It’s the most wonderful weekend of the year for Oregon high school football fans.
On Thursday night, Waldport High School hosted Myrtle Point in Lincoln County’s first football game of the 2021-22 school year. Tonight (Friday), the majority of the area’s other football programs get their first taste of the gridiron this season, when Newport opens at Tillamook, Heppner visits Toledo, and Yamhill-Carlton travels to Lincoln City to meet Taft. All of Friday night’s games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff, according to schedules listed on OSAA.com.
Eddyville Charter’s first scheduled contest, a 4:30 p.m. Friday home game against McKenzie, was canceled earlier this week. As of the News-Times’ print deadline, the Eagles were slated to make their season debut at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 10, at Alsea.
On the first official day of football practice in mid-August, the News-Times sent questionnaires to each area football coach seeking some detailed background information on their teams. Using information submitted in those questionnaires, the News-Times complied the following looks at Lincoln County high school football programs.
In limited action last school year, the Waldport Irish made significant strides in a positive direction on the 8-player field, winning their final four games of the campaign to finish 4-1. That set the stage for high expectations this fall for head coach Jeff Skirvin and the Irish, who began their 1A-SD1 season Thursday night at home against Myrtle Point.
Most notable of Waldport’s current stable of 12 returning letter-winners from last season are a trio of seniors looking to set a higher standard of excellence for the program’s seemingly bright future. The headliner for the Irish is senior quarterback/safety Zak Holsey, who rushed for 672 yards and threw for 529 more as a junior.
Holsey is an all-around elite athlete, who led the Waldport boys basketball team in scoring, won a state long jump title and placed third in the 300-meter hurdles in track and field and competed for the Irish boys golf team last school year. Holsey, an All-Lincoln County School District football selection last season, is expected to be key in Waldport football’s drive to return to postseason play for the first time in “many a year,” according to Irish assistant coach George Leonnig.
“Zak is the best athlete on the team at the moment,” Leonnig said. “He’s an excellent candidate for collegiate recruiting.”
This season, Holsey will have help guiding the Irish offense from senior classmates Levi Fruechte, a running back, and wide receiver Levi Schrock, an all-district honoree last season. Junior Eli Spangrud will anchor the offensive line from his spot at center, and junior Joey Burton will shore up the lines on both sides of the ball. Junior Jake Turkaly returns more experience to the Waldport offensive line.
Should the Irish play to their potential, the Waldport offense will be a beast for both opposing defenses and scoreboard operators this fall.
“Zak, teamed up with Levi Fruechte and Levi Schrock … we’re a hard team to defend against,” Leonnig said.
Leonnig said 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore tight end Kegan Fullerton has showcased excellent hands in preseason practice, and the coaching staff is impressed with the skills displayed by sophomore running backs John Miller and Preston Segaline.
The Irish defense should get a boost from 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior Kaden Simmonds, who missed last season but returns in full health for his final campaign.
Leonnig didn’t mince words when relating Waldport’s overarching goal for the season.
“We’re looking to make the playoffs this year,” he said
Head coach Dan Schaffeld’s Cubs have reason to be optimistic in looking at the upcoming campaign.
After posting a 2-2-1 mark during last school year’s abbreviated season that ran from March into April, Newport seeks to return to the postseason for the first time since the Cubs finished 6-3 in 2018 and fell in the play-in round.
Newport’s success will hinge on the development of junior quarterback Markus Everitt, a standout for Newport in basketball and baseball last school year, who impressed Schaffeld with his leadership qualities as a sophomore.
The Cubs feature additional talent at the skilled positions in senior wing backs/defensive backs Camden Galen and Kaden Bruns. They should compensate for the loss of graduated seniors Mitchell Johnson and Coles Wiles.
Sophomore Cody Vance is expected to make waves for the Cubs on the defensive line, and junior linebacker/defensive back Eddie Romero-Yanez continues impressing the coaching staff with his ability to seek out opposing ball carriers.
Following a spring season that forced Newport to play 9-player football, Schaffeld and the Cubs are raring to play under autumn’s Friday night nights with a full squad.
