West Linn, Tigard, Lake Oswego and Sherwood to lead the 2017 Three Rivers race

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - Tigard senior Braden Lenzy (left) is one of the top returning backs in the Three Rivers League, and his Tigers are again expected to challenge for the league title.The gauntlet.

The bone crusher.

The meat grinder.

Whatever you call it, the annual Three Rivers League football race is one of the best big-school spectacles in the state. The TRL is the home of reigning Class 6A state champion West Linn, five-time championship-game participant Lake Oswego, two-time Class 5A champ Sherwood, powerful Tigard and more.

So what about 2017? How will the upcoming Three Rivers League season shake out? Will it be another crowning championship march like 2016, when West Linn went unbeaten in the TRL and whipped its seven opponents by an average score of 44-10?

Or will it be a back-and-forth, win one week and lose the next hammer fight between the league's best teams like it was in 2013, when Oregon City won the TRL crown at 4-1 with Clackamas and Lakeridge tied for second at 3-2?

To be fair, no one really knows yet, but the TRL's head coaches probably have a better idea than anyone else.

"I think West Linn, Tigard and Sherwood are still the teams to beat," said Lakeridge head coach Elvis Akpla. "It will be a gauntlet like it is every year. Every team is different. Every team is hard."

For his part, West Linn's Chris Miller is excited about his new-look team's chances in the first season of the post-Tim Tawa era, but he also knows just how tough the coming challenge will be.

"I feel confident in our program and our kids, but I also respect people like Craig Ruecker at Tigard and Steve Coury at LO, and Sherwood's good year in and year out," Miller said. The Three Rivers League "is the best conference in the state."

Around the rest of the league, Tigard was a state semifinalist last year (losing a thriller to Central Catholic), while Sherwood, Lake Oswego and Newberg all reached the second round of the state playoffs.

"It's always a great league. It's like you play a quarterfinal opponent every week," Ruecker said. "It's extremely difficult, but things that are worthwhile are difficult. You get accustomed to playing teams like Sheldon (which Tigard beat 27-0 on the road in the quarterfinals last year), and you're not going like 'Oh, wow,' when you see a strong, physical team like that, because you've already played strong, physical teams in our league."

Even Tualatin's first-year coach Dan Lever has a handle on how good the Three Rivers League is week in and week out.

"I've done (college) recruiting up and down the west coast, and it's one of the toughest leagues on the entire West Coast," he said. "It's like the SEC of Oregon."

As to who will win, longtime Sherwood coach Greg Lawrence shared this.

"It's going to be a tough one. West Linn had a lot of good athletes that they lost from last year, but they have some other good athletes that will step in. I look at them as No. 1," he said.

"I look at Tigard and Lake Oswego as No. 2 and No. 3. We're in the mix of the top three or top four. For the others, we'll have to see how much they've improved. We're excited for this season."

Non-league play opens on Friday, Sept. 1, followed by seven weeks of Three Rivers League play starting on Sept. 15 and continuing through Oct. 27. The first round of the Class 6A state playoffs kicks off on Nov. 3 and continues through the state championship game on Dec. 2.

Contact Sports Editor Miles Vance at 503-330-0127 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

— Dan Brood contributed to this story.

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