The West Linn football team has been nothing but competitive in head coach Chris Miller's first five years.
The Lions have reached the state championship game twice (in 2015 and 2016) in that stretch, won it once (in 2016) and advanced to the state quarterfinals in each of Miller's other three years.
Now, in Miller's final campaign with West Linn — he'll leave for a position as offensive coordinator of the XFL's Houston Roughnecks after the high school season — the Lions aren't about to slow down.
"If we don't implode and make mistakes, we'll be real successful," Miller said. "We just need to play as a team, be a family and have each other's backs."
While the Lions must replace graduated first-team all-leaguers Dawson Jolley at running back and Cade Knutson at wide receiver, there's a ton of talent back on offense for the Lions.
That group will be led by senior wide receiver Casey Tawa (he was first-team all-league and second-team all-state) and senior center Ryan Seth (he was first-team all-league, second-team all-state and co-Lineman of the Year in the Three Rivers League).
They're joined by fellow returning all-leaguers Damiko Tidmore (a senior tight end who won honorable mention honors in 2018), Luke Popma (a senior tackle who won honorable mention honors) and senior kick returner Ethan Loun (another honorable mention selection).
"There's a lot of good football teams in our league, but I think we'll be able to compete with anybody we play," Miller said. "Our No. 1 goal (on offense) is to take care of the football. We were a little complacent last year, threw too many interceptions."
Up front, the Lions will call on Popma (6-foot-4, 268 pounds) at left tackle, senior Tucker Parrish (6-4, 295) at left guard, Seth (6-0, 282) at center, junior Kyle Dramov (6-0, 232) and junior Darren Wiancko (6-3, 242) at right guard, and junior Zach Holmes (6-3, 272) at right tackle. Sophomore Jake Rams (6-1, 238) and sophomore Jason Thomsen (6-3, 227) will also see playing time with that group.
With four of those players — Seth, Popma, Hall and Parrish — bringing significant varsity experience to the table, Miller is excited about his line's ability.
"We're eight deep with guys I'm really confident in," he said. "We're experienced, very athletic and very well coordinated. They'll get after you both run and pass."
With the exit of Jolley (now at Saddleback College), the Lions will look to junior Gavin Haines (6-1, 195), junior Cole Peters (5-10, 188) and junior Thomas McNamara (5-11, 181) to carry the load at running back.
"They're all very talented," Miller said. "Haines is the total package; he'll be a DI football player. Peters is a workhorse — he'll bang you — and McNamara is very athletic."
Setting the table for the Lions' offense will be senior quarterback Ethan Coleman (6-3, 188). He played in six games as a junior — including the non-leaguer against Sheldon and the league game vs. Tigard — completing 43 of 70 passes for 436 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"The moment didn't seem too big for him. He's a gamer," Miller said. "He had a tremendous spring and summer and he has really evolved. He throws it as good as anyone in the state."
Junior Blake DeBisschop (6-3, 185) and junior Ryan Talavs (6-3, 195) may also see time at quarterback.
At receiver, Tawa (6-0, 185) is back after catching 63 passes for 904 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, joined on the outside by senior Ethan Loun (6-0, 171), junior Clay Masters (6-0, 174), junior Flynn Schiele (6-3, 187) and senior Chase Fletcher (6-2, 184).
"(Tawa) will be one of the best in the state," Miller said, noting that Tawa already has three DI scholarship offers. "It's a great group. (Loun) has great body control, he catches the ball really well, Masters can fly and he's a good route runner, Schiele is big and he can run, and Fletcher runs like a gazelle."
Tidmore (6-4, 248) returns at tight end, along with junior Mitchell Duea (6-5, 230) and junior Aiden Scott (6-5, 186).
"I expect (Tidmore) to be one of the top three tight ends in the state. He's a viable pass catcher and a really good blocker," Miller said, adding that Duea "runs well, has a big catch radius and soft hands," while Scott "If he engages, has a chance to be really good."
Junior Ben Siegel (5-9, 174) will handle the placekicking duties, while the Lions are still deciding who will serve as punter.
Tawa and Seth lead the list of talented returners on defense, too, after both won first-team all-TRL honors a year ago, Seth at noseguard with 69 tackles and five sacks, and Tawa at cornerback with 41 tackles and one interception.
Joining Seth along the defensive line, the Lions will call on fellow returners Holmes and Popma at noseguard, and Tidmore (52 tackles), Popma and Duea at defensive end.
That group will be supported by Dramov and Wiancko at noseguard, and junior Kyle Sullivan (6-2, 199), senior Will Gabel (6-3, 219) and junior Kanaan Hufmann (6-3, 212) at defensive end.
"We've got a stout 'D' line," Miller said. "We've got some depth there so I'm excited about them. They've got good size and they're very athletic."
There's more experience back at linebacker, too, led by honorable mention picks Peters (the team's leading tackler from a year ago with 115) on the inside and Fletcher (39 tackles) on the outside, with more experience inside from Haines and outside from McNamara.
Also ready for varsity time are Sullivan, senior Treyton Burke (6-2, 207) and junior Arizona transfer Ziyon Nelson (6-0, 192).
"I'm really excited about this group," Miller said. "Fletcher is one of the top 10 athletes in the state (and) Nelson is very strong and talented."
The backfield is another strength for the West Linn defense, led by Tawa and Masters at cornerback and Fletcher at safety. That trio will be joined by Schiele and sophomore Kace Naone (5-10, 162) at cornerback, and Loun, McNamara, Talavs and junior Liam McConnville (6-0, 172) at safety.
"I'm pleased with our defense and where we're at," Miller said. "They're eager, they love to practice and they love to play. They're a very athletic group, a fast group and a tough group — a very physical group of guys."
To see the Lake Oswego team preview, click here.
To see the Lakeridge team preview, click here.
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