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Beavers like flying under the radar early in the year, staying clear of preseason hype

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Beaverton senior defensive tackle Vinny Niosi was a third-team all-Metro League selection last season.

All is not lost at Beaverton, not in the least.

Head coach Bob Boyer isn't busy battening down the hatches trying to stop the Beaver ship from sinking. Yes, Carson Crawford, the Metro Offensive Player of the Year, is gone as is the star-studded senior class that nearly pushed Beaverton to the 6A semis last season. External assumptions might write off the Beavers as rebuilding. For the first time since 2014 when Sam Noyer took over as starting quarterback, Beaverton might not be the second-most ballyhooed team in Metro. Talk of toppling Jesuit, winning Metro, bringing a state title back to Beaverton has been rather quiet as opposed to past pre-season chatter.

And that's just how Boyer and the Beaver prefer it.

"With this group, I don't think anybody outside our program has very high expectations," Boyer said. "When you go into a season thinking you're all that and people are telling you're all that and you probably should be, I think the season's harder. Now guys can just relax and go play football. People might think we'll be in the middle of the pack, that we lost too many people and won't be very good. That's fine. We don't care what they think. We have to win game number one and head the direction we want to go. We feel we have as good of shot as anybody to be in the top-two or three of our league. That's our goal. If you're in that position, generally, you're going to get a strong ranking and that puts you in position to have a pretty decent run in the playoffs. If things go well, I think we could be pretty good this year."

Boyer and his coaching staff bring up their entire junior varsity squad up to the varsity level and try to find ways to get them in the game, whether it's on special teams, mop-up duty in a blowout or part of a platoon with their older, entrenched players. Fortunately for Beaverton, there were enough contests last season where the Beaver staff was able to get a look at some of the replacements coming back in 2017.

Senior Matt Eppler is etched in Beaverton's depth chart at running back as is Trevor McDonald and Stefanos Mason. Boyer said all three are more power, run-behind-their-pads kind of ball carriers who can move the chains and gain yards after contact. Senior wide receivers DeSean Wilkins, Grant Kirby are Beaverton's returning pass catchers with the lengthy Wilkins playing outside and the quick-footed Kirby manning the slot position. Boyer noted senior Jack Laperle and junior Ben Mackinnon have flashed soft hands and sound agility. Junior Ethan Wilborn transferred over Valley Catholic during the summer and at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds has "just got better and better" on the outside according to Boyer. Senior tight end Tanner Brown and senior slot receiver Evan Kepner will play inside.

Senior left tackle Vinny Niosi was a third-team all-Metro defensive lineman who will be Beaverton's rock on both sides of the line. Senior Blaine Larson played offensive tackle last year and has been moved to center. Senior Sonny Bonillas starts at left guard. Bonillas and Niosi started together a year ago. Junior Reese Wygant played quite a bit as a sophomore and will start this season along the offensive line.

Names like Niosi, Wilkins, Kirby, Eppler, Larson and Bonillas might very well ring a bell. For the past two years, those now senior starters were supplementary pieces on successful teams with proven captain-esque types. As younger contributors, they could make timely plays and weave into the team fabric without having to carry the load. Now they're in the spotlight and looked at not just as producers, but authority figures in the locker room.

"For a long time a lot of those guys saw themselves as secondary leaders, but we now we need them to step up and be the leader," Boyer said. "They have to work through that. They're the ones with the most experience, they have to show the others how to practice with intensity, listen to the coach, come back from a bad play. I need those guys to pump their units up and then the team as a whole, up and be that guy who says 'Jump on my back, we're gonna go get this win'. And if something gets screwed up, we stay calm and figure out how to get it done. If you have great leaders, you can be a great team."

Senior quarterback Alex Brown is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound transfer from Jesuit who's still developing as a signal caller and adjusting to Beaverton's spread offense and rapid tempo. The scheme is a far cry from the Crusaders' ground-and-pound attack that rarely relies on the quarterback position. Additionally, Brown has the unenviable task of following in Noyer and Crawford's larger-than-life footsteps. But, Boyer said Brown has stepped in smoothly and been a great fit.

"He might have the hardest job of anybody, but I think he's handled it really, really well," Boyer said. "If there's a mistake made, he usually says 'Hey that's my fault' even if it isn't his fault. He's trying to pump guys up and he's meshed himself with the other players really well. You would never know that he wasn't here last year. I think he's just going to get better and better as the season goes on."

Wilkins and Kirby start opposite of each other at defensive back. Brown and senior Albert Yim were mainstays at outside linebacker as juniors. Eppler and Bonillas will start at linebacker Isaac Atkins is playing the right defensive end spot opposite of Niosi. Boyer prefers to rotate guys in on defense and said he has a "handful" of able-bodied players at every position, especially in the trenches, who can keep the starters fresh and ready to go for the fourth quarter.

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