In light of a 25-senior, six-all-Class 5A exodus this spring, the quarterfinalist Lions and their 13 returning fourth-year players can repeat as the classification's best scoring defense.
St. Helens has never finished higher than fourth in the Northwest Oregon Conference but strives to challenge state runner-up Wilsonville and reigning conference champion Sandy for its first such title, its third playoff run in a row and its second quarterfinal appearance since winning it all in Class 3A in 1996.
The Lions, whose three losses last year came by a four-point average against eight wins by 24 points, will unleash their new stars in their home opener with Hood River Valley (winless since Nov. 6, 2015, but back with 13 seniors) at 7 p.m. on Friday at Doc Ackerson Stadium.
"We really haven't looked much past [Hood River]," St. Helens coach Cory Young said. "We saw them at camp and they're a really strong team, and we're just working really hard this summer on making ourselves better and getting into that weight room and getting stronger and faster."
Caleb Carter, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior defensive lineman, joins Dylan Kessinger (senior linebacker, 6-0, 195), Daniel Suon (junior defensive lineman, 5-11, 250) and Cody Leanna (senior linebacker, 5-9, 180) as captains.
"[I'll] play with my buddies and see where all our hard work takes us," Kessinger said.
Carter and seniors Dylan Lobby (defensive lineman, 6-1, 225), Ethan Wallace (defensive lineman, 6-1, 200), and Jeremiah Kaliman (defensive lineman, 5-7, 230), Liam Tindall (linebacker, 5-11, 160), Robert Landreth (linebacker, 5-9, 160) will anchor the defense and protect Leanna and Chase Parkhurst (senior quarterback, 6-3, 200) on the offensive line.
"I'm looking forward to being a captain and having an impact on the field and in my teammates," Suon said. "I think with the new leaders this year it's going to be kind of a build-up year, but I'm hoping me and the other three leaders are able to lead this team into the playoffs and be the underdogs."
Hayden Laughlin (5-8, 157) is the only senior in the secondary, but juniors Cade Duarte (6-0, 180), Jacob Klein (6-0, 165), Leif Nelson (5-9, 160), Isaiah Bettencourt (5-8, 150), Kruze Katzenmeyer (5-7, 160) and Alex Cross (5-7, 150) are ready to rival last year's Class 5A-low 186 points (17 per game) allowed.
"I would say the strengths of our secondary would be knowing where they fit within the defensive scheme," Young said. "For some of these kids now, it's their third season of staying within what we do offensively and defensively, and they have a great understanding of where they fit and what their job is. It's just a matter of executing when we get into games."
Parkhurst leads the quarterback crew with juniors Konner Barackman (6-1, 205) and Nelson (5-9, 160).
"This season will be really fun and will really show the league what a group of underdogs can accomplish," Parkhurst said. "Us playing with a chip on our shoulder and playing as a team could become a very dangerous threat. As seniors, I think we are a group that is very close, and I've never been a part of a team that has been this close with each other, and it's something very special. Our seniors are pulling everyone together and making every kid, whether freshman or senior, a part of the program."
Cole Benshoof (senior, 6-0, 210) tops the running back charts with Leanna, and senior wideouts Ethan Friend (5-11, 140) and Hayden Laughlin (5-8, 157) join Kessinger as end zone threats.
Zane Weis (senior, 6-1, 180) and junior Jacob Klein (6-0, 165) lead a younger tight end corps including sophomores Tanner McTeigue (6-5, 160), Cannon Beisley (5-11, 170) and Jeremy O'Meara (5-9, 130).
The Lions will chase a second Seven-Mile War win in a row as they hit the road for Class 4A first-rounder Scappoose on Sept. 8.
Wilsonville and all-state seniors Austin Kness (kicker/wide receiver), defensive lineman Draco Bynum, whom St. Helens led 28-6 at halftime of the Wildcats' 38-35 quarterfinal escape, will come to town on Sept. 22.
First-rounder Hillsboro will host the Lions on Sept. 29 at Hare Field in Hillsboro, and first-rounder Sandy and all-state seniors Elijah Cohrs (center), TJ Brewster (tackle) and Iosefa Polamalu (middle linebacker) will visit on Oct. 27.
