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Senior Dunn shining for Cascade Christian

As one of the tallest players on the Cascade Christian football team at 6-foot-3, senior receiver/safety Ben Dunn was likely to stand out anyway.

With a pedigree that also includes a sixth-place showing in the high jump at the Class 3A state meet two years ago, as well as Dunn being a leading figure on the Challengers’ fifth-place finish in last year’s boys basketball state tournament, his athletic talents were already undeniable.

This football season, however, Dunn has been able to further separate himself from the pack with a dynamite run in his fourth and final varsity campaign for Cascade Christian, which is 6-1 overall and 1-0 in Southern Cascade League play entering Friday’s Holy Bowl showdown with St. Mary’s (4-3, 1-0 SCL) at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

“He’s always been a really good athlete,” said Challengers head coach Jon Gettman, “but he’s just playing with more confidence and is a lot more physical and that has been a big difference for him. He has really put it all together this year.”

Dunn agreed, noting an offseason dedication to ramping up all aspects of his play on the gridiron in hopes of taking a leadership role this time around for Cascade Christian.

“This summer I really put in a lot of effort to try and help our team more,” said Dunn, who turns 18 on Nov. 9. “I had to step up and our receiving corps had to step up and help lead the guys by being more physical on the edge. We’re bringing the intensity and really pushing guys around now.”

Whatever the combination, it all seems to be working for Dunn.

He earned a spot on the Class 3A all-state first team as a placekicker last year and shared first-team all-SCL honors as a kicker and a receiver. This season, the 180-pound Dunn leads the Challengers in catches (34), receiving yards (665) and touchdowns (11) and is tied for first with junior Ian Fralich in interceptions (four).

Ten of his scores have come through the air thanks to the steady hand of proven senior quarterback Haiden Schaan, who boasts 23 passing TDs overall and 1,735 yards against only three interceptions.

“Having him back there really helps us all,” said Dunn. “(Opponents) have to stay on their toes because he can run the ball and his timing and his accuracy passing have been great this year, too. We’re working really well together.”

In reality, the entire Challenger lineup has been working well in what has been an impressive run to date. Cascade Christian owns dominating wins over the likes of 4A Henley, defending 3A state champion Harrisburg and division stalwart Santiam Christian on an ever-challenging schedule.

“We knew we had to grind every week from the start,” said Dunn, “and now it’s Week 8 and it’s been a real grind but we’ve had guys dedicated in the weight room every day and we’ve really put in the work in practice to help us out.”

“We have a really good family of guys,” he added, “We all hold each other accountable and push each other. Nobody’s really cocky about anything, we all just like seeing each other make plays.”

The great thing, said Dunn, is how complete the team effort has been thus far for the Challengers.

Whether it’s a running attack led by Schaan (49 carries, 452 yards, eight TDs) or Caleb Jordan (72 carries, 475 yards, five TDs) to a yeoman’s effort by the guys in the trenches or help from playmaking receivers Fralich (25 catches, 299 yards, five TDs) and Kiegan Schaan (18 catches, 291 yards, three TDs), Cascade Christian has prided itself on versatility.

“It really is fun because you can’t really guard one individual,” said Dunn, “all of us can make plays at any given time.”

All modesty aside, though, Dunn can provide an element no one else can with the Challengers given his ability to soar through the air.

“He’s kind of a kid where, no matter the coverage, he can go up for a jump ball and you know he can come down with it most of the time,” said Gettman. “He runs good routes and his understanding of the offense and the chemistry he has with every is outstanding, but when the ball’s in the air he’s just got great ball skills. He does a great job of going up and catching the ball with his hands at the highest point.”

It’s a facet of the game Dunn prides himself on, and definitely has his basketball and high-jumping background — his personal record clearance is 6-2 — to credit for his success.

“If a jump ball is going up, it’s either going to not be complete or I’m going to come down with it,” said Dunn. “That’s always my goal. I really just try to get in front of the cornerback and get a big body to block them off.”

And while scoring touchdowns is always fun, Dunn has taken particular pride in his defensive play thus far. His 25 tackles rank among the team leaders, with Cristian Flores-Alatorre setting the pace at 45, and a move to free safety has allowed him to use his ball-hawking skills to pull in three of his interceptions over the last two weeks.

Even with all his exploits, Dunn spoke as if he would be completely fine not standing out at all among his teammates.

“When I get the most joy is when we’re playing well as a team,” he said. “Even if I don’t get the ball a ton, if we’re spreading it around and having fun, I think that gets all of us juiced up.”

“My personal goal is to just catch every ball that’s thrown to me in the games and run my routes hard no matter if I’m getting the ball or not,” added Dunn, “but really I don’t try to just go out there and score and get it for myself. If the team’s winning, I’m happy.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Cascade Christian senior wide receiver/defensive back Ben Dunn has been key to the Challengers' success this fall. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]