The steady ascent of the Newberg High School football program has been one of the top stories across the state over the past three seasons.
That sustained success — including a 5-1 record during this year's shortened season capped by a postseason loss to West Linn — elevated former coach Kevin Hastin's profile to the point where he was offered the job at Sherwood.
Now, former Lincoln High coach Jeremy Johnson takes over the Newberg program hoping to build on that success and elevate the Tigers to a class among the state's elite. While some seniors departed after the spring, Johnson said that much of Newberg's contributors on both sides of the ball return and are hungry to prove themselves.
Practice began Aug. 16, and the Tigers competed in full pads and helmets for the first time on Aug. 19.
"With the kids we have that have been here for a few years, who have been so dedicated since their freshman year, this is a special football program," Johnson said. "We have a high standard on the field, and with our competition, it doesn't matter who we play. We're going to show up and compete like crazy. It's fun to be part of a program and community that wants to win and desires to be the best."
The upcoming nine-game schedule is relentless for Newberg. Their non-conference schedule opens with a road game at West Salem on Sept. 3, followed by a pair of home games against McNary and Sheldon on Sept. 10 and 17, and wraps up with a road game at powerhouse Tigard on Sept. 24.
After that, the Tigers' first Pacific Conference game will be against Hastin and Sherwood on Oct. 1, introducing the Bowmen's glitzy new facilities just off Highway 99. Newberg then faces Liberty and Glencoe — both at home — on Oct. 8 and 15, travels to rival McMinnville on Oct. 22, and finishes off the regular season with a home contest against Century on Oct. 29.
"I think we get challenged right away, and it doesn't really stop," Johnson said. "But the team that we are on September 3rd is not the team we will be on October 29th. Our next 11 weeks, we are trying to be the best version of ourselves as we get into October and November. The competition gives us an immediate measuring stick of where we are right now and what we will have to do to be where we want to be come November. The truth cannot be hidden against these teams."
While Hastin takes the Wing-T offense with him to Sherwood, Johnson runs a "Fly" offense that relies primarily on big plays downfield in addition to run plays on the edges. Johnson said he had been impressed with the playmaking ability of his personnel early in camp, and added he'd been blown away by the skill some of Newberg's top wrestlers bring to the trenches.
"Offensively, what stands out is the assortment of playmakers we have," he said. "We have guys who can run the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball, and back-ups who can do all of that at a high level as well. It's about leveraging all of their strengths and doing it within the scheme of what we're trying to do offensively, which is giving them a chance to showcase their abilities.
"Some of our best linemen right now are great wrestlers. They know how to leverage guys, they know how to use their hips and hands, so we've got kids who are multi-sport athletes who can contribute as offensive linemen. That's a lot of fun to see. I want to find all the big guys in the school and get them on the football field with all these heavyweights from coach (Neil) Russo's program."
What elevated Newberg against top opponents around the state, at least in recent years, was its stifling, ball-hawking defense. Johnson said he hopes that trend continues and that kids on both sides of the ball can pick up the system quickly as the regular season approaches.
"We have athletes that run to the ball," Johnson said. "Right now, we're figuring out where we can put all these guys who are great athletes and talented offensively into the defensive side. We have 11 guys who can run to the ball, but it's about teaching the scheme and giving the guys an understanding of their roles within our system. Once we know how to line up, then we can attack the ball.
"We're still in that adjustment period with kids learning the system, and some are more ahead of the curve than others. Some were around during the summer with seven on seven, others had commitments with other sports, and others had family commitments. We just came off the longest, shortest season of all of our lives, so if they wanted to go do something different or recharge, I'm glad. Now we're back, and it's time to go."
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