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The Bulldogs finished with a 6-3 overall record, a top 10 GPA, and a Lineman of the Year recipient

If you want to see a program successfully rebuilding, look no further than the Woodburn football team.

Despite not making the postseason, Woodburn put together its most impressive season in years. The team crafted a 6-3 record over the course of the 2021 season, including a 2-2 Special District 3 (SD3) record. The Bulldogs were a half-game better than their best mark of 6-4 in 2018, when they first dropped down to 4A.

PMG FILE PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Woodburn football had one of its best seasons in years and looks to build on that foundation next season.

Due to playoff qualifications at 4A, only the top two teams in SD3 made the playoff cut automatically, Cascade and Stayton. Both of those teams defeated Woodburn in the regular season. The only way Woodburn could have secured a spot was in capturing an at-large bid that ultimately went to North Eugene (4-3), the 13th ranked team in the state at the time of the rankings freeze. The Bulldogs were ranked 16th.

"We're pretty disappointed, to be honest with you," Woodburn head coach Ken Mace said. "We felt like, I felt like, we had done enough to earn a spot. 6-3 for Woodburn, right? That doesn't happen too often, or hasn't in our past and to not get an opportunity to see the kids play is a little disappointing."

Regardless, the team played well enough to have several of its players recognized. Woodburn senior Tomas Veliz was named first team all-conference defensive back and second team all-conference running back; fellow senior Austin Ramirez was named second team all-conference defensive linebacker; and senior Malachi Nava, junior Eric Torralba Contreras and junior Rowan Blem received honorable mention.

But Woodburn's most decorated player of the season was senior Santiago "Santi" Roque, who was named SD3 Lineman of the Year, in addition to first team all-conference offensive guard, first team all-conference defensive line, and second team all-conference punter. The recognition was big for a player who started his high school career as a running back. It's the attitude and work in the offseason that had Mace so impressed with his standout senior.

"He really committed," Mace said. "He was doing wrestling (in the winter) … and golf (in the spring) and would come into weight training in the morning. He was like, 'I want to have a special senior year,' and he doesn't come off the field. That's why he's recognized in all three phases of the game. He doesn't come off the field. He rolled his ankle against Stayton, and we went to check on him and all he said was tighten the strap on his ankle brace. So we tied him up and got him back in there. He's just a truly special young man."

Another huge achievement for the football team was making the top 10 academic all-state at 4A, marking the second consecutive season the team has done so. The Bulldogs' cumulative GPA was 3.04. Studying in the classroom and preparation on the field go hand-in-hand, according to Mace.

"That's our first goal," Mace said. "We can't control a lot of things, but what we can control is our attitude and behaviors in the classroom and on a practice field and how we prepare for each day."

The team will look to build on the success going forward, and the buy-in from the players will make it that much easier for the Bulldogs to make a push into the postseason in 2022.

"I posed this to the seniors last year when we started. I said, 'Anytime that a coach takes over a program, it can go one of two (ways): that can be an evolution that takes years and years and years or it can be a revolution that takes maybe some weeks and some months,'" Mace said. "And since then, since January, we're 8-7 as a program, and a lot of that has to do with our kids being like, 'Hey, no, we're bought into this and we're working hard on this.' So I think we're ahead of schedule of where we want to be or where we should be.

"I think that when it comes down to plateaus and where we want to go and what we want to do, I think it's going to come down to our behaviors, really," Mace said. "And what I mean by that is is our behavior that of a 2-4 team of the spring? Are our behaviors that of a 6-3 team in the off season? Are our behaviors that of a 7-1, 7-2 team or 8-1 team? If we can train ourselves to do the right things and have the right behaviors, there really isn't a plateau or level as to where we could stop."


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