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You are here: Home Blogs MWL/SWC Blog MWL Football '09

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MWL Football '09

What’s this? Preseason predictions during Spring Break?

Hey, it’s never too early. And I always like to have mine out first, just to say I didn’t copy anybody else’s list.

But take these for what they are: just one guy’s predictions. And know that it’s early; very, very early. This isn’t college ball or the NFL, where player transfers/team changing is front-page news. We might not know about some player transfers until kick-off on opening night. Players improve, new players come out every year, I don’t have time to get around to every JV game in order to fully know everything about who’s the next big thing.

I’ll do another one these things in August, when most sane people start to put together these lists. But for now, enjoy.

1. Thurston Colts

2008: 12-1 (5-0)

2008 Postseason: Beat Klamath Union 58-40 in 5A second round; beat Sherwood 21-10 in 5A quarterfinals; beat Glencoe 47-21 in 5A semifinals; lost to West Albany 35-28 in 5A state championship.

Key Losses: QB Tym Pearson; WR Josh Galbreath; WR/CB Danny Urness; OL/DL Beau Blatchley; CB Trevor Ryan; RB Devan Anderson.

Key Returning: Senior WR/LB Kyle Wright; junior OL/DL Kraig Akins; senior TE/DL Andrew Woody; senior OL/DL Greg Juzeler.

The Good: Thurston should be very strong in the trenches, where football games are won and lost. Akins was All State last year as a sophomore on both sides of the ball, and will only get better. They return plenty of size and experience. The offensive skill positions are set with Wright and Woody. Both were favorite targets of Pearson last year. The front seven on defense should be the best in the MWL, and among the best in 5A. The line is top-notch, and the LB core returns OLB Wright, who was MWL Defensive Player of the Year in ’08, and senior MLB Andy Jaros, who really came on down the stretch and into Thurston’s playoff run. A talented, undefeated JV squad will be sending up a fresh set of athletes; an undefeated freshman team from ’08 might, too.

The Unknown: Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s got to be quarterback. Senior Chance Hendrickson was last year’s JV quarterback and top back up to Pearson. Hendrickson had a very nice completion % in mop-up duty (27/45, 60%), 3 TDs, 3 INTs. Hendrickson will likely be the guy, but he’ll be pushed. Woody has JV experience at QB, and there’s a pair of sophomores-to-be who shined on the freshmen team. Who’s going to run the ball? There’s a host of candidates, but Anderson was an intrical cog in  the machine last year. Can he be adequately replaced? What about the secondary? Both All State corners graduated.

Bottom Line: Thurston is the most talented team in the MWL, again. The defense should be able to carry the Colts until they can settle issues at quarterback. The fact of the matter is Thurston is probably good enough to win the MWL without superb QB play; as long as the new starter doesn’t turn the ball over, Thurston is in pretty good shape to repeat.

2. Marshfield Pirates

2008: 5-6 (4-1)

2008 Postseason: Lost to Jefferson 22-18 in 5A second round.

Key Losses: OL/DL MacKenzie Freeman; RB/LB Kyle Brown; OL/DL Jordan Tardie; WR/DB Jordan Shepherd; LB Shane Daly; WR/DB Levi Meline.

Key Returning: Senior QB Kyle Tedder; senior DL Bo Cutting; junior OL/DL John Castro; senior RB Ryan Scoville.

The Good: Tedder is back, and so are Marshfield’s hopes of a MWL championship, something they haven’t won since 1999. Tedder is the top returning QB in the MWL, and one of the top signal callers in 5A. After an early brush with turnovers he didn’t throw a single INT in the four MWL games he played in last year. He’s quick on his feet – 7th in the MWL in rushing, 2nd amongst QBs, trailing only Pearson. Simply put, he’s a dual threat who’s tough to contain. Junior RB Ryan Scoville is back at tailback. He was the #2 guy to Brown, but will be looked on to carry the load this year. He was 8th in the MWL in rushing, not too shabby considering Marshfield had two guys above him taking away carries. The defensive line should be among the best in the league, with Castro plugging up the middle, and Cutting coming off the edge.

The Unknown: Tedder’s great, but he’s going to need some WRs to step up and learn how to beat coverage. The offensive line, outside of Castro, is also a grab bag at this point. Marshfield has some big bodies, but they aren’t long on experience. Playmakers on defense will also need to step up in the off-season. As said, the DL is strong, but experience both at linebacker and in the secondary will need to be forged on the field.

