Around late-August of the last handful of summers or so, a clued-in Metro League football fan could almost recite the conference's pecking order verbatim.
Jesuit, Beaverton, Westview, Sunset. Those four programs have finished inside Metro's top-four in some order the past three seasons. The league's forecast — while slightly altered as Beaverton and Westview flipped second and third place in 2014 — remained largely foreseeable as all-league talent kept coming back into the fold every fall, creating a high-powered, prevalent title chase. Great players gave way to equal talents from year-to-year, passing the torch from star to star. Drop-offs and wide-scale reconstructions were avoided altogether.
This season, however, feels refreshingly unconventional.
Beaverton loses 26 seniors including the Metro Player of the Year in Carson Crawford off its '16 6A quarterfinal team. Westview graduated quite possibly the best senior class it's had since the school's inception. Sunset graduated its all-state, multiple time first-team all-Metro, Metro Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Nick Wiley. Even Jesuit lost four starting offensive line and a number of seniors who moved on to the collegiate level. No team was spared when it came to saying goodbye to its incumbent stars, many of whom showed out for consecutive seasons at the varsity level.
Still, that's where the intrigue comes into play for this fall. Football is still king in Beaverton. The youth programs from these respective areas feeding into the high school still churn out potentially great players. It's just a matter of when, not if, the next crop of young stars begins to pop.
"The Metro League is always tough because of the quality athletes and coaches," Aloha head coach Bill Volk said. "It always seems there's a team battling in the semifinals or quarters at least and maybe a team or two makes it further. The teams that did well last year bring that confidence level and recent history of success. There are programs that need to keep building and doing their thing and embracing the grind. Whatever teams are retooling are getting after it."
The Metro coaching staffs are some of the best in the state. Moreover, they stay at the same place for years on end, creating a comfort level and a certain continuity across the conference. The lack of turnover when it comes to coaching is important. New Southridge head coach Kevin Bickler was the Skyhawks' offensive coordinator for years and has seamlessly moved the Skyhawks ahead. All the widespread personnel change across the league landscape offers opportunities for players to step up and make a name for themselves. And with teams regrouping and reshuffling the deck, there's a chance the Metro's pecking order sees a shakeup as well, which wouldn't be a bad thing in the least.
"Every Metro game is the biggest game of the year to us," Westview head coach Ryan Atkinson said. "Any time you overlook an opponent, you're going to get beat. It's a dogfight. Teams are ready to play week-in and week-out. We just have to respect our opponent and bring our 'A' game."
Jesuit has won the last four Metro crowns and with a gifted roster returning is the favorite to win a fifth straight conference title. Yet, Sunset has the most returning seniors in Metro, a potentially great offensive line, playmakers galore and the kind of fast-paced, spread offense that perennially gives Jesuit trouble.
"Anybody on any given night can beat anybody," Sunset head coach Damien Merrick said. "We all have good athletes. We're all sharing the same kinds of kids. It's just a matter of who makes more plays. Jesuit is Jesuit, but I think teams can compete with them most years. I've seen enough about these programs to know they have strong lower level teams and I'm sure a lot of them were like us in that they had some juniors waiting in the wings. It wasn't that they weren't good enough, it's just that they had a senior in front of them who was maybe a little bit better."
Bickler said while Jesuit remains undaunted atop the league, the rest of Metro could be headed for bedlam in terms of trying to climb the conference standings.
"Jesuit's the team to beat, they're going to have the big bull's eye on their back," Bickler said. "(Ken) Potter's done a good job of developing his underclassmen year-in and year out. They have some big-time talent. After Jesuit, it's totally up for grabs. The top-four in Metro might end up with three or four losses. The parity in the league is going to be very tight. Everybody is curious to see where everybody else is right now and you're not going to know until you play some of those big non-league games."
Besides Jesuit, each team seems to be on the same level playing field, which could make for a fantastic league race. Beaverton head coach Bob Boyer pegged Sunset as the team to look out for most in Metro and cautioned the Beaverton-area schools from sleeping on Century and Liberty. The mystery surrounding Metro, Boyer said, has brought a new energy to what's still one of the top-two leagues in the state.
"There's a lot of us sitting in a pack and waiting for who's going to take it," Boyer said. "Jesuit's at the top...and there's the rest of us that have a lot of holes to fill. Each week is going to be really exciting because it could be anybody's game. When the league is as balanced as it is, you have to fight every single week. I think it inspires the coaches to put a lot of time into their gameplans and focus even more on the drills in practice because you just don't know what's going to happen. You can't look ahead because one game can decide whether you finish second, third or sixth."