Preps Beat: Reflections on a unique football season
Regardless of wins and losses, the high school football season that concluded on April 9 was a success.
"The big thing is kids got a chance to be together and do it responsibly," Lincoln coach Jeremy Johnson said, summing up feelings expressed by multiple coaches. Johnson credited students, parents and administrators for executing COVID-19 pandemic protocols to make a season possible, an experience that went far beyond the usual lessons of discipline, determination and teamwork that football teaches.
For teams with large senior groups, the six-week season provided the chance to make some lifetime memories — which Sunset did on Friday by capping a 6-0 season with a 38-31 win over Central Catholic and West Linn did by outscoring its six opponents 228-50.
For programs with younger rosters, the spring season was a unique chance to gain experience that should help when the next season starts in about 140 days.
That describes most programs, including traditional powers Central Catholic and Jesuit.
And for the five Portland Interscholastic League programs with first-year head coaches, the spring season was an important learning opportunity for players and coaches.
Franklin finished 4-2 under first-year coach Jesse Thompson. The Lightning dropped their last two games. Thompson said injuries to a few key players and the level of competition from Aloha and Century were factors in the final two games.
Thompson said he loved the buy-in from the players who turned out and noted that tears after the final game on April 9 weren't limited to seniors.
Whenever challenges arose, be it a late schedule change, losing several starters to injury or a tough loss, Thompson said he reminded his team how close they were to having no season at all.
Going forward, Thompson said the Lightning should be solid along the line of scrimmage as young players gain size and strength, as well as at running back and linebacker. Thompson "saw a lot of growth" from junior QB Zander Garner.
One challenge will be replacing some talented and fast senior skill position players, among them receiver/DB Isaiah Rickard, who plans to play at Western Oregon, and receiver/DB Nando Magallanes, who is looking to play at a Division III program in the area.
Thompson said the lack of depth showed up as the spring season progressed, both on the field and in the lack of opportunities to play JV or freshman games. He noted that growing participation in the program is complicated by the limited in-school learning going on now. Without players wearing their jerseys in school, drawing new players to football is a word-of-mouth process.
He is hopeful that the buzz created by a 4-0 start and a winning record will attract more players to Franklin football.
With the season over, some players will shift to other sports. Thompson, though, is headed to Indianapolis to be the running backs coach and special teams coordinator for the Conquerors in The Spring League, reconnecting with former PSU coach Jerry Glanville in the developmental league.
Central Catholic coach Steve Pyne pointed to junior running back Ellis Bynum as one example of a student-athlete who grew significantly during the six-week season, "not just as a football player, but as a person."
Bynum ran for 185 yards and two long touchdowns against Sunset. "Something clicked the last few weeks for him," Pyne said. "He became a lot more patient as a runner."
Pyne added he saw similar growth from a lot of players who will carry experience into summer and next fall. Jordan King is a standout receiver who'll be a senior in the fall.
Lincoln's Johnson said he was impressed with the commitment players made to the team and each other during uncertain times.
"What I'll remember is the consistency the kids gave us," he said. "From last spring when we had Zoom calls through the summer, then the individual workouts all the way through this spring, they showed up and were committed."
The growth Lincoln made this season was reflected in the Cardinals' 5-1 record. They lost 13-0 to Jefferson in the opener, then averaged four touchdowns a game in five consecutive wins.
With only five seniors on the roster — including running back/defensive back Charles Willmott, who will play at Division III Williams College but missed most of this season due to injury — this six-week season was very much about gaining experienced for a talented junior class that includes receiver Justius Lowe, running back/linebacker Brady Kopetz, lineman Tyler Smith, linebacker Gus Togni and others.
The positive influence seniors QB/DB Mario Ambrose, linemen Nate Paradis and Matthew Meherete and running back Jack Franzen had on their teammates was palpable after the season ended and the juniors thanked the seniors for the impact they had on the younger players, Johnson said.
It's a scene that no doubt played out across the region as this unique season came to a close, the last shared moments on a football field reinforcing how high school sports shape the lives of so many participants.
• Central Catholic's Pyne, whose Rams were the 2019 6A state champion, said after Friday's loss to the Apollos that Sunset would be a semifinalist, at least, in most normal football seasons.
"West Linn-Sunset would be a good matchup," Pyne said, though like most, he considers the Lions the class of 6A football this season.
For the record, here's how Portland teams finished the six-week season:
PIL — Lincoln 5-1 (3-1 PIL), Franklin 4-2 (3-0 PIL), Grant 3-3 (2-0 PIL), Jefferson 2-3 (2-1 PIL), Ida B. Wells 2-3 (2-2 PIL), McDaniel 1-5 (1-2 PIL), Roosevelt 1-5 (1-4 PIL), Cleveland 0-5 (0-4 PIL).
Others — 6A: Central Catholic 5-1, Jesuit 2-3, David Douglas 1-2, Reynolds 2-2, Centennial 1-2. 5A: La Salle Prep 4-2, Parkrose 2-4.
Other team sports — For final records from the other fall team sports, visit Prep Roundup in the Sports section at PortlandTribune.com.
The cross-country season wrapped on Saturday, April 10, with the Rose City Championship Invite at Rose City Golf Club.
Franklin won the boys team title, led by a fourth-place finish from senior Charlie Robertson, who a week earlier won the PIL district race. Ashland senior Cameron Stein finished six seconds in front of Ida B. Wells senior Giuliano Scasso for the individual title.
Ida B. Wells won the girls team title, led by the individual victory for junior Charlotte Richman, the PIL district champion.
Traditional high school spring sports begin six weeks of competition this week. Check OSAA.org for schedules.
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