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Position battles highlight early fall camp as team touts its depth in the trenches

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The Tigers spent much of their early camp sessions concentrating on fundamentals, such as tackling in the open field.

Despite graduating four starters on each side of the ball, the Newberg High School football team is optimistic that added depth will translate to victories on the gridiron this season. The Tigers made significant progress last season, going 5-4 before a 48-0 loss to No. 2 Clackamas in the opening round of the OSAA 6A playoffs.

"I'm very excited about this season," Tigers coach Kevin Hastin said. "The improvement we made as a program last season was huge and it really gives us confidence going into this year. It motivated our returners to build on what we've already done."

Five sophomores started for Newberg's varsity squad last season and a class of incoming sophomores on the varsity roster is fresh off a successful season at the freshman level. They're all a year older and stronger and Hastin said he expects "major contributions" from his underclassmen.

He also expects the Tigers' offense to shine in the trenches, where the team returns three starters on the offensive line along with all-league senior tight end Jared LaPointe. The big guys will frequently be tasked with blocking for senior running back Justin Holtan, who was Newberg's most productive offensive player last season and is expected to carry the load again in 2019.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The Tigers take the field for a little physical training early in last week's camp.

"Offensively, I think we're going to be dangerous," Hastin said. "We had a lot of success last year and I don't see that dropping off at all."

The Tigers will be a run first, ground-and-pound team with Holtan in the backfield. He will share carries with sophomores Price Pothier and Sonny Apilando.

Hastin said the team is striving to be more balanced offensively and throw the ball more, but a lack of experience at the quarterback position may hamper that ambition. Two sophomores and a junior are battling it out for the starting nod under center; Hastin expects to name a starter after the team's jamboree scrimmages on Friday.

Junior Kyle Blohm is splitting first team reps with sophomores Gavin Korkeakoski and Levi Durrell – who transferred to Newberg from Yamhill-Carlton.

"We've got three very talented quarterbacks competing for the starting job and it's a very tight race right now," Hastin said. "They can do a lot of things, but they just don't have a lot of experience."

Owen Hawley, Dwayne Buck and Gabe Ramos lead a speedy group of wide receivers. That trio should take some pressure off whoever is named the quarterback, Hastin said, but the real pressure reliever will be Holtan.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The Tigers will attempt to build on itheir successful running game from last season.

Plenty of carries are expected for the senior, especially after building additional muscle in the offseason.

Defensively, the Tigers hope their work in the weight room pays off as well. They return starting seniors Cody Meade and Harrison Hess at the defensive end spots and plan to utilize LaPointe's size and speed in a hybrid linebacker-defensive end role.

Connor O'Bryan returns at inside linebacker after fighting through injuries last season; Hastin sees him leading that group of backers.

In the secondary, Hawley and Armen Tarakhchyan return as junior starters, and Ramos is competing with Apilando for the other corner spot. If there is a common theme among all the defensive players for Newberg, it's speed.

"Defensively, we have a lot of guys who can fly to the ball," Hastin said. "Our team speed has improved and another year in the weight room is going to pay off with how physical we are."GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - NHS coach Kevin Hastin runs his players through drills in anticipation of the Tigers' Sept. 6 game versus South Salem.

Speed and physicality are going to be the traits that define Newberg this season as it navigates a schedule that includes five home games and four road games. The Tigers open the season at home against South Salem on Sept. 6; NHs lost to the Saxons 21-14 on the road in last year's season opener.

After that, Newberg heads on the road to play Grant on Sept. 13, hosts Summit on Sept. 20 and plays Canby at their field Sept. 27.

The Oct. 4 home game against Reynolds is a non-league game that Hastin has circled. The Raiders went 6-3 in the regular season and blew the doors off some of their opponents, but only beat Newberg 28-14 in their matchup. The Tigers want to get one back this season.

"I like our schedule," Hastin said. "We'll have five home games and four away, and that's good because we were undefeated at home last year. The big preseason game is against Reynolds, which is a team loaded with talent that beat us last season."

Newberg's most notable conference game is also at home, an Oct. 18 tilt against likely league champion Sherwood. Hastin expects Newberg to hold its own against the class of the Pacific Conference, but the team's focus right now is South Salem.

After last year's close contest in Salem, Hastin believes his team will come out motivated in its first contest under the Friday night lights. Whoever is starting under center and at the other positions, he said their depth will be a significant asset.

"Our depth is much improved from last season," Hastin said. "We have competition at every position, which doesn't allow players to get comfortable and forces them to compete. We have to maintain that effort in practice, stay healthy and compete."

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