Bottom Line: Unless the offensive line is just gutted on a weekly basis – which I highly doubt – the offense is going to be prolific, perhaps the highest scoring unit in the MWL. Tedder isn’t exactly Tym Pearson, but he’s a heck of a high school quarterback, and an opposing defense’s worst nightmare. Getting stops is going to be the key. The defense gelled late last year after a rough start, and it’s going to need to offer a little balance for the offense. Home field advantage is always huge for Marshfield, and they’ll host both Thurston and Churchill next year (as well as North Eugene). The MWL title should come down the regular season finale against the Colts.

3. Churchill Lancers

2008: 8-4 (3-2)

2008 Postseason: Beat Pendleton 28-17 in 5A first round; lost to West Albany 42-14 in 5A second round.

Key Losses: QB/DB Eric Knapp; WR/DB Blake Determan; RB/LB Chas Rogers; DL Austin Jackson; DL Scott Prior.

Key Returning: Senior WR/DB Sam Graham; senior QB/OLB Casey McFadden; senior WR/DB Will Bales.

The Good: As always, the talent level is high at Churchill. The linebackers are top-notch with OLB McFadden, ILB Brynnan Hyland, and MLB Kyle Rehberger (all seniors). The secondary brings back Graham and Bales. The wideouts seem to be in good hands with Graham (a yard shy of 500 receiving yards last year) and senior Taylor Derlacki. The lines have plenty of bodies to shift through. Bottom line, it’s always tough to out-athlete Churchill; this year is no different.

The Unknown: A couple of spots have me uneasy, but that’s not to say they’re incapable of being filled. Let’s start with quarterback. Eric Knapp was a revelation last year for the Lancers, who finally filled the QB void left after Andrew Schumacher graduated in 2006. He could throw it, he could run it… he ran the offense very, very well. A superb athlete, Knapp’s going to be tough to replace. The top contenders, as I see it, are a pair of seniors: Cody Kloehn and Casey McFadden. Kloehn was 14/28 (50%) for 317 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT backing up Knapp last year; McFadden was 4/8 (50%) for 33 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs. McFadden is the superior athlete, but Kloehn has the better arm. What to do, what to do? One option: Start Kloehn at QB, and move McFadden to a hybrid RB/WR role. Churchill lost their top three rushers off of last year’s team, and getting the ball into McFadden’s hands is never a bad idea. He can run it, and putting him in motion gives Churchill another option downfield to replace Determan, who was an All State selection in ’08.

Bottom Line: Churchill has a lot of really good pieces to build around. Seeing this team come together should be fun. It’s always difficult to lose athletes like Churchill did off of last year’s team, but they certainly are capable of replicating their performance. The defense has the potential to challenge Thurston’s as the top unit in the MWL if everything clicks. Unfortunately for their title hopes, they travel to both Thurston and Marshfield.

4. Willamette Wolverines

2008: 6-4 (1-4)

2008 Postseason: N/A

Key Losses: RB/DB Craig Loper, QB Spencer Phillips, OL/DL Adam Robertson

Key Returning: Senior QB Jake Hughes, senior RB Raphael Hidalgo, senior OL/DL Nick White, senior WR/DB RJ Durbin.

The Good: Hughes is a big, 6-3 pocket passer who gained plenty of game experience last year when Phillips was knocked out at halftime of the Thurston game with a concussion and missed the next handful of games due to lingering side effects. Hughes time on the field was hit or miss, but he showed plenty of signs of being a really good QB, and I think last year’s action will pay dividends this season. But the offense won’t be revolving around Hughes; the bulk of the action should be devoted to the ground game. Granted, Loper graduated after securing All State honors, but the Wolverines do get the luxury of returning Hidalgo, a quick, shifty tailback who backed up Loper last season. He returns, as are a pair of more powerfully built juniors in Jacob Aguilar and Skylar Mohr. That’s as good of a 1-2-3 punch as you’ll find in the MWL this year, and it should take plenty of pressure off of Hughes. The offensive line has plenty of options to build around White to block.

The Unknown: Defensively, Willamette was an absolute mess last year. They started off well enough in non-league play, but gave up 55 to Thurston in a league-opening route and never seemed to recover. They gave up 33, 47, 27, and 48 in consecutive weeks afterwards. Will they improve? Um… I’m not sure. Okay, let me retract that. They’re bound to improve on last year’s numbers. But how much? Willamette needs to play a ball control offense in order to win games, and a big part of that involves playing good defense and giving the ball back to your ground game to eat seconds off the clock. Willamette lacks returning playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary, although Durbin is a great athlete.

Bottom Line: Willamette was 5-0 and ranked in the 5A top 5 before the Thurston game knocked them off their path, which they never seemed to get out of their heads during their 1-4 finish. The offense was never consistent without Phillips, and the defense was poor. I think Willamette can bounce back offensively, but can they make stops? They can challenge Churchill for the #3 seed if they can.

