Gladstone has been a hammer in the Tri-Valley Conference for a long time now.
And even though the Gladiators feature a new coach for 2021 — 2012 Gladstone graduate Cam Sommer (a former first-team all-state pick at both tight end and defensive line) — they plan on pounding the TRL again this year.
"We expect to be right in the thick of the league title run," said Sommer, who took over from J.J. Jedrykowski, who went 28-10 in two stints as the team's head coach (2014-15, 2019-20), including the 2014 state title. "I'm not sure who will win our league title, (but) I think that's my favorite part of each fall. You have to play the games to know who will get it done."
The 2021 Gladstone offense is led by a trio of returning all-leaguers — junior tight end Ethan Finnigan (6-foot, 210 pounds, senior offensive lineman Antonio Rodriguez (6-1, 200) and senior offensive lineman Tristyn Schmidt (5-10, 225).
There's more talent on hand, too, including senior running back Tate Brechbiel (5-9, 205) and senior wide receiver Garret Finch (5-11, 180), the team's leading vote-getter for captain.
Brechbiel "is an incredibly gifted athlete who runs hard and consistently leads by example," Sommer said, adding that Rodriguez is "physical and smart with a mean streak, along with great numbers in the weight room," while Schmidt "is one of our biggest emotional leaders on our team. He is physical, tough and passionate, which is exactly what you need from a senior leader up front."
Sommer said that if that group gels and grows together, good things may lie ahead.
"Getting Tate in situations to excel is huge for us, along with the continued development of the pass game to make us as balanced as we can possibly be," he said.
Head coach: Cam Sommer
2020-21 record: 5-0 in Tri-Valley Conference play, 5-1 overall
2021 outlook: "Estacada brings a bunch of talent back and the other teams in our league have improved. For us to succeed, especially in year one for me, our kids need to be mentally locked in to our new schemes and to build some better practice habits. If we do that, we will be in a good place come the end of October." — Cam Sommer
There are more players ready to prove themselves on the defensive side of the ball, too, that group led by Finnigan and senior Tracy Montgomery (6-1, 195) on the defensive line, junior defensive back Brayde Owen (6-1, 185), junior linebacker Hayden Smith (6-1, 185) and senior linebacker Jazeon Hammick (6-1, 180).
Finnigan "has the best motor I have seen from a high school D-linemen. He consistently runs and is great in both the run and pass game," Sommer said, adding that Owen "is someone that will definitely play on Saturdays, while Smith "is someone that just blows stuff up. He is athletic in space and in coverage but will also fill downhill in the run game."
Now, if the Gladiators can incorporate the changes that Sommer and his staff have made, and adjust during games, they may turn out to be very, very good.
"(The key is) understanding our multiple looks and coverages as soon as possible," Sommer added. "The biggest thing with defense on Friday nights is you want your kids to know exactly what is going on so they can play as fast as possible."
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