Clackamas scraps two-QB system, puts ball in Austin Atkeson's hands
Clackamas quarterback Austin Atkeson doesn't have to worry about anybody trying to squeeze him out of playing time this season.
The job is his, and his alone.
Last season, Atkeson was one half of the Cavaliers' contentious two-quarterback system, splitting time with Caleb "C.J." Jordan, the highly touted transfer and former starter at Jefferson High School in Northeast Portland.
Typically, Atkenson started and played the first two offensive series, then Jordan played two series, then Atkenson took another turn, and so on.
Game score, field position, and time remaining were non-factors in determining which on the two juniors went under center.
Every third series, they switched. And sometimes, every other series.
Trying to please everyone left nobody pleased.
But it was hard to argue with the results when the Cavaliers rolled to a third consecutive Mt. Hood Conference title and rode a 26-game win streak into the Class 6A semifinals before they lost 35-14 loss to Sheldon.
"It was a difficult situation because neither one of us could really get going," Atkeson said. "A lot of times, it was one drive in, one drive out, so it was hard to get into any kind of rhythm."
By the numbers
Atkeson did his part, completing 68.7 percent of his passes (112 of 163) for 1,817 yards with two interceptions and 17 touchdowns. He rushed for another 264 yards on 77 carries with five touchdowns and earned all-league, first-team honors — a rarity for a part-time player.
Jordan completed 56.3 percent of his passes (67 of 119) for 1,136 yards with five interceptions and 11 touchdown, and added 468 yards rushing on 80 carries with five touchdowns. He also earned all-league honorable mention.
"I never got into the whole 'Who's better?' deal," Atkeson said. "I mean, I didn't really care. I just tired to play and do what was best for my team each week."
The two-quarterback system was a strain on Atkeson's
relationship with some of his closest friends on the team. That started the day Jordan arrived at Clackamas.
"I had guys saying, 'Oh, you should get out of here, man. You're not going to play, you know that, right?'" Atkeson said. "I had a bunch of guys bashing on me and all that, but I was like, 'Nah, there's no way I'm leaving'
"I've spent my whole life working here and I know the coaches really well and I believed I was going to play, so I just stuck with it."
The quarterback competition that started during preseason camp extended into the regular season. And Atkeson and Jordan went at it with everything they had, every day, constantly trying to prove themselves worthy of playing time.
"That's why I kind of liked it, though," Atkeson said. "We were always going hard and that definitely made us better, so that was good."
The Cavs' two-quarterback system came to an abrupt end after the season ended when Jordan transferred to Union High School in Vancouver, for his senior year, leaving Atkeson on his own.
"There's a big difference," Atkeson said. "It's just me out there. You know, I've been running these plays for three years and I feel really good. It's my senior year and I'm super-ready, super-excited to get going.
"I've been waiting for this moment to actually 'play' since I was a little kid. So, it means everything to me and I'm going to give my best every rep."
Will Atkeson be rooting for Jordan as he looks to lead Union to a second consecutive state championship?
"Is that where he went, Union?" Atkeson said. "Yeah, I hope he does well over there, but I'm not really worried about anyone else besides our team, you know?"
Jordan wasn't the only member of last year's team to seek a fresh start elsewhere.
Clackamas head coach Joe Bushman also left to become the offensive coordinator at Lewis & Clark College in Southwest Portland, ending a 13-year run that saw the Cavaliers go 94-57 and win their first state championship in 2017.
The Cavaliers went outside the state to find Bushman's replacement, hiring Terry Drake, who has more than 20 years of high school coaching experience in Florida and Texas, most recently as a head coach at Joran Christian Prep in Auberndale, Florida, in 2017.
Drake retained offensive coordinator Randy Fisher, defensive coordinator Jesse Brand, and most of the other assistants from Bushman's staff, and, so far, he has stuck to his promise to not fix what isn't broke.
"The football is a little different here, but kids are kids," Drake said. "These kids train well, they train hard, they're good at what they do, and they're focused kids.
"What has really helped is they just have such a history of success here. These kids know what it takes to climb that ladder and they're going to train hard because they want to continue to stand on the top of that ladder. That is just a coach's dream."
Drake likes everything he has seen from Atkeson this summer, and Atkeson had equally kind words for the Cavs' new coach.
"He's great. I love Coach Drake," Atkeson said. "It's super-hard coming into Clackamas and not knowing anyone, but I think he's done a good job of getting himself out there and meeting everyone."
In addition to Atkeson, the Cavaliers return wide receiver Richard Kennewell, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior who earned all-state, first-team honors last season when he caught 44 passes for 1,059 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Kennewell's most memorable game last season came in Week 4 against Lake Oswego when he had a career-high 233 yards receiving on eight catches, including a 9-yard touchdown
reception on a pass from Jordan for the go-ahead scores with 22 seconds remaining in an eventual 49-39 Cavs' home win.
"Richard is amazing because you know that one you throw the ball, he's going to find a way to come down with it," Atkeson said. "When you can rely on a receiver to do what he does, it's a big help."
Another receiver that Atkeson is expected to target early and often is Miles Williams, a 5-11, 160-pound sophomore who made such a splash at Oregon State's football camp in June that the Beavers offered him a Division I scholarship.
Other players to watch include senior linemen Cole Allen, Nolan Cashion, Nick Espinoza, Alex Hall, and Chris Thor, along with senior linebacker Tyler Vaughn, senior long snapper Grayson Pibal, junior wide receiver Nick Kennewell, and junior running backs Jake Spitulski and Tyler Sims.
"I see us as the same type of balanced team — strong on offense, strong of defense — that we were last year," Atkeson said. "I think we have just as much talent as we had last year and I think we can do things just as well, if not better, than we did last year.
"It feels good knowing that I have the first spot, but I've got to come out every week and show people why I've got that spot. I can't slack off. I've got to keep playing hard."
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