Mazama earns nod as Skyline favorite
The Mazama High football team runs like a well-oiled machine. Even after graduating an important group of seniors from an undefeated spring season, the Vikings believe the system they have in place will allow them to retool and continue their reign in the Skyline Conference this fall.
Mazama went 6-0 during the spring 2021 campaign en route to winning the 4A Football Elite 8 Showcase over Marist Catholic in April. Though the championship was technically unofficial, the Vikings did hold the distinction as the only 4A team to go undefeated in a span that included wins over some of the state’s top programs in Thurston (5A) and Banks (4A).
Graduated seniors like Tristan Lee, Cole Brosterhous, Alex Hayden and Erik Hayden, among others, have moved on. Head coach Vic Lease knows those players will be missed.
Yet during the Vikings’ football camp Aug. 9-12, Lease said they talked about how when kids enter the program as freshmen, they’re plugged into a system that has few, if any differences, from one level to the next. The varsity fullback down to the JV and freshman fullbacks, for example, are learning and practicing the same things daily. That should serve the Vikings well as they try to maintain their grip on consecutive Skyline Conference titles dating back to 2014.
“All the terminology, everything we do, our mesh points, is the same,” Lease said.
“As we develop young men in our program, we look at who is going to be the next guy after we graduate a class,” Lease continued. “I think that’s part of the reason why we’ve had sustained success and we haven't dropped off. We’ve stayed consistent over the last eight years … Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be extremely tough to replace the big five that we lost last year, but we do have some young men that are stepping up and wanting to fill those shoes.”
Mazama benefits from returning its entire backfield from last season to its potent “flex bone” triple option attack, wherein the offense starts out in the Wish Bone and breaks out into the flex.
While the Vikings had the luxury of several downfield threats in their passing game last season, their offense will be established, first and foremost, on the ground.
“That’s what we’ve always done,” Lease said.
The veteran backfield is headlined by Zeke Heaton, an all-state fullback who scored the game-winning, 57-yard touchdown to defeat Marist 27-21. Aidan Kindt, who Lease described as “one of the fastest kids in the state at any level” will return at one halfback, and Brandon Gailey is slotted as the two back after splitting time with Colby Anderson at the position last season.
Newcomers include sophomore quarterback Tyson Van Gastel, who at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds “looks the part” as the Vikings’ signal-caller, Lease said.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s athletic, he’s tough — the type of kid I like at quarterback,” the head coach said.
The team’s offensive and defensive lines are going through somewhat of an overhaul. Three starters graduated on the offensive side, while center Nathan Tramp (6-0, 230) is back as the anchor of the line and right guard Isaac Pena (5-11, 300) also returns as a starter.
“We’re probably going to average about 6-1, 250 across the front and with those three backs and that quarterback reading the veer, we’re going to run the rock,” Lease said. “We’re not hiding it.”
Twenty-five seniors graduated from the Henley football program last season, leading some to opine that the team might be going through somewhat of a rebuild.
The Hornets haven’t paid much attention to the outside noise, and have to prove only to themselves that they’ll be ready for Week 1 against Ashland.
According to head coach Alex Stork, they’ve come a long way already this summer and have had fun while working at it.
“It’s a really good practice environment, it’s been really light, it’s been fun,” Stork said. “I’ve been especially excited to go to practice each day.”
And while the Hornets have a few question marks on the heels of last season, they also have the benefit of returning all-league players to lead them into the fall.
Senior inside linebacker and tailback Tulson Higgins (5-10, 180) will once again be penciled in as a two-way starter and his head coach said he’s in for a big final high school season.
“(He) plays hard, plays fast — a smart player. We’re counting on him to be a playmaker for us and the leader of our defense,” Stork said.
Rotating with Higgins in the Hornets’ single-back formation is senior Garrett Northcutt (5-9, 160), who also earned all-league honors at defensive back. Due to nagging injuries, Northcutt was limited in the backfield during the spring.
“We kind of thought he was going to be our featured tailback last year and it didn’t end up being the reality because of injury,” Stork said. “But (we’re) looking for him to have a strong season for us as well.”
Senior Braden Roach (6-2, 240) is expected to be the leader of the offensive and defensive lines. His presence will be particularly important on the offensive side, where Henley graduated five seniors from last season.
“Our line is probably the biggest question mark going into the season,” Stork said. “We feel like we have a lot of athleticism and speed in our skill positions on the perimeter, but our line is just pretty green.”
After dropping to the 3A classification for two seasons, which included a run to the state championship game in 2019, the Mustangs were reinstated in 4A and won all four of their games in the spring.
Now, Hidden Valley has a new coach, Mike Fanger, and some familiar faces to build around for a full fall slate.
Fanger, who replaced James Powers, coached in the Portland metro area for more than two decades, starting at the college level at Lewis & Clark (1994-2003), including five years as head coach, and Portland State (2004-05). Then, Fanger took the head job at La Salle Prep, where he coached from 2006-09, followed by stints at Lincoln (2010-11), West Linn (2012-13) and Glencoe (2014-17).
