The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Football: With veterans gone, younger leaders will need to show the way


September 4, 2019

VARSITY FOOTBALL team members are, in front, from left, Kyle Marler, Peyton Ullrich, Preston Ullrich, Owen Towry, Austin Marler, Zach Luttmer, Cole Baxter, Tye Moore, Brayden Newport, Travis Thorpe, Aiden Tyler and Cade Gaskey. In the second row, from left, are Assistant Coach Nathan Whitfield, Assistant Coach Ryan Adams, Tucker Weld, Keegan Fox, Kolton Ertsgaard, Taylor Moore, Larson Smith, Isaac Schaffer, Kai Bryson, Jackson Royer, Gavin Nichols, Ryan Huss, Head Coach Dustin Nichol, Assistant Coach Jay Horner and Assistant Coach Brent Gaskey. In the rear, from left, are Jesse Burford, Paul Glynn, Jake Fanning, Iakona Howerton, Camden Free, David McMullen, Sevin Carson, Trevor Carr, Alex Justice, Brock Nichols, Marc Kanngiesser and Dax Ballinger.

With last year's veterans largely departed, Sweet Home's football team, this year, will be ... whatever his players decide they will be, Coach Dustin Nichol says.

The Huskies finished their season in 2018 in the first round of the 4A state playoff with a 33-15 loss to Marist, after running the table to take home the league championship in their first season in the Oregon West Conference.

Gone are 14 seniors who provided the core of that team, but Nichol welcomes back a slew of returnees – 60 percent of last year's varsity, who got experience, mostly in backup roles, last season. Now it's their turn, he says.

The Huskies have four returning veterans with starting time from last year: Iakona Howerton, a 5-11, 215-pound senior who was an all-league honorable mention pick at offensive guard last year, and played linebacker on defense; senior Travis Thorpe (5-8, 170) at running back and linebacker, and seniors Jasper Korn (5-11, 170) and Gavin Nichols (5-8, 165) at safety spots. Nichols was also an honorable mention all-league honoree in 2018.

Despite the lack of returning starters, Nichol has reason to be hopeful, he said, after watching Sweet Home at the Linfield College Wildcat Team Camp in late June.

"The kids responded really well there," he said. "We were with teams from bigger schools, 5A, 6A, and we didn't get blown out by anybody."

The Huskies have good size this year, on both sides of the line, said Nichol, adding that he's waiting to see who steps up to take the place of receivers Nathan Virtue, Jake Swanson, Lance Hanson, and Casey Tow. Tow, an all-league First Team pick as a defensive back and Second Team at wide receiver last year, is not returning to football his senior year because he has decided to concentrate on training for the decathlon in track, in which he finished third in the national championships over the summer.

With Colton Smith graduated, junior Aiden Tyler (5-10, 165) steps in at quarterback after completing 21 of 43 pass attempts for 343 yards, five touchdowns and only being picked off twice in five games last year.

"He did really good at the JV level," Nichol said.

Tyler quarterbacked the Huskies against Philomath last year, completing 11 of 28 passes for four touchdowns and 253, while being picked off twice.

So now it will be up to the Huskies to demonstrate whether they have the heart to win.

"The question is, will they have staying power, the will to win, start to finish?" Nichol said.

The Huskies switched to a spread offense two years ago, because Nichol believed it better fit the kind of players Sweet Home has. It's worked, he said.

"Our old way of offense, I don't know if we could have won some of the games we've won with the spread offense."

Plus, the Huskies have gotten used to it. This will be Tyler's third year in the spread offense and although Nichol said there will be differences from what people saw last year, the players are all more familiar with it.

"As we get further into this offense, we're developing certain players to run it better," he said. "We're hoping that the option to run is more predominant this year for the quarterback than it was last year. We're really focusing on that aspect."

He said a big key is simply Tyler having confidence, "faith in himself."

Wide receivers will be seniors Korn, Zach Luttmer (5-10, 165), Tye Moore (5-9, 155) and Peyton Ullrich (6-2, 185), juniors Owen Towry (5-10, 155) and Cole Baxter (5-9, 150), and sophomore Braydon Newport (5-8, 155), some of whom will play in the flex slot as tight ends.

Since all four running backs, seniors Thorpe, Nichols, Jackson Royer (5-8, 155) and junior Cade Gaskey (6-1, 200), will also be starting on defense, this year will likely be "running back by committee," Nichol said.

"They'll get their breaks on offense."

Still, this year, he hopes to emphasize the ground game, especially at quarterback, he said. That said, Tyler is accurate with the football and can get it downfield.

"We're hoping that the option to run is more predominant this year for the quarterback than it was last year. I think our offensive strategy will vary."

At offensive tackle will be seniors David McMullen (5-11, 235) and Sevin Carson (6-0, 235), both of whom already have two years of varsity experience and both all-league honorable mention picks last year, along with seniors Dax Ballinger (5-10, 240), Kai Bryson (6-6, 200), Paul Glynn (6-4, 270) and Marc Kanngiesser (5-9, 215), and juniors Keegan Fox (5-5, 140) and Isaac Schaffer (5-9, 170).

Defensively, the Huskies will be bolstered in the backfield by the experience of Korn and Nichols, with Moore, Luttmer, Ullrich, Towry and Baxters on the corners and Thorpe, Howerton, Gaskey, and juniors Ryan Huss (6-1, 185) and Tucker Weld (5-10, 180) in the middle at linebacker.

