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FOOTBALL '19: Mazama chases sixth Skyline crown

Clearly established as the team to beat in the Skyline Conference, Mazama will not only look to win a sixth straight conference title, but it’s expected to make a run at the only playoff destination to elude the Vikings — the Class 4A state championship game.

Coach Vic Lease said this team has the talent and mindset to make a deep postseason push.

“We feel like this team is the best prepared leading up to the season as any team we’ve had,” he said. “Our preparation has been constant. If there’s anything this group holds over the last six teams, it’s in their preparation.”

Under Lease, who enters his seventh season with a 46-14 record and 27-3 mark in Skyline play, Mazama has missed the playoffs just once, which was in his first year at the helm. His teams have also reached two state semifinals along with a pair of quarterfinals. Their other playoff berth was their lone first-round exit.

“The bar has been set to win the conference championship and go deep into playoffs,” said Lease. “That’s the expectation every year. That expectation is one thing but you’ve gotta put the work in to get there.”

Leading the Vikings offensively will be first-team all-Skyline senior quarterback Nate Beck. He will be protected by a stellar offensive line anchored by athletic 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior Issac Hagerty.

Senior running back Cooper Hamilton (6-2, 215) will replace last season’s Skyline offensive player of the year, Buddy Zakour.

“Cooper can step right in and not miss a beat,” said Lease.

Hamilton will be complemented by a pair of sure-handed senior wide receivers in Cole Brosterhous (6-2, 180) and Tristen Lee (6-2, 185).

“Both are basketball types that can go up and get it,” said Lease. “They have a great nose for the football.”

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings will rely upon a defense that brings back six all-conference players.

“Our defense is as fast and athletic as it’s ever been,” said Lease. “We’re really looking forward to defense leading this team this year.”

Hagerty, a Skyline honorable mention on the defensive line, is one of those players the Vikings will be counting on. He’ll be shuffled along the defensive front, playing both end and nose tackle to give opposing offenses different looks and to exploit mismatches.

The Vikings’ defense also features a trio of returning all-conference senior linebackers in Hamilton, Cadence Baltz (6-0, 190) and Ben Hoegee (6-0, 195).

Brosterhous, a second-team all-Skyline defensive back a year ago, and Lee, who was an honorable mention as a sophomore, will be mainstays in the Vikings’ secondary along with senior Trevon Daniels (5-10, 180).

Newcomers on the defense are senior rush outside linebacker Conner Wynne (5-11, 200) and junior defensive end Dominic Hankins (6-2, 230).

“We’re tired of practicing, we want to play,” said Lease. “What I’m worried about is us peaking early. We’re already ready to play right now. It’s been a deal pulling them back in practice.”

Klamath Union

Coming off a second-place finish in the Skyline Conference, Klamath Union is expected to be near the top once again as it returns several key players, including dynamic senior Darius Holmes, who made the all-conference team last season at three positions.

Holmes, at 5-11 and 185 pounds, was a first-teamer as both a defensive end and punter. He was second team at wide receiver and also figured in the Pelicans’ rushing attack.

Also back will be senior second-team quarterback Xavier Arvizu, who will look to build on a stellar junior season. Pelicans coach Tom Smith expects to hand over more responsibility to Arvizu in hopes of bringing more balance to an offense that was primarily run-based a season ago.

While Arvizu will no doubt be looking for Holmes as his top option, junior Aaron Franklin should provide another reliable target as a slot receiver and as a running back.

The Pelicans’ cornerstone on the offensive line will be junior Dawson Smith (6-1, 280). He’ll also play defensive tackle alongside sophomore Kaden Coulter, who will start opposite of Holmes at defensive end.

Franklin will also start at linebacker as will junior Zeke Pena.

Henley

During the offseason, third-year coach Alex Stork emphasized solving Henley’s executional woes, which contributed to a 2-7 record.

One way Stork went about it was having his players come up with three goals to achieve this season: be the first team to score each game, have the conference’s best takeaway-turnover ratio and win the Skyline Conference.

That ambition will be in range for the Hornets, who return 18 starters — nine players on each side of the ball.

“It’s the most cohesive unit we’ve had,” said Stork. “In the late season when we get in adverse situations, that’s when it’s gonna matter. Everyone is on the same page. Last year it felt like square one because we replaced so many guys.”

One returners is all-world senior John Tacchini, who was a first-team Skyline linebacker and second-team running back a season ago.

Juniors Tim Orr and Cade Northcutt battled for the starting quarterback spot in the preseason. A key target will be 6-3, 185-pound senior first-team wide receiver Sam Dixon, the conference’s leading receiver last year, as well as second-team slot receiver Cameron O’Connor.

The Hornets will run a single-back spread offense which also feature a lot of tight end personnel to highlight junior second-teamer Braden Lawrie (6-4, 215) and junior Joe Northcutt (6-5, 225).

Joe Northcutt will double as a defensive end after earning honorable mention honors last year, while junior lineman Parker Wooten (6-4, 270) should give Henley size and toughness on both sides of the ball.

“I think we have a lot of good pieces but we’ve gotta execute better than last season and do the little things better,” said Stork. “We just want to do everything we did last year but better, as simple as that sounds. It’s not about changing it, it’s about doing it better.”

North Valley

North Valley will look to begin the season the way it finished 2018 following a rough start when it dropped its first five games.

The Knights won their final three Skyline games, posting two shutouts and outscoring their opponents 94-16.

The Knights return a trio of talented senior running backs to carry the load in coach Neil DeForrest’s Wing-T offense: first-team all-Skyline fullback Austin Gray, second-teamer Eli Colas and Cole Comyford, who is coming off a knee laceration that cost him most of the season.

Behind center will be senior quarterback Drew Hansen, whose favorite target could be senior tight end Aiden Avila, who at 6-4 and 190 pounds, provides a big-bodied target and red-zone threat.

The returning starters along the offensive line are seniors Brandyn Lagan and KC Comyford, who will also be a cog on the defensive line along with Avila — an honorable mention defensive end as a junior — and Zachary Ellison.

Gray, Hansen and junior Garrett McLaughlin make up the Knights’ linebacker corps, while the secondary will feature Cole Comyford and senior honorable mention outside hybrid safeties Colas and senior Tyson Garcia.

Reach sports reporter Warren Blenkush at 541-776-4492 or wblenkush@rosebudmedia.com

Mazama coach Vic Lease is doused in celebration after a 2018 victory. Photo courtesy of the Herald & News.