5. North Eugene Highlanders

2008: 1-9 (0-5)

2008 Postseason: N/A

Key Losses: WR/DB Tyler Vanderhoff; WR/DB Shea Slayton; QB Tim Keller; DL Gabe Wilson.

Key Returning: Senior RB/LB Michael Bibbee.

The Good: It’s all going to revolve around Bibbee, who took the league by storm as a sophomore in 2007 but got hit by the injury bug last year. He came back and started all season for the hoops team, so at least he’s healthy. Bibbee is a big, 6-3/225 pound bruiser of a tailback who earned 1st team MWL honors as a sophomore despite having a somewhat poor line in front of him blocking. He also doubles as North’s biggest playmaker on defense. The freshman team went 7-2 this year, which is fantastic for the  future of many football-starved North Eugene fans. I know the coaches are pretty high on juniors Jordan Smith (QB/DL) and Asano Aiken (OL/DL).

The Unknown: Quite a bit, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean North is destined to finish in the cellar again this year; it simply means we don’t know a lot about the team at this point. A perfect storm of player and team improvement could take place and North could make the playoffs for all we know; it’s just that at this time, there’s a lot of questions that need answers. North lost Keller at QB, who took awhile to get going but played very well in league play. They also lost their offensive skill position talent in Vanderhoff and Slayton, who both landed on the MWL 2nd team. At QB, junior Jackson Landgreen is the only returning player to register a pass attempt (1). He completed it for 18 yards, if it helps. Smith was North’s co-scout team player of the year last year, and will probably get a long look. North’s junior class is huge, and looks to have some quality athletes. The coaching staff just needs to find the right places to put them, which I’m sure they will. North’s the smallest school in the MWL, and like most seasons, they’ll need to answer questions on both lines, where they’ve often been pushed around in seasons past.

Bottom Line: Bibbee is an All State talent. Can the rest of the team pick up the slack and help him out? North has athletes, and participation is high right now, which is great to see at a school that doesn’t have a great football tradition. While the freshman team last year (sophomores this year) enjoyed success, North had to cancel the end of their JV season last year because of lack of depth. We’re probably going to see a lot of underclassmen on the varsity roster this year. You have to like NE’s future, but can they be a factor in ’09?

6. Springfield Millers

2008: 6-4 (3-2)

2008 Playoffs: N/A

Key Losses: RB/DB Mike Travess; RB/LB Dusty Jarvis; OL/DL Aaron Boehland; WR Zach Ennis; WR/DB Zady Navarro; LB Sean McCauley; OL/DL Marshall Curry; WR/LB Bill Hamilton; LB Brett Haxby; QB Chris Ling.

Key Returning: HC Skip Raish?

The Good: The good is that Springfield had a winning season last year, which the fan base sorely needed. They didn’t make the playoffs due to finding themselves on the wrong end of a coin flip, but head coach Skip Raish has instilled a winning attitude at Springfield. The Millers boast a strong junior class who had great success as freshmen, and many of whom got their first taste of varsity action last year. One of the top juniors is RB/LB Thomas Spikes, who didn’t get a ton of time at tailback behind Jarvis and then Travess, but made the most of his opportunities and looks to make a splash the top returning rusher in ’09. Senior Devante Smith is a smaller change-of-pace back. Seniors Jake Becker and Tanner Dougherty are the top returning targets at WR.

The Unknown: Quite a bit. Of the 18 All State and All MWL selections Springfield secured last year, none return. Last year was a senior-laden team designed to win immediately under first year head coach Skip Raish. On offense, they lose their top two QBs, top two RBs, top four WRs, and the bulk of their offensive line. On defense, they lose everybody. What do you make of all that? Well, there’s going to be a fresh face or two. A name or three on the varsity roster than you might not recognize. Or 30. It’s a brand new ball game for Springfield, heavy on juniors. The senior class is very small.

Bottom Line: I’m not trying to delve into hyperbole when I say Springfield lost everybody from last year, but I’m not sure how else to describe it. Springfield often has good athletes, so all hope isn’t lost, but… this is a textbook rebuilding year for the Millers. As is the case with North Eugene, so many brand-new faces doesn’t have to equal a last place finish. We just don’t know enough about the program right now.

Preseason Awards

MVP: QB Kyle Tedder, Marshfield. Tedder gets the nod over Thurston’s Kyle Wright, who is a dominant defender and playmaking wideout (and, at times, running back). Tedder should put up great numbers, and Marshfield should be pretty good. A quarterback has won this award three of the past four years.

Offensive POTY: RB Michael Bibbee, North Eugene. If he stays healthy, I don’t think anyone is going to touch his production running the ball.

Defensive POTY: LB Kyle Wright, Thurston. He won it last year, and I’d bank on the repeat. He’s the most feared defender in the league by a fairly wide margin.

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