The offensive linemen will be staffing the defensive line as well.

Special teams skills paid off for the Huskies last year, particularly against Sisters, when Sweet Home blocked two punts, both leading to scores.

This year Towry will be handling kicking, with Ullrich doing "a great job" as punter, Nichol said.

"Travis Thorpe is doing great with long snapping," he added.

Rounding out the varsity lineup are seniors Carson Smith, Taylor Moore and Kolton Ertsgaard, and juniors Austin Marler, Kyle Marler, Brock Nichols, Alex Justice, Trevor Carr, Camden Free, Jake Fanning and Jesse Burford.

Junior varsity players, going into the season, are: sophomores Kai Aiona, Charlie Crawford, Aiden Fox, Colby Gazeley, Wyatt Hall, Russell Holly, Jacob Ingram, Carson Perry, Dillon Spence, Ryan Tyndall, Micah Wright and Josh Wilson; and freshmen Kevin Banker, Christian Dominy, Wyatt Dugger, Evan Jensen, Monte Johnston, Connor McMullen, Heath Nichol, Brady Nichols, Morgan Sands, Jacob Sie-minski, Trenton Smith, Kaden Zajic and Jeremy Zook.

In his 10th season at the helm, Nichol said he's "optimistic" this year.

He said he thinks the conference will be more competitive than it may look on paper.

Despite the Huskies' losses to graduation, they were still ranked 12th in the OSAA's preseason rankings last week, so they obviously have respect from other coaches who participated in the poll.

Banks is ranked No. 1 after winning its first-ever state title last year, with a win over fellow Cowapa League member Seaside. No. 2 is Gladstone, which the Huskies saw Friday in a jamboree hosted by the Gladiators, with Molalla and La Salle.

Cascade, ranked No. 8 in the poll, looks like the team to beat, at least on paper, Nichol said. The Cougars have seven returning all-league picks, including running back Ethan Coffey who was a First Team selection last year.

"On paper, with the number of seniors we've lost, we should be last," Nichol said. But, he added, "I think on any given day, people in this league can beat each other."

"Stayton returns quite a few bodies and (Randy) Nyquist is a really good coach," he said. "All the coaches in our league are good."

The Eagles return four all-leaguers, including first-team pick Ben Rash at quarterback.

Numbers are a problem at Philomath, Sisters and Newport, who are all "struggling" to maintain junior varsity programs, he said. With JV players on the varsity sideline, "they lose out when they don't play JV games," he said.

"Still, that doesn't mean we don't take those teams seriously. I think the league title is open."

Philomath and Newport returns four all-leaguers each, and Sisters returns six, none first-team picks.

Sweet Home will play another tough preseason schedule and there's a reason for that, Nichol said. The Huskies open at home against Marist Friday, Sept. 6, and follow that up with a trip to Banks.

They lost twice to Marist last year – in their opener (28-12), and then again in the first round of the playoffs (33-15). But Nichol said that is exactly why he wants his players seeing that kind of competition early on.

"I've been criticized a little bit by people that our preseason is pretty tough, but the way I look at it, number one, we have gone to the first round a number of years now, but haven't gotten past that round."

That's why he wants to see tough teams before Sweet Home goes into league play.

"If you're 16th (in the end-of-season RPI rankings), you're playing No. 1. If you're in the middle, you're No. 7 or 8, playing Marist again."

JUNIOR VARSITY FOOTBALL team members are, in front, from left, Kaden Zajic, Jeremy Zook, Heath Nichol, Jacob Sieminski, Russell Holley, Brady Nichols and Kai Aiona. In the second row, from left, are Assistant Coach Brent Gaskey, Assistant Coach Nathan Whitfield, Charlie Crawford, Wyatt Hall, Evan Jensen, Dylan Spence, Monte Johnston, Kevin Banker, Jacob Ingram, Trenton Smith, Head Coach Dustin Nichol, Assistant Coach Jay Horner and Assistant Coach Ryan Adams. In the third row, from left, are Josh Wilson, Micah Wright, Ryan Tyndall, Carsen Perry, Colby Gazeley, Christian Dominy, Tanner Waldrop, Connor McMullen, Morgan Sands and Wyatt Dugger.

He said the score should have been closer in the first game, in which Marist returned a fumble for a touchdown and Sweet Home went cold offensively in the fourth quarter after a delay due to a power outage.

In the playoffs, injuries took their toll on the Huskies, he said.

"If we were healthy last year, we would be right in there. On a good day, we could have been a top three team."

"By playing this tougher schedule, it gives us a taste of what the playoffs will be like. Then we can work to get to that level during league play.

The other reason is that playing tough teams helps Sweet Home in the power rankings, which are critical at the end of the season.

"It's better if we've played Banks or Marist. If we hadn't played them, maybe we're not in the top 16."

His players show "a lot of ability and confidence," Nichol said.

"Again, it just comes down to putting the money where your mouth is on Friday night. After what I saw at Linfield, the way they competed against those larger schools, I would hope that effort would just come over into the season for 48 minutes. At Linfield there were 12 plays each session, offense and then defense. It was only about 30 minutes of football, then that live session was over – 24 plays against one team.

"Can they do 60 offensive plays against one team and stay focused? Not just 12. That's going to be the test."


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