At 4-0, No. 3 Estacada football is turning heads and thinking big
Estacada High School football has a saying: Do it for the star.
Making up the five points of that star are five words that each player is asked to focus on and play the game for.
No. 1 is "team," followed by "school," "community," "the game" and "yourself."
Following those words, the Rangers have looked like a five-star squad so far in 2021 with a 4-0 record, three wins coming against teams ranked in the OSAA coaches' poll top 10 in Class 4A.
"We returned all but about three kids from last year's team so we knew we had a good group coming back," Estacada coach Andy Mott said. "Especially on the offensive and defensive lines, we matured all of our guys and both our linebackers. So bringing back experience we felt good coming in."
The feeling has been justified through four games. The season started with a 38-8 drubbing of Stayton before the three last games against ranked opponents.
The Rangers took care of then-No. 3 Banks at home 33-7 and took down No. 7 Seaside 30-14 the following week, also at home.
Thursday night, Sept. 23, Estacada took the show on the road to La Grande and it was more of the same with a 44-14 win over the 4A defending champion Tigers, the team that knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in 2019.
The four wins this fall, coupled with the last five wins from the spring season, leaves the Rangers on a nine-game winning streak and have them ranked No. 3 in the Sept. 21 4A coaches poll, only behind Marshfield at No. 1 and Marist Catholic at No. 2.
"The group of guys we have played together our whole lives," Estacada senior RB/LB Jake Behrman said. "We put lots of time and effort into the weight room since last year. Thanks to Deputy Russell, we all have the mindset that we will win and go all the way."
It's hard to argue against Behrman with three dominating top 10 wins already on the year, plus another tough game coming up this week against Gladstone.
The Gladiators are the last team to beat Estacada and were receiving significant votes in the Sept. 21 4A coaches' poll.
"Going into the season, we knew we were going to have some really tough teams," Mott said. "We were going to get tested early and see where we're at. The kids have stepped up and played really well so it's been a lot of fun so far."
Being a town of about 3,500 people, there's no questioning that Friday nights in the fall mean checking out Rangers football.
There's been plenty to cheer for the past few years with Estacada making the playoffs every year since 2016 and making a few runs in there as well.
However, thanks to COVID-19, fans were restricted during the spring with each player getting two tickets to give to family or friends to come watch.
Now with things a little bit more normal, seeing the community come and support the team in 2021 justifies why "community" is one of the points on the star.
"I was at the feed store this weekend and guys you don't expect, 'Oh yeah, we'll be there,'" Mott said. "I think after the spring, folks are really itching to get out to a game … We've got a real cool stadium inside a big hedgerow, we still have old school grass so it's kind of an iconic place.
"People just know to flock there when it's a home game and cheer on the Rangers."
Flying high at 4-0, it could be easy for a group of high school kids to get a bit of an ego.
But with the experience he has on his team, Mott isn't too worried about his players' heads getting too big, because he knows they still have plenty to prove.
"We try to feed them a little ammo, we got some payback to give," Mott said. "We lost some games to these guys that have beat us in the last few years and we feel like we have the team to beat them this year."
The Rangers might just have the team to beat anyone in 2021, at least that's the hope. Estacada has never won a state title in football, the closest chance coming in 1953 in the Rangers' only title game appearance.
There's still plenty of games left to decide their fate come playoffs, but if Estacada keeps following it's north star, history could be in the making.
"We are not the kind of team that lets it get to our heads, we know we have to sell out every game no matter the opponent," Behrman said. "We knew this was the big year that we would go all the way to the state championship. Now we are all looking forward to homecoming against Gladstone."
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