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Focused run game, running to the ball on defense will be keys for St. Helens football team

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - During practice last week, quarterback Jakob Robbins hands off to Austin Waite, as defender Ashton Smith looks to cut off the play and Maverick Rask (white shirt) sets up to block.St. Helens football is always about "The Lion Way," which speaks to team first, hard work, steady improvement, the willingness to compete and the effort needed to take the fight to the opponent.

Coach Cory Young and his St. Helens staff have a team that is new in many ways this year, but that also has a decent amount of experience and a real shot to carry on what the 2018 squad was able to accomplish.

"I'm excited to see what we can do," Young said. "There's more experience on the team this year than last year, because last year even some of our seniors hadn't played a lot.

"So this is a different group — but we learned a lot last year. Our kids talked about that, about the way our seniors led that team, the bonds — it was probably the closest team I've ever coached. When times got tough, they pulled together tighter and tighter.

"These kids understand that, they saw that, they enjoyed what that part of the program was bringing, and they want to keep that as move forward."

St. Helens finished 4-5 last year, falling 26-21 to Parkrose in a rainy Special District 1 crossover game to end the season. In league play, the Lions went 3-3, defeating Forest Grove, Wilson and Cleveland and losing to Hillsboro, Scappoose and Wilsonville. In nonleague games, the Lions beat Milwaukie and lost to Redmond.

Redmond will be St. Helens' opening opponent for the second year in a row. This time, the Lions will be at home instead of having to make the trek to Central Oregon. The Redmond game is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6.

The next three games for St. Helens will be on the road, versus Hillsboro, Milwaukie (nonleague again) and Wilson. The Lions will get Scappoose at home on Oct. 4, go to Cleveland on Oct. 10, then finish the regular season with home games Oct. 18 against Wilsonville and Oct. 25 against Forest Grove.

"These kids want to be better, and they've worked hard in the off-season," Young said. "Like with any team, we've got to stay healthy and get our kids coached up and be a physical football team. We have to get better each week in practice.

"Last year, we made huge strides throughout the season, that was just us showing up every week in practice ready to go. We said our toughest opponent is us.

"Be willing to get better, be willing to work, be willing to make those uncommon things common — that's how you do it."

The staples of St. Helens football don't figure to change much this year. For the Lions, it starts with the men up front, on both sides of the ball.

"Our lines have experience and are probably the strength of the team," Young said. "We saw that in (off-season) camp — we could move running backs around with that same group of guys up front making holes for them that anybody can run through."

In the middle of the O-line is junior Garrett Cook, who played a lot in 2018. Others up front include seniors Jayden Smith, Juan Quiroz, Alden Finch and Caden Willaby and junior Gaven Kust.

Also back on offense is quarterback Jakob Robbins, who split time as a starter last year as a sophomore.

"He worked hard in the off-season. He's bigger, faster, stronger," Young said.

Elsewhere, some returning players will shift to new positions or roles. For example, senior Austin Waite has move to a wing running back spot and is battling junior Ashton Smith for potential playing time. Junior Maverick Rask and senior Kyle Parnell are competing for carries at the deep back spot on offense. Chayton Leake-Morrison has returned to football as a junior, after a year off, and is showing explosiveness as a receiver.

Senior Canon Beisley is back at tight end, along with junior Kendrick Ramos, who is one of several in line to be a backup quarterback.

Junior Hayden Bigham is "probably one of our better route runners," as a pass catcher, Young said, and senior Cody Woodruff is back at wideout as well.

The three defensive linemen are likely to be doing double duty and come from the offense, while Kust returns at linebacker. Beisley, Woodruff and Waite are outside linebacker candidates. Parnell, who also is the leading candidate to kick and punt, is likely to join Bigham at safety. Smith is a returning all-leaguer at cornerback, and Robbins plays corner, too.

No matter who is on defense, if all goes well it will be a swarming bunch of Lions.

"We pride ourselves on running to the ball — the one thing you can always have is great effort," Young said.

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