Top Mt. Hood players to watch for the 2022 football season
This is going to be a fun season of Mt. Hood Conference football, with talent overflowing rosters on offense and defense.
From a jack-of-all-trades leading a talented group of Pioneers; a transcendent quarterback seeking back-to-back state titles; and a trio of running backs set to battle over the title of best runner in the league; here are the top players to watch this season in football:
Leithan Thompson, Sandy, senior tight end
"Mr. Do It All" for the Pioneers, Thompson is coming off an incredible 2021 season that saw him collect three all-league honors — first-team punter, second-team tight end, second-team defensive back — as well as honorable mention for all-state punter. Thompson has a mix of size and explosiveness that makes him near impossible to guard on routes, with lots of highlight reel catches and touchdowns. That skill set also convinced his coaches to move him down to defensive end in his final season for Sandy.
"Incredibly hard working and dedicated, Leithan is putting in the work to have an even more impactful senior season," said Coach Josh Dill.
Cru Newman, Central Catholic, junior quarterback
As just a sophomore, Newman led a Rams program to a 15-0 campaign capped with a blowout victory to win the 6A state championship game. The reigning Mt. Hood Conference offensive player of the year and all-state second-team quarterback, Thompson knows how to sling the ball. In the state title he threw it for 243 yards and a touchdown, adding another 104 yards on the ground. Newman is the favorite to reclaim his post-season awards and lead Central on another deep postseason run, as the lights have never been brighter with the Rams vying for a third-straight state title.
Hunter MacDonald, Barlow, senior running back
Coach Tracy Jackson proved he could find ways for the Bruins to score in his debut season, scoring more than 30 points in six games, so it should be exciting to see what he has drawn up for his leading runner. It won't take anything too fancy, as MacDonald brings a mix of power and speed into his final season in blue and yellow that has him as one of the preseason's best rushers. Last year he nearly broke 1,000 yards rushing, with a team-high 14 touchdowns, en route to a 2021 all-league honorable mention. Now as the lead back he should add to those numbers and awards.
Gabe Tammad, Sandy, junior tight end
The Pioneers have found a player that seemingly follows in Thompson's footsteps — a do-it-all, hardworking athlete who excels on both sides of the field. Tammad earned all-league honorable mention for his play at offensive tackle this season, but will be making the move to tight end this fall. That means the Pioneers will be trotting out two tight end sets, with Tammad and Thompson running routes and blocking on either side of the line. On defense he will continue to line up at defensive end and outside linebacker.
Dre'Quan Williams, Reynolds, senior tailback
The Raiders' star running back is ready for his final season, after COVID delays and injuries left a truncated 2021. Williams is the quintessential do-everything player, taking the lion's share of carries, playing inside linebacker on defense, and returning kicks on special teams. A shoo-in for all-conference honors if able to stay on the field.
Dylan Howell, junior, Barlow offensive lineman
Whenever a team sports a talented runner, like Barlow, look for an offensive line that is springing big runs with sure footwork, coordinated blocking, and communication. Leading the line is Howell, who earned first-team all-conference last year as an underclassman. Last season the Bruins averaged more than 300 yards on the ground per game, and though there has been talk of diversifying the attack with more throws, expect Howell and company to again make a mark on the conference.
Gabriel Rhue, Sandy, senior offensive/defensive tackle
Despite earning all-league honors for his play on the offensive line last season, it feels like we have only scratched the surface of what Rhue can bring. His junior year was interrupted with missed four games from injury and COVID restrictions, but the hulking 6-foot-4, 300 pound lineman is an intimidating presence when healthy. Rhue doesn't just rely on his formidable strength, his coaches tout the technical skills and footwork for a player they say will be a collegiate star soon.
Keontae Johnson-Gibson, Clackamas, senior defensive back
One of the premiere defensive backs in the conference, Johnson-Gibson is one of the focal points for a defense that led Clackamas to a second-place finish in the conference last season. He will look to add to his second-team all-conference honors, while also getting offensive reps at receiver.
Jaxon Doving, Gresham, senior quarterback
How do you shake off a forgettable 1-8 season? The Gophers are hoping the pairing of a veteran quarterback and energetic first-year coach will spark magic. Doving will run Coach Cesar Martinez's offense, which wants to quickly move the ball around the field. Doving has a great pocket presence, and will use his leadership to keep this team hungry for wins from making mental mistakes and turnovers.
Darien Katz, Reynolds, senior lineman
One of the leaders in the locker room for a program rife with upperclassmen talent — Reynolds features 20 seniors this year. Katz, who earned all-league honorable mention for his play last season, will set the tone in the trenches. The right guard is adept at pulling down the line, also a capable blocker on the run and in pass protection. On defense he plays inside linebacker.
Garrett Willenberg, Sandy, senior running back
The Pioneers' bruiser on offense, Willenberg loves to run between the tackles and finish through unprepared defenders. Expected to lead the way in carries, Willenberg has a claim as one of the best running back in the Mt. Hood Conference — he was second on the team with 351 rushing yards and punched it in for a team-high seven rushing touchdowns. Last year he picked up all-league honorable mentions at running back and linebacker, he will look to cap off his high school career with another decorated season.
Alex Talimao, Barlow, senior defensive end
Defense has always been a staple for Bruins football, and this season all eyes should be on Talimao. The imposing 6-foot-2, 280 pound force causes headaches for opposing signal callers, effectively shutting down an entire side of the field. Lining up on the other side will be junior defensive end Luke Fahner, who transferred from crosstown rival Gresham after last season, creating a dynamic one-two blitz.
Abraham DeJesus, Reynolds, senior linebacker
A bruising linebacker who hits hard and wraps up, DeJesus will lead the Raiders defense this season. DeJesus earned all-conference honorable mention for his play at linebacker. He will also feature in the rotation of runners on offense.
Cole Rotzien, Sandy, junior defensive back
A player his coaches call their "best instinctual" defensive asset and the "heart" of the defense, Rotzien is a menace on the blitz, screaming around the end of the line to harass and fluster opposing quarterbacks. The Pioneers fastest player, he also uses that zip and great vision in his role as running back.
Esyah Pippa-White, Gresham, senior wide receiver
More known for his prowess on the basketball court, Pippa-White is no slouch on the gridiron. The springy senior pass-catcher is able to soar over defenders, so should be his quarterback's favorite target this year. He earned an all-league honorable mention nod last season and will feature heavily in the Gresham secondary.
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