The Taft Tigers are young and lack the experience head coach Jake Tolan said many players would have received last season had it not been for the pandemic. He said his 20-player roster is composed of 12 freshmen and four sophomores, though a complete roster had yet to be submitted to OSAA.org as of Tuesday afternoon.
Much of preseason practices at Taft have focused on teaching the game’s basic fundamentals to those new to the system.
“It’s difficult to list promising newcomers when over half my roster would be considered newcomers/underclassmen,” Tolan said. “I do have some incoming freshmen that are good athletes and could have outstanding football careers if they stick with it all four years. Three freshmen that stick out are Kay Bayer, Justice Kelso and Connor Reith — young players that have great potential.”
That said, the Tigers’ focus this season will be to set the groundwork for the program’s future success. They’re bolstered by junior quarterback Gavin Koceja, junior running back/cornerback Roman Melton and sophomore wide receiver/safety Evan Halferty.
The Tigers compete in the traditionally strong 3A-SD1 conference, which features an Amity program that Tolan says “seems to reload each and every year.”
As for goals for the fall, Tolan said his team hopes to get better each week and maybe surprise a team or two that might take the Tigers lightly.
“My goals and expectations for this year are to keep everyone healthy and enjoying the process and experience, as well as looking forward to the next season,” Tolan said. “I’m extremely excited with our underclassmen, and our focus will be on improvement.”
The Boomers take the field this season without graduated senior quarterback, Jaxon Rozewski, now a redshirt freshman at Western Oregon, as well as standouts Mason McAlpine and Markus Cross. But that doesn’t mean third-year Boomers head coach Jeff Taylor has the bar set low this fall at Toledo.
“The Boomers graduated some core players from the past three to four years’ teams, and we have some younger guys who are rising up to the challenge and are doing a great job filling those roles,” Taylor said. “We hope to be a tough team that can compete every Friday and continue to improve week in and week out. We are excited for the future.”
Team defense and a beefy offensive line will be early team strengths at Toledo. Seniors Kyle Nicholson and Donovan Woods bring experience to the line on both sides of the ball, and sophomore lineman Ash Bloomstrom appears poised to earn a starting job.
Taking over the reins under center in Rozewski’s absence will be junior Gunnar Rothenberger, a first-team all-league selection as a freshman and all-county honoree at wide receiver/linebacker. Senior tight end/defensive end Bubba Barnhart brings size and experience to the table for Toledo, as does senior 200 pound-plus offensive/defensive lineman Kyle Nicholson, Bloomstrom and senior Donovan Woods.
“I feel like our defense and our offensive line play will be some of our biggest strengths,” Taylor said. “At this point, our greatest weakness is a lack of experience with our skill group, but they are rapidly improving.”
Senior Ethan Childs and sophomore Sterling Buckley highlight the Boomers’ receivers, and freshman Tyee Garcia made a solid impression on Taylor and the Toledo coaching staff during the first official week of practice
The Boomers will be tested right out of the gate when they open at home at 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) against top-ranked Heppner, which rolled to a perfect 5-0 mark this spring. The Mustangs, who dealt Toledo a 46-6 home defeat in early April, outscored their opponents 203-22 last season.
After marching their way to a 3-1 mark last school year, the Warriors return to the gridiron with a roster that’s short on numbers, but head coach Reggie Butler Jr. likes the makeup of his group.
He said Siletz Valley’s two seniors — quarterback Chris Bayya and running back Trejan Achen — proved themselves a positive example for their teammates as they prepped for the 1A-SD 3, 6-player season.
“The kids that we have out this year are working hard and have put in extra work throughout the summer,” Butler said. “The two seniors we have, Chris and Trejan, are very good leaders for our young group.”
The Warriors, slated to open tonight at home against Crow, face some stiff competition on their schedule, including road contests at Alsea and Triangle Lake. But Butler thinks his young team has the heart to progress as the season wears on.
“We want to come out of every game, win or lose, saying that we left everything on the field and did our very best,” Butler said. “We have a young, small group, but are eager to learn and are working very hard.”
Editor’s note: The News-Times was unsuccessful in multiple attempts to contact the football coaching staff from Eddyville Charter seeking information for its season preview. The Eagles’ scheduled Friday afternoon game at home against McKenzie is canceled, according to OSAA.org.