FOOTBALL '19: Hidden Valley poised to contend in District 2
With the notion of more equality at the top of the District 2 South lineup this season, Hidden Valley head coach James Powers and company are that much more excited and invested in making 2019 a year to remember.
With a host of returning players, led by first-team all-league juniors Sam Vidlak and Jeremiah Noga, the Mustangs are expected to challenge reigning champion Cascade Christian and upcoming St. Mary’s for the conference title.
All three schools received at least one first-place vote in the preseason coaches’ poll, with Cascade Christian standing as the favorite with 23 points and four first-place votes. Hidden Valley was second with 21 points and one first-place vote and St. Mary’s third with 19 points and the other first-place vote, followed by Brookings-Harbor (13), Douglas (seven) and South Umpqua (seven).
Vidlak guided Hidden Valley to a state playoff appearance and 6-4 record last year, and expects to be on top of his game even more with the experience he gained from a year ago.
“Sam’s a very intelligent young man and he’s a football-savvy type of guy,” said Powers, in his third year at HV. “He’s going to put in as much time as any coach watching film, if not more. He leads the team well and has a great arm. He’s just got a lot of assets and tools to get the job done.”
Some of those assets come in a deep receiving corps, with the 6-foot-3 Noga joined by 6-4 junior Lawrence Matusik to create matchup problems on the outside with sophomore Nate Vidlak in the slot and senior transfer Cameron Decker in the mix.
Junior running back Tobias Powers is “chomping at the bit to run a little bit,” according to his father and coach, and has bulked up about 30 pounds over last year. He was second team last year.
Seniors Nathan Bragg (linebacker) and Dylan Neill (defensive line) expect to anchor the defense along with senior returner Tanner Noble (linebacker/fullback) and senior transfer lineman Aaron Weagel.
Shaun Bavaro is in his second year at the helm after becoming the 10th football coach in 12 years at Brookings-Harbor and is excited about how far his team has already come, as well as the Bruins’ amount of returning young talent.
Brookings-Harbor went 5-5 last year and advanced to the Class 3A state playoffs, and Bavaro and company have a goal of nothing less than that this season.
Helping make that happen is an offensive line that returns all but one starter, including first-team all-leaguer Averi Winn (6-0, 260).
How that group attacks teams will depend on who is at quarterback, and that is a three-man race that doesn’t expect to be resolved until a few weeks into the season. Andrew Burger, a 6-2 junior, returns after earning second-team all-league honors last year but he has been getting a steady push from 5-10 senior Ethan Hooper and 6-0 junior Logan Holler.
“Andrew has that ‘it’ factor where he can keep things going by moving around and he’s not a bad runner,” said Bavaro, “while Hooper is more cerebral and knows all his reads, and Logan’s a guy who can run and pass a little bit. We’re going to play all three at least in the first game and get into game time and see what we have. We may have offensive sets for each one of them so our offense may depend on who we have out there.”
Senior Manny Zamora has moved back to his more natural position of running back and will be complemented by sophomores Gavin Mills and Bradly Conduracki.
The defensive philosophy has been adjusted a bit, focusing more on speed to get to the ball than purely on size. Burger and Zamora will be keys at linebacker, while junior Oggie Badger and Derek Tuttle will handle defensive end duties.
Coming off a one-win season that saw Douglas twice lose by a touchdown or less, including a last-minute loss to Brookings-Harbor, Trojans head coach Silia Polamalu is looking to shake things up a little bit in hopes that leads to more victories in 2019.
Gone is the spread offense that featured the passing game and in its place is a run-based veer offense that will feature returning quarterback Jesse Brecht and fellow junior fullbacks Leevi Brown and Noah Knight.
The idea isn’t as much about breaking 60-yard runs for touchdowns as it is controlling the tempo of a game and controlling the clock to help level the playing field against some of Douglas’ top-tier opponents.
Halfback/cornerback Brett Perry and lineman Isaac Skurk, both seniors, have helped lead the Trojans with strong offseason work, while senior Johnny Slone will also be tasked to help move the chains at halfback while also returning at outside linebacker.
Tye Cross returns at receiver/cornerback, while fellow junior Landen Lane serves as a wild-card for the team in as much as he could see time at quarterback, receiver or the offensive line. Lane also moves from linebacker to free safety to help anchor the Trojans’ defense.
South Umpqua is coming off a difficult season, having gone winless in District 2 and only 2-7 overall in 2018.
Coach Steve Stebbins, entering his 10th season, expected an uphill battle with only four returning starters, including one on offense. When injuries ravaged the Lancers early, their hopes further diminished.
They opened the season 2-1; lost their best player, Chris Martinez, to a season-ending injury in Game 3; deflatingly, lost Game 4 as time ran out.
“If we don’t lose Chris, I think maybe we win some games we lost and there’s a different outcome there,” said Stebbins.
This season, he has a number of players who got their varsity feet wet a year ago. Two of the leaders are returning linemen Noah Rudy and Zach Downard, both seniors. Rudy is 6-2, 225 pounds, and Downard is 6-1, 240.
They will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, but after that, the Lancers are thin up front, especially after losing one of their top big men when he transferred to Days Creek.
Conversely, he has a number of skill kids to turn to, including returning starting quarterback Josh Deister. Taylor Wylie and Cage Simmons will share rushing duties; each saw varsity action a year ago.
South Umpqua’s best player is senior H-back Christian Allen, who made second-team all-league last year at three positions: wide receiver, linebacker and punter. Stebbins will move him wherever necessary.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is a “real big weight-room kid,” said Stebbins. “He’s super strong, a good high school athlete. I wish I had more of him.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry