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Lions wil unleash new stars in home opener with Hood River Valley on Friday at Doc Ackerson Stadium

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Lions senior wide receiver Dylan Kessinger streaks into the end zone with a long touchdown catch against Class 6A Aloha at the Liberty Jamboree on Friday, Aug. 25, at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Lions senior linebacker Dylan Kessinger, 4, and sophomore defensive back Cannon Beisley, 23, bring down Aloha senior running back Miles Watterson-Woods.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Lions senior linebacker Robert Landreth, 53, senior linebacker Dylan Kessinger, 4, sophomore defensive back Cannon Beisley, 23, junior defensive back Leif Nelson, 16, and sophomore defensive lineman Jayden Smith, 55, bring down Aloha senior running back Miles Watterson-Woods, 30.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Lions junior linebacker Shawn Lee, 5, chases a sack.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Lions junior defensive lineman Ben Torres, 71, gets pressure in pursuit.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Chase Parkhurst, center, high-fives Liam Tindall on Aug. 14, St. Helens football's first day of practice.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Kruze Katzenmeyer bursts for leverage on a blocking bag.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Austin Waite returns an interception.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Liam Tindal dashes upfield on a run play.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Robert Landreth, right, sheds a block from Cannon Beisley in a coverage drill.

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)

Returners:

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

Newcomers:

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

Schedule

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

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