New coach has 22 starters and he introduces a no-huddle offense

La Salle Prep gridmen aim to prove their doubters wrong as they move up from the Class 4A Tri-Valley Conference to the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference.

Photo Credit: JOHN DENNY - La Salle Prep coach Aaron Hazel works on technique with senior leaders (left to right) Jack Hogan, Greg Dettmer and Joe Kohnstamm.Few people outside of La Salle expect much from the Falcons in football this fall. That’s because the Falcons struggled last year, going 1-4 in the Class 4A Tri-Valley Conference (2-7 overall), and because this year their school has the smallest enrollment of any school in the 5A classification.

But the Falcons have a new coach in alumnus Aaron Hazel (1999). The players say they are excited about what Hazel brings to the program; La Salle has more experienced players in its varsity lineup than it had last year; and the players and coaching staff believe that La Salle has a shot at finishing in the top half of the Northwest Oregon Conference and perhaps advancing to postseason play.

“We’re not going to be the biggest team out there,” said Hazel. “But with our no-huddle offense and 22 starters, we’re going to make up for our lack of size with the pace of play and 11 fresh bodies. We’ll wear people down.”

Hazel played football at La Salle under former head coach Ray Baker, who built successful teams by having 22 different starters.

“I’m excited about the change in culture,” said La Salle senior Greg Dettmer. “We’ve got a team motto — you versus yesterday. Every day we try to do better than we did the day before.”

“My goal is to get to the playoffs,” said Hazel. “If we get better every single day and do that consistently, and if we’re a better team from each Friday night to the next Friday night, and we stay healthy, I believe we can make the playoffs.”

The top three teams from the nine-team NWOC will advance to the Class 5A state playoffs this year, along with a possible fourth team as a wildcard entry. The league this year includes teams from Hillsboro, Liberty, Parkrose, St. Helens, Sandy, Wilsonville, Milwaukie, Putnam and La Salle.

“I’m excited about our new no-huddle offense,” said senior Jack Hogan. “I think it will help us against the bigger teams that we’re going to face in 5A.”

“I’m excited about the new coaching staff and what they’ve brought to the program,” said senior Joe Kohnstamm. “With our [lack of] size and our speed, I think it’s a perfect fit for us.”

Kohnstamm added, “Being the smallest school in 5A, we’re going to play with a chip on our shoulders. But we have depth, with 22 different starters, and that should play to our advantage.

“We want to prove all those doubters who think we’re not going to be very good wrong. Focus on getting better, day by day and game to game.”

Dettmer said he believes that senior leadership will be a big plus for the Falcons. He said the Falcons have 15 seniors out this fall, where they had only seven seniors on the team last year.

“And we’ve had a lot of younger guys come out who didn’t play last year,” said Dettmer. “Good athletes, like Jalontae Walker and Ben Wright. They’re going to help out a lot.”

Asked about team strengths, Hazel was quick to say, “Our defensive line. They’re very, very tough. Very athletic and very quick. And they make great reads.”

Hazel listed 12 athletes among his top players on defense: defensive linemen Dettmer (6-2, 190), Kohnstamm (5-9, 220) and junior Brendan Quinn (6-1, 210); linebackers senior Mike Bianca (6-1, 205) and juniors Jacob Lyver (6-2, 180), Josh Kurtin (5-10, 170) and Wright (5-10, 175); defensive backs senior Keenan Hall (6-3, 170) and juniors Joe Boyd (6-2, 175) and Walker (6-1, 210); and cornerbacks senior Mike Duarte (5-11, 165) and junior Charlie Sliney (5-9, 160).

Kohnstamm, Quinn, Lyver, Bianca, Duarte and Sliney all saw starting action on defense last year, while Dettmer was a starter on offense.

Quinn was a second-team all-conference defensive lineman in the Tri-Valley Conference as a sophomore.

Hazel listed his top prospects on offense: seniors Alex Sherrill (6-3, 190) and Mike Duarte at quarterback, along with junior Chris Larsen (5-10, 190); senior Nash Lisac (5-9, 165) at running back; seniors Mike Duarte and Keaton Kryger (5-8, 165) and sophomores Matt Duarte (5-8, 155) and Parker Cardwell (6-0, 175) at wide receiver; senior Jacob Casey (5-11, 215) at tight end; and seniors Hogan (5-10, 225), Austin Bosworth (6-1, 205) and Brendon Falk (6-4, 205) and juniors Quentin Collier (6-2, 195) and Aaron Johnson (6-2, 245) in the offensive line. Eight of the defensive players started last year.

Falk a year ago made first-team all-league as an offensive lineman; Mike Duarte received honorable mention for his play at quarterback.

Hazel says that, barring injuries, he anticipates that Mike Duarte is the only player who will see significant minutes on both sides of the football this season.

“I like this group,” said Hazel. “The majority of kids are doing a good job of flying around, and we’re having some leaders evolve, busting their tails every day. I couldn’t ask for those kids to work harder.”

Hazel has 11 assistants on his coaching staff, including varsity assistants Troy Lyver (linebackers), Austin Rosen (running backs), Joe Salvador (defensive coordinator), Keith Mecklem (offensive line), Chris George (receivers), Nick Phillips (defensive line) and Ian Zarosinksi (defensive backs).

Lyver and Rosen were members of the staff last year. George, a 1997 graduate of La Salle, returns to help out in football after a four-year absence; Phillips is a 2002 graduate of La Salle.

Salvador was an assistant at Madison last fall; Mecklem was an assistant at Gladstone. Zarosinski played for Hazel at Skyview High School and he is close to graduating at Linfield.

Coaching La Salle freshmen are: Jim Hellyer, Jerome Ka’Ahanui, Shawn Kelly and Mike Weaber. Hellyer and Ka’Ahanui coached at La Salle last year. Kelly, a 2006 graduate of La Salle, was on the coaching staff with Hazel at Skyview last season.

La Salle begins NWOC play this Friday, hosting Milwaukie.

Looking forward to the league season, Hogan said he expects Wilsonville and Parkrose to field strong teams.

He said of Milwaukie, “They’ll probably be our biggest rival, because they’re so close to us.”

Hazel comes to La Salle after coaching in a tremendously successful program at Vancouver’s Skyview High School, where he served as quarterback and linebacker coach, and, the past two seasons, as offensive coordinator.

“They made the playoffs the last nine years,” said Hazel. “At one point we won four league titles in a row and, in 2011, we lost in the [state championship] final.”

Skyview competes at the 4A level, the highest competitive level in Washington high school athletics.

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