By Paul Valencia | Photo by Chase Allgood
SBLive Oregon will break down every 6A, 5A and 4A team in the state leading up to the 2022 football season. Here’s our look at the Tillamook Cheesemakers of the Class 4A Cowapa League.
Kye Johnson, eighth season (27-34)
PAST 4 SEASONS
2021 (fall): 6-5 overall, 4-1 in Cowapa (lost in first round)
2021 (spring): 2-3 overall, 2-3 in Cowapa
2019: 7-4 overall, 2-3 in Cowapa (lost in quarterfinals)
2018: 4-5 overall, 2-3 in Cowapa (lost in play-in round)
ALL-LEAGUE PLAYERS DEPARTED
Trent Buchler, QB
Marshall Allen, WR
Jared Landolt, OL
Aiden Johnson, OL/LB
Dillon Stein, DL
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gilbert Whitlatch, running back/linebacker, senior
As a hard-nosed running back, Whitlatch will have a role on offense. But his priority is to anchor the defense as a linebacker.
“Let him focus on being the centerpiece and captain of our defense,” Johnson said. “He’s a super hard-working kid.”
Tillamook knows what it is like without Whitlatch on defense. He got hurt before the playoff game last fall. Johnson said there was a noticeable difference without Whitlatch on the field.
Johnson called him the typical Cheesemakers linebacker, an athlete who goes straight from the football field in the fall season to the wrestling room for the winter sports season.
Tyler Moncrief, wide receiver/running back/defensive back, senior
A great student in the classroom and a brilliant football IQ guy, Moncrief led the state in interceptions last season. It wasn’t just athletic skills. He is athletic, but he also uses that IQ to put himself in the best position to make a play, Johnson said.
On offense, Moncrief could line up as a running back, quarterback or receiver, depending on the play.
“A Swiss Army knife on offense,” Johnson said.
Tanner Hoskins, quarterback, junior
Hoskins is the starting quarterback entering this season after he played wide receiver last fall. As a freshman, he “had a million yards” at quarterback at the JV level, Johnson said.
The backup varsity quarterback to an all-league QB last year, he did not get many reps behind center. Instead, he crushed it at receiver in limited playing time. In two league games, he ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and scored touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns. He was hurt in the third league game, a major blow.
“He was so dynamic. It felt like he was scoring every other time he touched the ball,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to have him healthy and touching the ball every play as quarterback. If he stays healthy, he has the potential to have an incredible couple of years. One of the most dynamic players I’ve coached.”
Zeyon Hurliman, wide receiver, senior
Hurliman and Johnson got to spend a lot of time together last school year. Johnson also coached track and field, and he watched Hurliman make it to state in the high jump and the long jump.
That athletic ability comes across on the football field, as well. Hurliman led Tillamook in receptions and receiving yards last season.
“He catches everything that goes his way,” Johnson said.
Sam Diaz, offensive line/defensive line, senior
Diaz enters his final high school season with a ton of experience. As in, four years as a starter. He was brought up late his freshman year to start on the offensive line, then helped the Cheesemakers make a run to the state quarterfinals.
Now, he stands 6-2, 320. A big, strong player, he also will anchor the middle of the defensive line.
“Not sure where he’s going to wind up, but he’ll be a guy who will continue playing football after this year,” Johnson said.
Judah Werner, running back/linebacker, senior
Werner started playing sports his freshman year at Tillamook. He has more than made up for lost time. He is a starter on the basketball team, and he recently finished second in the state in the javelin.
“Out of anybody in our program, the rate that he has improved has been more than anybody else,” Johnson said of Werner’s learning curve associated with football.
“He’s one of my favorite kids I’ve ever coached. A great teammate. Shows up to everything. Works super hard.”
Johnson said he expects Werner to get most of the carries at running back this season.
“It’s tough to take him off the field because he’s so good at so many things,” Johnson said.
Garrison Gunder, wide receiver/running back/defensive back, senior
Expect Gunder to move around a lot this season. He’ll be a safety sometimes, a cornerback other times on defense. On offense, he’ll be a receiver or a running back. Oh, and he’ll be a highlight in the return game, too.
“I think he’s going to be an impact player in all three phases of the game for us,” Johnson said.
Parker McKibbin, wide receiver/defensive back, senior
Another three-sport athlete, McKibbin was a fullback/H-back a year ago. This season, pencil him in at receiver.
“He’s just got a great skill set. Catches the ball and is shifty when it’s in his hands,” Johnson said. “We like to get him in the slot and get the ball into his hands on short throws.”
Then, stand back and watch McKibbin make something happen.
To look ahead to the 2022 season, let’s first take a look back to the bizarre spring campaign of 2021.
The Cheesemakers did not do anything that special that season, finishing 2-3. But that team had a bunch of sophomores getting varsity experience. Now, seven seniors will be entering 2022 as three-year starters. This is what they’ve been working for since returning to football that spring season.
A year ago, Tillamook and Banks played each other in the regular-season finale in what was truly a league championship game. Banks got the best of Tillamook, but Johnson said it was a “great experience” for his players.
Those juniors last year got that taste.
They are still hungry.
“We definitely want to be one of the top two teams in the Cowapa League and hosting a playoff game in Round 1,” Johnson said, adding that this team’s goal is to do better than last year’s squad that lost in the first round.
Johnson acknowledged there is a bit of an unknown with the offensive line. There are a lot of guys who have been waiting for their turns to shine. He expects them to do just that. If those linemen get the job done, there are a bunch of skill players ready to make plays and make for a memorable season.
An interesting twist to the 2022 season is Tillamook playing on the road, perhaps all season. The school’s football field is getting a complete makeover. New turf. New track. New lights. New everything, Johnson said.
Weather issues and other things have led to the project being pushed back, so for now, most games are scheduled for the road. The last two games of the regular season are scheduled for home. If the complex is not ready at Tillamook, those last two games will be played at Neah-Kah-Nie in nearby Rockaway Beach.
“We do a good job of encouraging our athletes to be multi-sport athletes. That’s improved in the years I’ve been here. I think that has paid a ton of dividends in the last couple of years. It’s healthy to have that all-around experience. We’re encouraging kids to stay active.” — Kye Johnson