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Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior defensive back-wide receiver Ryan Schwartz said he expects the Warriors to close out games this season and pull out nail-biting wins.

Aloha envisions hard work being its great equalizer.

When teams with more depth, bigger bodies and elevated talent brush the Warriors aside as underdogs, Aloha vows to mute its muzzles, strap on the hard hats and bring their lunch pails to the gridiron.

It’s a phrase coined by former Aloha head coach Chris Casey, who oftentimes had to play up the “Us Against the World” mentality during his time leading the Warriors, sans that golden era from 2009-2013. And, it’s a motto Aloha continues to live by as it presses on in the post-Casey, post-Thomas Tyner age.

As long as the Warriors don’t beat themselves with ill-timed penalties and faulty execution, as was the case at times last year, strong-willed Aloha said it’ll be in the center of the Metro title chase, contrary to what some so-called experts have proclaimed in the preseason.

“We’re totally pushed aside, but it’s no big deal about what goes on in the rankings or what people say,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Schwartz. “A lot of the other Metro teams think they’re entitled. They say, ‘I have this great quarterback or ‘We’re Jesuit, we have these big linemen.’ They think they’re going to walk all over Aloha, but that’s where we think we can come in and surprise some teams.”

“We’re a lot more focused this season,” said junior running back Parker Bull. “I feel like our team has their head in it. Some of my youth coaches said football is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. So, as long we do our jobs and do them with good technique, we can win.”

Aloha appears to be a quiet, humble group depositing each Twitter jab, each mocking Facebook post and every piece of trash talk in the old memory bank for Metro play, when the chinstraps are buckled and there’s no social media outlet to hide behind.

Vaandering said he doesn’t let the Twitter digs get to him or his teammates. They’ve fully embraced the proverbial underdog role as the team vying for respect in Metro, trying to let their play handle any of the trash talk that’ll inevitably surface from week-to-week when league action begins in earnest. Yet, the Warriors aren’t oblivious to the social media stabs, the pictures of a grinning from ear-to-ear Sponge Bob Square Pants yucking it up with duped captions such as “When your school sees Aloha on the schedule.” Drag our names through the mud now, Aloha says. They’ll be happy to silence the critics with their effort between the hashes.

“I let those people who sit behind computers say whatever they want,” said Vaandering. “They’re not out here working hard like us. They’re not trying to get better. I don’t really think about that stuff. I just go out, do my job, make sure my teammates are doing their jobs. That way, we can go out and get some wins.”

A year ago, Aloha finished fifth in Metro (0-5), but three of those losses were by a combined 12 points. Against Sunset, the Warriors couldn’t convert a two-point conversion that would’ve won the game. In back-to-back games against Westview and Beaverton, both outcomes came down to a clutch game-winning drive and a pivotal stop. That thin line between victory and defeat never leaned in the Warriors’ favor, though Aloha said it’s much more tougher both physically and mentally to bear down and pull out those fleeting wins.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha junior running back Parker Bull was a second-team all-Metro selection last year on both sides of the football for the Warriors last season.

“We lost three or four games by less than a touchdown,” said senior offensive lineman Taylor Vaandering. “So, these teams that talk about how they walked all over us or they smacked us...we barely lost. We’re not as bad as some of these other schools think. And, they can go ahead and think we’re that bad. We’re going to make some plays and put some points on the board.”

“If we keep working hard and getting better, we’ll be in every single Metro game,” said Schwartz. “Last year those games came down to the wire, and I think this year we’ll come through in those games and prove some people wrong. When it comes to the fourth quarter and we’re down one touchdown or one play, we’ll be ready for those plays this year.”

Head coach Bill Volk overhauled Aloha’s offense in the off-season, switching from the traditional, smash mouth, I-Formation look to a more trendy zone-read spread offense that’s better suited for the Warriors’ personnel. Rather than “bulldoze everybody” as Vaandering said, Aloha can utilize its lightning-quick playmakers such as Schwartz in space and let them create offense with more room to roam. Quick passes to the flat on screens, short slants and out routes must be music to Schwartz’s ears, being the slot receiver made his name juking defensive backs off the line and burning them for big gains as an all-Metro pass catcher.

“I think all our guys are making big strides forward,” said Schwartz. “And, when games come around, it’s not going to be one guy who makes all the plays. It’s going to be spread out. A lot of people are going to be making catches here and there, getting touchdowns and making plays on defense. You’ll hear new names every week.”

Vaandering, Cortez Rodelo, Alex Lorenzo and Martin Ruvalcaba will be asked to play at a faster tempo along the offensive line, which the senior tackle said fits the bill for the type of athletes Aloha has upfront.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior defensive back-wide receiver Ryan Schwartz can take it to the house from anywhere on the field thanks to great speed and quickness.

“We can catch the defensive line and ‘backers off guard,” said Vaandering. “They’re all thinking ‘Ok, we have to get set up’, and as they’re shifting, we can pound ‘em. We’re improving our communication too, because when you’re running (the spread) you have to read more than just hit.”

The switch to the spread has been an admitted adjustment for Bull, who emerged on the Metro scene as an industrial-strength, between-the-tackles type of running back last season as a sophomore. For much of his football existence, dating back to his Aloha youth football days, Bull’s always had a lead-blocking fullback plowing holes for him, clearing the way to the second level of the defense. Yet, in the spread, fullbacks aren’t deployed as much. Other than Michael Frazier, Evan Lascelles or whoever wins Aloha’s starting quarterback gig, Bull will be by his lonesome in the backfield, counted on to react quickly when toting the rock and hitting the open holes

“It’ll be different, but I’m pretty confident going into it,” said Bull. “I trust my coach. He knows what he’s doing. Before, it was a lot about power. Now, it’s about agility and trying to get to the holes faster.”

All three of the Warriors agreed being perceptive on the field and eliminating mental mistakes is huge this fall as is winning the turnover battle. Football is played at warp speed in Metro, and heated chirping is prevalent amongst all of the Beaverton-area heated rivals. The team that holds its focus best, not just on Fridays but during the week putting in preparation for the game, Vaandering said, usually comes out on top.

“We have to make sure we’re the smarter guys on the field, said Vaandering. “You don’t have to be the big guy. You just have to be the guy who’s the smartest and works the hardest.”

“It’s all mental,” said Schwartz. “It’s about how well-prepared you are with your own scheme, how much film you’ve watched on the other team, how much you’ve seen them do. You have to know the team before you play them and know how you can beat them before you even go in the game. If you don’t know that before, then you’ve already lost.”

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