"I'm looking forward to a tough season," Leanna said. "It's going to take a lot of heart from everyone, and the seniors are a ready, very determined group of guys. Coaches expect a lot of leadership from us, and we are ready for what the season has to bring."
SEASON OUTLOOK: Wilsonville and its 28 seniors are the early Northwest Oregon Conference favorites to replace Sandy (24), but La Salle Prep (23) and St. Helens are hungry to shake up the race.
HOOD RIVER VALLEY AT ST. HELENS
Where: Doc Ackerson Stadium
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Off and running: The Class 5A quarterfinalist Lions can keep the Eagles winless since Nov. 6, 2015
St. Helens Lions
Coach: Cory Young (Third year)
Classification: Class 5A, Northwest Oregon Conference
2016 finish: 8-3 overall, 5-2 Northwest Oregon Conference (Fourth in conference, reached state quarterfinals)
3 Chase Parkhurst, sr., QB/DL, 6-3, 200
C 4 Dylan Kessinger, sr., WR/LB, 6-0, 195
5 Shawn Lee, jr., RB/LB 5-10, 170
6 Connor Koelzer, jr., RB/LB, 6-2, 195
10 Alex Cross, jr., RB/DB, 5-7, 150
16 Leif Nelson, jr., QB/DB, 5-9, 160
17 Kruze Katzenmeyer, jr., RB/DB, 5-7, 160
22 Isaiah Bettencourt, jr., RB/DB, 5-8, 150
C 27 Cody Leanna, sr., RB/LB, 5-9, 180
42 Jacob Klein, jr., TE/DB, 6-0, 165
50 Liam Tindall, sr., OL/LB, 5-11, 160
52 Alden Finch, so., OL/DL, 5-10, 220
53 Robert Landreth, sr., OL/LB, 5-9, 160
55 Jayden Smith, so., OL/DL, 6-1, 210
C 58 Daniel Suon, jr., OL/DL, 5-11, 250
71 Ben Torres, jr., OL/DL, 5-11, 245
C 76 Caleb Carter, sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 260
2 Ethan Friend, sr., WR/DE, 5-11, 140
7 Konnor Barackman, jr., QB/LB, 6-1, 205
9 Austin Waite, so., WR/DB, 5-8, 150
11 Cade Duarte, jr., RB/DB, 6-0, 180
12 Ezequiel Pena, jr., RB/LB, 5-6, 165
14 Tanner McTeigue, so., TE/LB, 6-5, 160
15 Hayden Laughlin, sr., WR/DB, 5-8, 157
18 Kody Woodruff, so., RB/DB, 5-10, 160
19 Cole Benshoof, sr., RB/LB, 6-0, 210
23 Cannon Beisley, so., TE/DB, 5-11, 170
31 Tyler Neubaum, so., WR/DB, 5-4, 130
32 Zane Weis, sr., TE/LB, 6-1, 180
34 Ethan Hubbs, so., RB/DL, 5-7, 140
44 Jeremy O'Meara, so., TE/WR, 5-9, 130
51 Juan Quiroz, so., OL/LB, 6-0, 200
56 Dylan Lobby, sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 225
63 Dylan Shierk, so., OL/DL, 5-7, 214
65 Max Jones, so., OL/DL, 5-8, 220
66 Brandon Giesbers, jr., OL/DL, 6-0, 210
72 Jeremiah Kaliman, sr., OL/DL, 5-7, 230
73 Ethan Wallace, sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 200
74 Izak Williams, jr., OL/DL, 6-1, 225
77 Caden Willaby, so., OL/DL 5-11, 310
* C - Captain
Sept. 1 Hood River at St. Helens, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 St. Helens at Scappoose, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 St. Helens at Milwaukie, 7 p.m. *
Sept. 22 Wilsonville at St. Helens, 7 p.m. *
Sept. 29 St. Helens at Hillsboro, 7 p.m., Hare Field, Hillsboro *
Oct. 6 St. Helens at Parkrose, 7 p.m., in Portland *
Oct. 12 La Salle Prep at St. Helens, 7 p.m. *
Oct. 20 St. Helens at Putnam, 7 p.m., in Milwaukie *
Oct. 27 Sandy at St. Helens, 7 p.m. *
* - Northwest Oregon Conference game