s not quite the slasher like Joey, but is a little more physical.”
At wide receiver, Sean Porter, Kainoa Littlejohn and Mario Segura will take their basketball skills from the hardwood to the field.
Fullback and returning first-team kicker senior Aurelien Agnimel, a transfer from the Ivory Coast, will team with Tyler McLenon and Josh Hammers to form a tough linebacking crew.
After finishing second to cross-town rival Mazama a year ago, Henley will be a threat to take the league’s crown this season.
The Hornets, who went 5-4 in 2014, will ge directed by senior Darren Brown on both sides of the ball. He was honored as a first-team free safety last season and was honorable mention as a wide receiver. Coach Wayne Amos mulled in the preseason about whether to keep Brown at receiver or move him to quarterback
“I’ve been up in the air about that,” said Amos. "As a receiver he just stands out. He’ll just go get the ball, and he’ll go get it in traffic. At safety, he had five or six interceptions (last season). So, I mean he really goes up and gets it."
Whether it’s Brown or one of two sophomore options under center, the quarterback will have the luxury of handing the ball to senior Connor Noonan, a returning first-team running back.
Athletically, Henley’s receiving corps is top-notch. It features 110-meter hurdles state champion Seth Andres and Ky Sturgeon, who will also play safety.
Along the offensive and defensive line, returning starter Noa Taipin will be a big contributor.
"We’re gonna be young,” said Amos. “All these young kids are going to have to step up. They’ve gotta grow up fast. We don’t have a lot of seniors. They’ve got to help the young guys move along. If they do that, I think we’ll be in the hunt.”
As a sophomore, Noah Brosio was thrown to the wolves at quarterback, but a year later, he’s a better player for it.
He’ll orchestrate a familiar North Valley offense as the Knights, 1-7 last year, return the majority of their key weapons on offense.
Brosio was called on when starter Robbie Stalford went down with an injury early in the campaign.
“He’s made huge strides as far as leading the offense and making decisions,” said Knights coach Neil DeForrest of Brosio, who also kicks.
Brosio will try to get senior wide receiver Aaron Hobgood involved early and often.
“He’s a pretty special athlete and should be a mismatch most weeks,” said DeForrest. “He’s got good straight-line speed, and he’s good after the catch. He’s pretty shifty."
Senior wide out Antonio Garcia will be another target, as will junior receivers Hunter Comyford and Cameron Allison.
Three running backs will operate in the Knights’ backfield. The main one will likely be Jake Roberts, who will also see time at tight end. Hobgood’s younger brother, Chuck, and senior Dakota Gordon, the smallest but most nimble of the bunch, will also get carries.
"In a nutshell, that’s what we do, get the ball out and read a lot of defenders and spread the ball around,” said DeForrest. "With all those guys, they’ve got good hands and are good route runners. They’re quick little guys when they get the ball."
North Valley brings back just one starter on both sides of the ball in senior Logan Manni.
The Knights will try to make up for a lack of size with speed. Bailey Cusumano moves from safety to defensive end to use his quickness to get to the quarterback.
Returner Comyford will buoy the linebacking corps. He’ll be accompanied by fellow second-year starters Garcia and Chuck Hobgood.
Roberts, who was second-team defense last season, is a linebacker/safety hybrid.
Aaron Hobgood will start at safety while Gordon and Allison will line up as cornerbacks.
Mark Vidlak’s Hidden Valley Mustangs are young but hope to make an impact in the Skyline with a strong foundation along their offensive line and by getting their skill-position players involved.
Hidden Valley went 1-7 last year.
The Mustangs' line features Ian Johnson, Tristan Hoskoeter and Brandon Wrezinski, who will work together to block for a two-pronged attack at both quarterback and running back.
Play callers Ethan Hill and Jacob Pereira will orchestrate Vidlak's spread offense, which will often try to exploit the abilities of running backs Marcus Peckham and Nick Elmore.
“We have some good, young players on offense,” said Vidlak. "We’ll try to run the football and focus on that."
While the ground attack will be Hidden Valley’s staple, there should be plenty of opportunities for Hill and Pereira to get wide receivers Elijah Castro and Casey Copeland involved.
There’s still much to be determined as far as who will play where for Klamath Union, most notably at quarterback, where three sophomore candidates are competing.
No matter who wins out — Sam Corley, Dave Forrester or Bill Miller — in coach Tom Smith’s spread, zone-read offense, the focus will be getting the ball to junior running back Carlos Fonseca.
“We’re hoping that the quarterback is quite talented with Fonseca back there and with a mobile quarterback back there, we’ll give the defense some things to worry about,” said Smith. “But the quarterback runs the ball as much as the running back. If they’re not playing quarterback, they’ll be playing in other spots. They’re all pretty good athletes.”
Two of the Pelicans’ top athletes on the offensive side will be senior tackle Grey Prescott and sophomore wide receiver Sam Carter, who might be the squad’s top target. He’ll be one of a number of sophomores expected to step up.
The defensive side will feature a smattering of sophomores as well, but linebacker will be a strength with interior seniors Prescott and Frankie De Los Santos — both second-team all-leaguers last year. At outside linebacker, Corley is expected to be a high-end producer.
Reach reporter Warren Blenkush at 541-776-4492, or email email@example.com