Tigers, Timberwolves, Bowmen gridders ready for action
The 2021 season was one to remember for the Tualatin Timberwolves.
While they fell just short of their ultimate goal of winning a state championship, the Wolves finished 12-1 overall, managed to share a Three Rivers League title, and boasted the state's Offensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and four all-state first or second team players.
A year later, Offensive Player of the Year Malik Ross and all four of Tualatin's all-state first-teamers are gone to graduation, and the Timberwolves' former coach, Dan Lever, is now coaching at Silverton High School. But despite what's missing, first-year head coach Dominic Ferraro said his goals are simple.
"Our goal is to represent our community with character, strength and honor," the coach said. "To play the game with toughness, discipline, and unity, and to play every down with assignment, execution and effort."
Ferraro was a longtime assistant at Sunset and Westview in the Metro League before taking his first head coaching job at Forest Grove last season. While at Forest Grove, the coach led a Vikings team that had finished 0-6 in the 2020-21 COVID-shortened season to a 4-5 overall record, and a win shy of the OSAA state playoffs.
Ferraro knows the expectations and the team — along with the competition in the always-formidable Three Rivers League — are different at Tualatin this season, but it doesn't mean his goals are, nor that the Timberwolves won't again bring a lot to the table from a talent standpoint.
"Last year's team had a big and talented senior class and an amazing season," Ferraro said. "This senior class is a strong group, but different."
He cited the offensive line as one of those differences, where Tualatin lost four starters from last year's team.
They also lost quarterback Jackson Jones, an all-state honorable mention, but ready to step into that spot is experienced and talented 6-foot-3 senior Jack Wagner, who saw action last year while Jones sat due to injury.
"Jack is one of the leaders of our team," Ferraro said. "He's an excellent leader and communicator and has done a great job leading the transition ot a new offense. We are excited to see what he can do."
Ferraro went on to say they have concerns about the offensive line due to the turnover as a result of the four starters moving on, but he added that he has confidence in their remaining seniors' ability to lead and groom the young players stepping up.
"We'll have to grow up fast," Ferraro said.
In addition to Wagner, the coach cited returning starting lineman Drew Corcoran as someone the team will lean on for leadership on and off the field, coupled with tight end and defensive lineman Richie Anderson, along with tight end and linebacker Will Wilson.
Ferraro also expects Luke Ash and junior receiver and defensive back A.J. Noland to be valuable contributors to this year's team.
The coach is familiar with the Three Rivers League's history of competitiveness, and that coupled with the roster turnover will make for a challenging year. But he said both he and the team are up for it, and because of that he's excited for the upcoming season.
"As for where we fit, I have no idea, but I love this team and I think they have a lot of opportunities in front of them," Ferraro said. "We just need to come together and take advantage of them."
Whither the Tigers?
Tigard's challenges are different than their neighboring rivals. Last season, they were the young and hungry team trying to build from scratch.
This year, however, head coach John Kemper said they spent much of the offseason and preseason working on an area they lacked in last year: chemistry.
"We were very young last year and never had the team chemistry to be successful," Kemper said. "We have had a major focus of culture in the offseason and thus far we are on the right path."
The Tigers were just 3-6 overall last season, with quality wins over Mountainside, Newberg and Oregon City — their lone Three Rivers League victory. They did, however, qualify for the state playoffs based off of their strong schedule, and they fought admirably in a 42-17 first-round loss to Roseburg.
Kemper said that physically, his team belongs, but it's whether they can play together that will dictate their success.
"I think we are athletic and physical," the coach said. "If we can play together and for the overall team success, we have a chance to get where we want to go."
Kemper mentioned tight end/linebackers Vaughn Croxton, Austin Goetz and Henry Masters as players he expects to make a difference, along with running backs Konner Grant and Luke Davis; linemen Reese Hare and Matt Studer; wide receiver/defensive back Nate Duenas; and 6-foot-2 senior quarterback Brady Jordan, whom the coach is excited to see take the reins of the offense this season.
"Brady is smart, poised and ready to take control of the offense," Kemper said. "I'm looking forward to him leading our team."
In addition to the Tigers' stable of returning talent, Kemper said the following newcomers offer the Tigard faithful reason to be excited both this year and in seasons to come: junior quarterback/defensive back Jake Feist; junior receiver/defensive back Roman Martin; junior receiver/defensive back Nico Simonetti; junior lineman John Stone; junior tight/defensive lineman Brian Smith; and two seniors, lineman Boone Coffman and receiver/defensive back Ethan Cate.
Like Ferraro, Kemper understands the upcoming league season will be tough. But unlike his head coaching peer, he's seen it before in the Three Rivers League, and he knows what to expect.
"Our league is tough," the Tigard coach said. "I truly believe anyone can win on any given night, and at this point, it's anyone's league title to win."
And in the Pacific Conference…
Neighboring Sherwood isn't a part of that Three Rivers League, but it faces its own challenges as part of the Pacific Conference.
After finishing last season with a 7-5 overall record, an undefeated 5-0 conference record and league title, and advancing to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs before falling to eventual state champion Central Catholic, the Bowmen will start this year's campaign with interim head coach Mark Gribble after first-year head coach Kevin Hastin left for a job in Idaho.
Gribble is a Sherwood native and has more than 25 years of experience as both a player and assistant coach for the Bowmen.
The coach got the job on an interim basis this past June, and while it's never easy taking over a program on such short notice, Gribble told Scorebook Live that despite the unfortunate timing of Hastin's departure, this group of players deserved some familiarity this season before a potential long-term option is discussed down the road.
Under Gribble, Sherwood will continue with their trademark Wing-T attack, anchored by returning Pacific Conference Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year Trent Hodney. The 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior will lead what should be one of the state's best returning units upfront, with fellow seniors Alex Armas and Nathan Fillinger-Palotay alongside him.
Senior Austin Hannan and junior Kasen Covert are battling for the starting quarterback position, and tight end/defensive lineman Oliver Fisher, running back/linebacker Brayden Ross, and running back/defensive backs Nick Gribble and Nolan Scott are expected to be key contributors.
Gribble said the team could have as many as eight or nine returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Sherwood will be considered the favorite heading into the Pacific Conference season. The Bowmen will open the year with non-conference games against some of the state's best competition: West Salem, Clackamas, Lakeridge and Jesuit.
Three Rivers League opening week schedule (Sept. 2):
Barlow at Lake Oswego (Sept. 1) 7:00 p.m.
McNary at Lakeridge 7:00 p.m.
Jefferson at Oregon City 7:00 p.m.
David Douglas at Tigard (Sept. 1) 7:00 p.m.
Summit at Tualatin 7:00 p.m.
West Linn at Sherwood 7:00 p.m.
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