The four coaches of the Special District 3 football conference simplified the all-league awards this year. With a shortened schedule and the Newport Cubs playing a non-league schedule, the Woodburn Cascade, Sweet Home and Stayton coaches wanted to make the season-ending awards feel special.
With only three league games each to base their picks off of, the coaches effectively created a top 30 list of the best student athletes between the four rival teams, leaning on exclusivity to make this year's list impactful.
"We wanted to make this meaningful and do right," Woodburn head coach Ken Mace said. "We didn't do Honorable Mention. Let's pick the best 11 on offense, the best 11 on defense and then the best 11 guys after that."
For the Bulldogs, that meant recognizing the team's top six players, three of which were honored on both sides of the ball. Of those, senior Cole Beyer was program's top selection — a unanimous pick on offense and defense by all coaches.
"That was kind of a big deal," Mace said. "Everybody was like, 'That kid will start on my program no problem.'"
Woodburn's starting running back and defensive back, Beyer capped his senior season with a 147-yard, two touchdown performance in the Bulldogs' 37-28 win over North Marion on April 9 and was second among 4A defensive players in total tackles.
"Everybody talked about Cole Beyer," Mace said. "Cole got nominated for Defensive Player of the Year and we came up three points short to Stayton, which cost him that position."
Had the coaches put together a special teams all-conference list, Mace speculates Beyer would have earned honors there too.
"I think Cole is definitely a good kickoff guy and he is automatic for extra points."
With Beyer making noise on the ground, it's no surprise that Woodburn's other offensive all-conference selections were widely dominated by the team's offensive line. Seniors Santiago Roque Manzo and Liua Falepapalangi each were First Team offensive line selections, while fellow senior Jackson Pickett earned a Second Team nod as the Bulldogs' starting center in a season in which he went from fullback to tight end before eventually serving as the team's snapper.
After a pair of lopsided losses to open the season, the Bulldogs gradually narrowed the gap as the month progressed. Woodburn was outscored by 41 points in its opener to Cascade and 20 in a loss to North Eugene, then dropped a three-point contest to Stayton before earning a 15-8 victory at Sweet Home.
The Bulldogs returned home in a 29-21 loss to Elmira before wrapping the season with its biggest win in the team's annual rivalry game against North Marion.
"The thing we talk about the guys is the process. You have to pay your dues to the process and sometimes the dues suck," Mace said. "It's getting your butt kicked, and it's ultimately up to you if you want to be an evolution or a revolution. An evolution takes years to turn things around. A lot of time in order to adapt and change. A revolution happens now, and it happens over a matter of weeks."
The Bulldogs took the challenge to heart and responded with steady improvement each week. As the offense opened up, the defense became more focused. With junior Tomas Veliz as the team's passing focal point — earning Second Team honors — Woodburn's offense dialed in, helping to further open running lanes for Beyer as opposing defenses were forced to respect the Bulldogs' passing threat.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Woodburn defenders gave up 89 points over their final four games after surrenduring 81 in the two oppening losses of the season. Pickett joined Beyer on the all-defense First Team, while Roque Manzo and Micah Nava each earned Second Team selections.
"They bought into a process of this is our culture, these are the expectation so of our culture," Mace said. "We are going to hold each other accountable, and what you saw is that each week we kept narrowing that gap."
Despite the season being over, those seniors — Beyer, Pickett, Nava, Roque Manzo and Falepapalangi — along with the rest of the team's upperclassmen, continue to be a part of the program and are eager to help see their teammates surpass them in future seasons.
"They're stakeholders in this whole thing," Mace said. "They're still mentoring our young guys. I think the thing we're excited about is that we challenge them to leave the jersey in a better place than when they got it, and then did that."
Woodburn football 2020-21 all-conference
Cole Beyer, First Team DB
Jackson Pickett, First Team DL
Santiago Roque Manzo, Second Team DL
Micah Nava, Second Team LB
Cole Beyer, First Team RB
Santiago Roque Manzo, First Team OL
Liua Falepapalangi, First Team OL
Tomas Veliz, Second Team WR
Jackson Pickett, Second Team C
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