Fanger and his wife, Joelle, a 1987 Hidden Valley graduate, recently became “empty-nesters,” he said. So when a physical education position and the head football coach job came open at the school, Fanger jumped at the opportunity to move south to a familiar area they’ve spent plenty of time visiting family over the last 30 years.
Since taking the job in June, Fanger said the challenge has been getting the whole team in the same place due to work and other commitments. A total of 49 players are signed up in the program, though they saw far less through the first week of practice, which slowed coaches’ ability to evaluate players and install schemes.
“We are absolutely a work in progress and it's a situation where we need to be all together in order to get better,” Fanger said.
Still, the Mustangs have some big pieces to build around.
Quarterback Nate Vidlak (6-1, 200) is back for his senior season after getting a taste of the starting role in the spring as a junior, which came to fruition after his older brother, Sam Vidlak, enrolled early at Oregon State.
The younger Vidlak, who Fanger said has great arm talent and is a true student of the game, has already landed a Division I offer from Idaho State, and is also drawing interest from several collegiate baseball programs, including Oregon.
One of his top targets will be Noah Stone (5-10, 190), a two-way starter at receiver and defensive back. His work ethic and hard route-running ability led Fanger to remark that Stone is the “most impressive high school kid I've coached as far as effort ... He's outstanding every play.”
The Mustangs also return center Ayden Kanott (6-0, 250), who earned all-league honors as a sophomore, senior offensive and defensive tackle Aidan Moon-Reed (6-5, 220) and all-league nose guard Chris Woods, who as a heavyweight wrestler finished runner-up at the 2020 4A state championships.
Junior running back and defensive back Daniel Iwamizu (5-11, 195) will also be a factor, Fanger said.
During the offseason, Klamath Union head coach Tom Smith and his staff have repeated a simple message to players: Rise to the occasion.
With more free time on their hands, in part due to the long layoff between the 2019 season and 2021 spring, some KU players took jobs, and a handful of them decided to stick with them instead of returning to the gridiron, Smith said.
While the Pelicans will have a few less veteran players returning than once expected, it has opened the door for a number of sophomores to step in and start. Smith estimates between five and 10 sophomores, all combined, will be starting on both sides of the ball.
“We've been talking a lot about every week you have to get better,” Smith said. “The win-loss column will take care of itself, but we want to focus on, did you get better this week than last week?”
Smith said the newcomers have been welcomed with open arms by veteran players, and the team is excited about the upcoming season and beyond.
The Pelicans offense is still in good hands with the quarterback-center tandem of Silas Dutra (5-11, 180) and Hayden Smith (6-2, 300). They also have two-way senior starters returning in cornerback and receiver Pablo Macias (5-9, 170) as well as Jamus Dutra (5-11, 180), a receiver and defensive back.
Another player to keep an eye on is Lincon Peterson (5-10,175), a senior running back and linebacker who Smith expects to fit in well this season after emerging in the final three games of the spring.
It was only four games, but the experience North Valley’s young players gained in the spring was crucial for the upcoming season.
The team was heavy on juniors and sophomores, and even started two or three freshmen depending on the week.
“Last year was very important, even in its abbreviated form,” said head coach Neil DeForrest, entering his eighth season with the team. “And honestly, it’s showed up this summer through 7-on-7 stuff. We virtually have everybody back and the kids that were out there, they were just a little bit more polished, experienced and confident kids through the summer, and obviously that showed through in their performance.
“That’s going to bode well for us, hopefully, during this year.”
The Knights’ Wing-T offense will be orchestrated by dual-threat senior quarterback Jaydon Twedell (6-3, 185), who will once again be relied on in the running game, in addition to his arm.
Senior running back Nate Love (5-8, 150), who suffered an injury midway through the spring season, returns as the Knights’ most explosive player. The backfield also includes junior Chris Currier, senior fullback Hank Dumas and sophomore Leo Freedman, who, as a freshman, was arguably the Knights’ best runner in the spring, DeForrest said.
On defense, senior linebacker Sam Campos will be called on to lead the Knights, who will also have senior Matt Scharpen at the position. The secondary includes Dumas, Currier, senior Jaylin Jenkins, a two-way starter at receiver and cornerback, and Twedell at free safety.
North Valley also returns four of five starting offensive linemen, including seniors Joey Comyford (6-2, 210) and Owen Farmer (6-0, 215) at the guard spots, a position that is critical in the Knights’ offense, DeForrest said.
DeForrest is also curious to see how Gabe Champion, a transfer from Nebraska, will fit into the team at receiver and defensive back.
There was no dissension among Skyline Conference coaches about Mazama being the preseason favorite. Beyond that, however, DeForrest believes the conference is up for grabs, with North Valley right in the mix.
“There’s a lot of parity in the league right now,” he said.
SKYLINE CONFERENCE COACHES POLL
3. Hidden Valley16
4. Klamath Union12
4. North Valley12
First-place votes: Mazama 5, Hidden Valley 1.
Reach reporter Will Denner at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org