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'Lions should have better QB depth next season, when three freshmen who played the position battle for varsity playing time'

COURTESY PHOTO: JOHN BREWINGTON - St. Helens High quarterback Jakob Robbins delivers a pass.

Next season?

You mean, the one that's already in the minds — and on the daily calendars — of many St. Helens High football players.

Unofficially, of course, in some ways any time of year can be considered part of the high school football season anymore. And that's just as true for a St. Helens team looking to reload in 2020 as it is for the big boys like Class 6A Central Catholic and Lake Oswego.

St. Helens has numerous football players and prospective players in the weight room, starting to build up their bodies for the rigors of next fall.

To coach Cory Young, that's one of the keys to being able to compete.

"We had a lot of guys this year who came on, and that was because they developed themselves in the weight room and really put in the work," Young said.

The Lions had a bit of a wild ride in 2019, as injuries forced seemingly constant shuffling of players and positions in the lineup.

St. Helens put together back-to-back wins, both on the road, as it beat Milwaukie 49-21 and then Wilson 56-49. But the year ended with five consecutive losses, three of them close battles in which the Lions came up short at Cleveland (35-20), against Forest Grove (28-14) and then at Putnam (30-24) in overtime of the crossover postseason finale.

"The last game didn't end like we wanted it to, but it was great to see the kids compete," Young said. "They upheld the way to play St. Helens football, batting their asses off. It was a back-and-forth game. The ball just didn't quite bounce our way, but the effort was there and the kids were focused."

The Lions will graduate a dozen seniors, most of whom played key roles on at least one side of the ball.

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - Running back Jakobi Allen of the St. Helens Lions stays inbounds till the last possible moment on a rush into Putnam territory. The departure of players such as Alden Finch, Jayden Smith, Caden Willaby, Juan Quiroz and Max Jones leaves some big shoes to fill up front, and without Beisley the Lions will be in the market for a new starting tight end and versatile defender at linebacker/safety.

"Some linemen will have to step up," Young said.

As an example of someone who did that, the coach pointed to junior Duane Sonnenburg, who played a lot more on the offensive line as the season went on and gave the Lions a lot of good minutes.

"And then we'll be watching the competition at the other positions and next year's sophomores, the guys who were freshmen on the frosh-sophomore team — every single position is open, so we will be watching them compete for varsity spots," Young said.

Jakob Robbins just finished his second year at quarterback for the Lions and will be a senior for 2020, but he also is capable of helping out in the secondary again, as he did as a sophomore. And the Lions should have better QB depth next season, when three freshmen who played the position battle for varsity playing time.

"Robbins always has been a really good defensive player," Young said. "Next year, I expect all four of (the quarterback candidates) to be playing hard on defense."

A key returnee in the secondary figures to be Kameron Shuttlesworth, who emerged this year as a sophomore.

"I see him as a big leader back there," Young said. "He loves to make calls and get in the box and make tackles."

Offensively, the Lions like to establish the run with a wing-T attack that has sweep and trap plays as its bread and butter, "but there's more to the wing-T than those two plays, and we'll look at putting our kids in the best position to be successful," Young said.

The run game looks promising elsewhere in the backfield, with the anticipating return of experienced ball carriers Mavrick Rask and Jacobi Allen for their senior years.

Rask also is a likely cornerstone on defense, anchoring things at linebacker again.

Another senior will be Chayton Leake-Morrison, who "showed us glimpses this year of being pretty explosive with the ball in his hand" as a receiver, Young noted.

Also heading into his senior football season is wideout Hayden Bigham, who, like Leake-Morrison and others, fought through injuries in 2019.

The Lions' freshman class has some "tight end-type bodies" who could challenge to take Beisley's vacant spot on offense, "but it will depend on where those guys are at physically by next year," Young said.

That's why the weight room is such a key for the Lions.

And why Young is encouraged by what he sees already.

"It's all about what we want to do in the off-season," Young said. "And, watching the kids in the weight room since the season ended has been really exciting. They're competing with each other like I haven't seen in a long time. It's less about me motivating them and more about me putting the brakes on them sometimes."

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