This championship was as much about who wasn’t there as who was.
North Medford’s Colby Neron was selected to quarterback his team in the first game of the Pylon Las Vegas Summer National Tournament in Nevada last weekend.
He was one of three MVP 7on7 players at that position who could have been chosen in the elite touch football event, not so much as a critical piece to a potential title, but as one who would appropriately pay tribute to a lost teammate.
“Colby was the right quarterback to have for that game,” said coach Matt Quinn.
The squad of predominantly Eugene area and Southern Oregon high school players has been in existence for two years, and it had already been involved in three tournaments and three other weekends of games this year.
One player who didn’t make it this time to Las Vegas was Ian Spalding, a talented two-way player for North Bend who disappeared six weeks ago when he slipped while climbing rocks on the coast and struck his head as he fell into the Pacific Ocean.
Spalding was a second-team all-Midwestern League quarterback last season as a junior, who threw four touchdown passes in a loss to Crater. He had been with MVP since its inception.
Quinn, who is an assistant coach at Thurston High in Springfield, planned to start each of his quarterbacks in the three pool-play games in Las Vegas.
Neron got the nod first, but he didn’t take the field for MVP’s initial play against the Twin City Aces from Minneapolis. Without a quarterback in the game, Spalding’s No. 12 jersey and a football were placed on the field in tribute, and the team took a delay of game penalty while honoring his memory.
“The moment was very heartfelt,” said Neron, who will be a senior for the Black Tornado. “Everybody knew what was going on, and the other team felt for us. Our players all knew what was happening. They understood. I think it was important that we showed this symbolic first play in the memory of Ian. We know he was there with us.”
Twin City declined the penalty.
Neron, who along with North Medford teammate Devin Bradd, South Medford’s Garrett Henderson and Crater’s Trevor Jaasko and Dawson Douglas, grew to know and appreciate Spalding in their time on the team.
As quarterbacks, said Neron, he and Spalding would throw together and discuss “what was going on and how we could do better.”
Everyone liked Spalding, said Neron, describing him as a “sweet young man.”
“I feel blessed with being put in that role,” said Neron. “Him passing away was tragic, and it’s dear to my heart. Being put in that situation was a great moment. I’m going to remember it forever.”
MVP defeated Twin City, 21-14, then defeated an Arizona team and lost to a Salem squad to finish 2-1 in its pool.
It marched to the championship of the 16-team tournament, downing No. 3 seed Full Gorilla Legends 20-14 in the first round of bracket play, then topping No. 2 seed 2ooEZ 21-12 in the semifinals.
In the title game against top seed HEIR Black of Washington, MVP, led by Hidden Valley quarterback and Oregon State commit Sam Vidlak and Jaasko, triumphed, 24-19.
HEIR Black featured Emeka Egbuka, the nation’s No. 1-ranked wide receiver, according to 247sports.com.
“One of the main reasons we won the entire tournament was because of him,” Neron said of Spalding. “I think God was on our side, he was in our favor. Ian was in our favor, he was watching down on us, and we carried the emotion that he had brought to the team throughout the entire weekend.”
The opener was the only game in which Neron played quarterback. He contributed in other games on defense at outside linebacker and safety.
“Colby did such an amazing job that game keeping the team going,” said Quinn. “For us it was super emotional, and he did a nice job of settling everything down and had a great game.”
Quinn said he cried like a baby once the championship was in hand.
He called Spalding’s parents as the MVP players were still rejoicing.
“It was a pretty emotional time,” said the coach.
Vidlak was chosen MVP and gave the trophy to Quinn to present to Spalding’s family.
Under normal circumstances, such tournaments attract in the neighborhood of 100 teams and many NCAA Division I-caliber players.
MVP had a roster of 17 players. Other Hidden Valley players were Nate Vidlak, Jeremiah Noga and Lawrence Matusik.
The games are fast-paced aerial affairs. There’s a 25-minute running clock. Possession starts at the 40-yard line and the offense has three downs to make a first down at the 25, then another three downs to make a first at the 10. From there it has three downs to score.
The Southern Oregon contingent was integral, said Quinn.
Jaasko and Douglas were primary targets for Sam Vidlak, and the former was especially formidable in the title game.
“Trevor had an amazing championship game,” said Quinn. “That’s who he is. Trevor is the definition of a gamer.”
Jaasko, in Quinn’s opinion, is the most underrated wide receiver in the Northwest.
Quinn coaches Thurston’s cornerbacks, and the Colts twice faced Crater last year, including for the Class 5A state championship, won 14-10 by Thurston.
“Using a 7on7 phrase,” said Quinn, “he’s got that dog in him. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and that’s good and bad. For Trevor, there are times when he lets his emotions go too far. He’s bound to get a 15-yard penalty, which he did in the championship game. He knows he’s good, but he also knows he’s underrated. When it’s time to play, he’s just going to show up.”
Crater’s receiving corps, of course, includes Douglas, and Quinn doesn’t relish facing the tandem.
Douglas was more consistent, he said, than any wide receiver he saw in 7on7.
“He’s the quiet type who just makes every play that you ask him to,” said the coach. “Dawson is going to have a huge senior year. He’s probably been the most eye-opening kid for me who’s come into our program this year. I didn’t realize just how good he is. Dawson Douglas is a football player.”
Bradd and Henderson started at outside linebacker, the positions Quinn rates as among the most difficult to man because of the smaller, speedy players they deal with.
“They were fantastic all weekend long,” said Quinn. “They were leaders out there and just did a really nice job. We couldn’t have won without those guys’ play.”
COVID-19 led to a reduced field, but Quinn was impressed with how his team played.
“There could have been 100 teams and I think the result would have been the same,” said Quinn. “We were that dominant.”
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email@example.com.