6A football — NHS must replace some key players, but has many offensive weapons, solid defense

The Newberg High School football team is well aware of what its getting into this fall as it transitions to life in the latest reconfiguration of the Three Rivers League, but also isn’t backing down.

Not only will the Tigers line up against perennial powerhouse Lake Oswego, rising program Lakeridge and Canby, which ousted NHS from the playoffs last year, they will continue to face the top two programs from the Pacific Conference, as Tigard and Tualatin also make the move.

If that weren’t enough, add in 5A juggernaut Sherwood and general sports giant West Linn and the Three Rivers could be the toughest league in the entire state regardless of classification, let alone 6A.Photo Credit: SETH GORDON - Pursuit - Garrison Hardin and Brandon Harper combine for a sack during Newberg's scrimmage versus Barlow on Friday night. Newberg opens the season Friday at home versus Crescent Valley.

Living in the digital age, head coach T.J. Tomlin has said his kids read about other teams in the league, but Newberg isn’t often mentioned. Tomlin tells them that they haven’t earned that recognition as a program and that’s just the way it is.

“Your actions will show whether or not you’ve earned that,” Tomlin said. “We’ve talked about that and this class wants that bad.”

Giving Tomlin hope is strength and talent in the trenches on both sides of the ball, although the Tigers must replace several significant contributors, including Pacific Conference lineman of the year Dane Jensen, who is now at George Fox, and Dakota Church, Newberg’s most outstanding senior athlete in 2013-2014 and now a freshman at Linfield.

On the offensive line, the Tigers must also replace starters Alejandro Cisneros and Jacob Hooker, but will have 6-foot-6-inch senior Matt Springer to anchor this year’s group.

Springer has slimmed down to 245 pounds and will rotate through every position on the line this fall, mixing in with tackles Evan Smith (senior) and Chase Pothier (junior), sophomore guards Scott Friedrich and Jacob Lapointe, and junior center Devin Russo.

“The nice thing is Matt’s so smart, he can move around and be just fine,” Tomlin said. “It’s really nice to have a kid like him.”

With senior Grayson Oviatt moving to running back, Newberg will once again have a new starting quarterback, which has been the case in all but one season of Tomlin’s tenure.

Senior Kasey Fish and sophomore Anthony Adams are in a tight battle to become the starter, with Fish offering better skills as a passer and Adams superior athletic ability as a runner. Both are have had just one year running Tomlin’s veer offense, as Fish injured his shoulder as a sophomore and sat out his entire junior season.

No matter who wins the competition, which could continue into the first two games of the season, they will be on the field together much of the time, with one at receiver. Tomlin was pleased with how each performed Friday at the preseason jamboree versus Canby and Barlow.

“Both of them just take charge, which is really good at that position,” Tomlin said. “They’re leadership on the field is excellent and I think that’s their best quality.”

The Tigers also showed Friday that whoever plays quarterback will have a variety of weapons at their disposal.

In the running game, Tomlin expects to play four tailbacks, with Oviatt and sophomore Colin Hyatt expected to get first crack at the ball, while senior Colten Lemos and sophomore Connor Morris will rotate in.

Fullbacks Matthew McCarthy and Garrison Hardin will help keep the defense honest, as will standout receiver Tyler DeLashmutt, who proved to be a lethal deep threat last year and caught a long touchdown pass from Adams at the jamboree.

“We have a lot of places to get the ball and could be pretty explosive,” Tomlin said. “I’m excited about that.”

Defensively, Springer and Smith, who broke out as a junior, will anchor the interior of the line, while senior Bryce Schubert and Henry Kinney have impressed Tomlin at defensive end.

Marcus Dufur returns to fill one of the outside linebacker positions, while Tomlin also likes his options on the inside, where senior Andrew Creighton, junior Jason Mauleon and sophomore Zach DeLashmutt are in a heated battle for the starting nod. The other outside linebacker position is still unsettled and a bit of a question mark.

DeLashmutt, an all-Pacific Conference performer a year ago, will return at safety and be joined in the defensive backfield rotation by Adams and Fish, both of whom played well at the jamboree.

Cornerback is an area of concern after losing two starters, but between Hyatt, Oviatt and Lemos, Tomlin believes the job will get done.

“Defensively, I think we’re going to be pretty solid,” Tomlin said.

The Tigers will face a pair of strong non-conference opponents in 5A quarterfinalist Crescent Valley at home Friday and Grant’s Pass on the road Sept. 12 before opening league play versus Tualatin, which will be eager to avenge last year’s loss.

“That will give us a really good chance to see what we’re like,” Tomlin said. “That gets us ready for what our kids are going to see in league with a very difficult schedule.”

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