Molalla's football team will no doubt miss the several key seniors from last year's squad, but they return a number of solid players with All-League honors and playoff experience

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Molalla junior Jeff Larsen (13) follows lead blocker Avery Lucas on a sweep play last season at North Marion.

Head coach: Tim Baker, first season (fifth if you count 2003-2006)

2016 record: 6-3 overall, 2-2 Tri-Valley play

Three-year record: 20-8 overall, 9-4 Tri-Valley play

Last playoff appearance: 2015, lost to Marshfield 13-7 at home in the first round after winning their first league title since 2006

Key departures: Mont Child (Honorable Mention All-State LB, First Team All-League LB, Second Team All-League RB), Aaron Alexander (Honorable Mention All-State DB, First Team All-League DB, First Team All-League Utility Player), Jarett Gago (First Team All-League DL, Second Team All-League OL), Kevin Trujillo (Second Team All-League RB), Seth Hinton (Second Team All-League OL), OL/DL Loghan Swigart, and OL/DL Nathan Reach

Players to watch: Senior Chase Jazdinski (Honorable Mention All-League QB), junior Jeff Larsen (Second Team All-League WR), senior Tyler Clark (Second Team All-League DL and Utility Player), senior Brandon Palmer (Second Team All-League LB), and junior Silverio Lopez (Second Team All-League DB)

Season outlook: The Indians will no doubt be looking to continue the success they've seen the past few seasons, but if they really want to become the long-term contenders at the 4A level they hope to be, they need leadership that has plans to stick around for the long run.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Molalla football's head coach Tim Baker gives calls to the offense during a 7-on-7 passing league scrimmage last month at Woodburn High School.

Former head coach Tim Baker (2003-2006) is back at the helm of the program, and he doesn't plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

That's good news for a program that has lacked a consistent, long-term coaching staff that is now on its fourth head coach in ten seasons.

And while many may expect this to be a rebuilding year for the Indians, they don't see it that way.

Despite having lost a handful of key seniors to graduation, Molalla is filling those voids with young players who have shown promise in preseason practices. They have a solid number of returners with All-League honors and playoff experience, and those players will serve as the backbone of the team.

Molalla will have some work to do on revamping the offensive line, which lost three of its starters to graduation, along with 6-foot three inches and 280-pounds junior Logan Newton, who is out for the season due to a traffic collision back in June. This will likely be a priority for Baker, since his offensive system of the Wing-T relies on a lot of misdirection and counter plays where one or two lead blockers are tasked with paving the way for runners. They do return All-League winner senior Tyler Clark, however, who will likely be a key component of the misdirection on the line, along with seniors Dylan Brown and Chase Pursley, who both have solid size and will likely be anchors on the line.

Their offensive backfield will surely miss the power-shifty combination of Child and Trujillo, who carried a bulk of the load in the ground game last season, but the Indians should sport plenty of depth with several returning players including juniors Reece Elliott and Emmett Smyth, and seniors Ben Pruitt and Braden Hibbs.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Molalla senior quarterback Chase Jazdinski (10) takes the snap during the Indians' home game against Banks last season.

Returning All-League LB senior Brandon Palmer and All-League WR junior Jeff Larsen will anchor the wide receiver corps and provide reliable go-to options for Jazdinski, and we can expect to see sophomore Casey Brooks play a role there as well.

On the defensive side, the Indians will have their hands full with replacing Child and Aaron Alexander, two All-State defenders who anchored the defensive front and backfield, along with Jarett Gago on the line.

But Palmer will likely play that bruiser role in the middle of the defense, contuining his All-League performance from last year, as Larsen will continue to play a key role at corner, and seniors Pursley, Clark, Jazdinski, and Pruitt will likely anchor the rest of the defensive line and linebacker corps.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Molalla High School students turned out in full force for the Indians' football game at North Marion last season.

Molalla returns a solid number of players with All-League honors and playoff experience, so we can expect to see them making some noise in the Tri-Valley Conference again, especially since reigning champion Estacada graduated 16 seniors from last year's squad.

First game: The Indians begin with a jamboree at Philomath High School on Friday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. Their season officially starts at Rex Putnam High School on Sept. 1 at 7 p.m., and they have their home opener against North Marion the following week on Sept. 8. They'll begin Tri-Valley play on Sept. 22 at Madras.

Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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