By René Ferrán, Bob Lundeberg and Mike Wilson
The Oregon high school football season kicks off this week, and SBLive has rolled out a comprehensive statewide preview.
Here, we examine each 6A team’s most irreplaceable player. Who is one player that if he were to miss a game, his team’s chances would take a massive hit?
Note that this exercise is meant to be fun and spark debate — most teams have numerous indispensable players, and it was nearly impossible to pick just one! Feel free to let us know which player you would choose for your team.
Roman Burrow (West Salem) photo by Leon Neuschwander
PORTLAND INTERSCHOLASTIC LEAGUE
OL/DL Alex Johnson, junior
Johnson turned out for the team right about the start of last season, meaning he was late getting in the required nine practices before he could play. He started once he was eligible, and on one of his first plays, he got a sack. “He hasn’t looked back,” coach Trevor Smith said. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Johnson is among the Warriors’ bigger linemen and, Smith said, has put in the effort in the offseason and summer to get bigger and faster. “He’s kind of a natural leader,” Smith said. “He really wants to take the rest of the team and push them forward.”
RB/LB Joel Beltran-Martinez, senior
Beltran-Martinez was the Lightning’s second-leading receiver last season with 23 catches and the team’s second-leading rusher. He made second-team all-PIL as a utility player on offense. First-year coach Jamal Jones said Beltran-Martinez also will be a key player on defense.
TE/RB/LB Jayden Moses, senior
Moses ranked second on the team in tackles last season behind Portland Interscholastic League co-defensive player of the year Max von Arx. We can expect to learn more about his offensive ability this season. “He’s going to get to highlight his talents on the offensive side of the ball,” coach Alex Melson said. “He’s really going to be useful in our blocking game as well as catching the ball from the tight end position. He’s going to be pretty versatile and used in a lot of different ways.” In addition to his tackling numbers, Moses forced two fumbles — most on the team — and was a first-team all-PIL selection at linebacker. “He’s one of our biggest impact players,” Melson said.
DB Sanborne Melson, senior
Coach Anthony Stoudamire called Melson “probably our best cover cornerback,” and he should combine with Jeray Mott Jr. to make the Democrats’ secondary tough to pierce. Melson missed some of last season while injured, and now that he’s healthy, he could surprise the rest of the league, Stoudamire said. “When he’s healthy, he’s a lock-down corner,” Stoudamire said.
WR/DB Dylan Iwanaga, senior
Iwanaga caught the only two touchdown passes the run-heavy Cardinals threw last season. “He’s been working really hard in the offseason to get bigger, faster, stronger,” coach Matt Caruso said, also praising Iwanaga’s leadership. “He’s just been grinding since the end of the season last year.” As a team, the Cardinals had modest passing and receiving numbers in 2021. The loss of first-team all-PIL running back Brady Kopetz should result in more balance in the offense, and Iwanaga figures to be a primary beneficiary. “Especially with Mo (Seely-Roberts) drawing a lot of attention, I think we’re going to see Dylan be able to separate himself as a skill-position player,” Caruso said.
RB/WR/DB Dominique Matthews, senior
A returning varsity player, Matthews will line up as a two-back (running back) and a boundary cornerback. “Dom worked hard in the weight room this past offseason and in the winter quarter made huge strides,” coach Joe Salvador said. “Dom really set the bar for what it looks like to work hard in the offseason. This season we hope to utilize his quickness as a running back on the perimeter and give him ample opportunities to run the ball in the open field.”
TE/WR/LB Dexter Foster, junior
Foster was a first-team all-PIL linebacker as a sophomore and is the Roughriders’ top returning tackler. Coach Ryan McCants said the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder is not done growing. Foster had seven tackles for loss and three sacks last season, ranking second and co-second on the team in those categories. “Once he sees the ball, the way he closes is special,” McCants said.
OL/DL Trevor Smith, senior
Smith is among the Guardians’ few returning linemen and will be counted on as the linchpin of that unit. “He played every position on the line last season and has even gotten reps at tight end,” coach Keith Bennett said. “We will lean heavily on Trevor’s experience as he anchors our offensive line this season. If we need a yard, we will run behind Trevor.”
RB/DB Damien Lopez, senior
The Warriors didn’t run the ball much last fall, but when they did, Lopez was the primary ball carrier, finishing with a team-high 151 yards on 69 carries. He also had the most tackles of anyone returning this year with 24 and has drawn looks from several local Division III and NAIA schools. “His vision on the field is top-notch,” coach James Mitcham said.
QB Hunter Borter, senior
Borter is a three-year starter at quarterback who threw for 1,890 yards last season, completing 65% of his passes (143 of 220) with a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (21 TDs vs. 10 interceptions). “He knows the offense inside-out and has gotten stronger,” Beavers coach Bob Boyer said. “He’s a very good leader.”
FB/DL Noah Staley, senior
Staley — the son of Chris Staley, an all-state defensive lineman on the 1987 Jesuit team — received 6A all-state honorable mention as a defensive end last season and served as the catalyst for the Crusaders’ run game as a crushing blocker. In addition, he gained 272 yards and scored four touchdowns on 31 carries and caught seven passes for 121 yards out of the backfield. “An excellent back in our program,” coach Ken Potter said. “He has great speed and the potential to break a big play at any time, and he is tough on defense.”
OT/DL Reed Gerber, senior
Gerber became a starter during the spring 2021 season, following in the footsteps of one of the program’s “originals,” his older brother, Shane, who was an all-league offensive lineman. Reed made the all-Metro second team on defense last season, finishing with 4½ tackles for loss and three sacks, and served as the team’s long snapper. “He has definitely matured physically quite a bit,” coach John Mannion said. “He’s one of the foundations of our program coming into the season and has earned his stripes, for sure.”
RB/LB Jacient Cox, senior
Cox is one of many Sunset players who had to play out of position last season because of injuries; he moved to the offensive line and held his own against bigger competition. He’ll move back to his more natural running back position, where he’ll get first crack at replacing Caleb Kim’s team-leading production (832 yards, 13 touchdowns), and he’ll return as a starter at inside linebacker (70 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, second-team all-Metro). His father, Jeremy, is on coach Damien Merrick’s staff, “and Jacient has been a Sunset kid since he was in diapers,” Merrick said. “He’s all-in on football as much as, if not more so than, anyone in the program.”
OL/DE Campbell Sager, senior
Sager earned all-league honors on both sides of the ball last season, including first-team recognition on defense after making 27 tackles (three for loss) and two sacks as a junior. He ranks No. 25 on 247Sports’ class of 2023 state list and boasts offers from Army and Air Force. “He’s a very athletic edge player who’s very technically sound,” coach Ryan Atkinson said. “He puts his team first and is a leader.”
RB/LB King Luafutu, junior
Luafutu entered the starting lineup on defense as a freshman and made the all-Pacific second team last season, finishing with 66 tackles (five for loss), two sacks and a forced fumble. He has seized a leadership role on the defense, and he’s poised to take on a bigger role on offense. “King understands the game very well and can play at a high level,” coach Danny Kernan said.
QB/DB Trevor O’Leary, junior
O’Leary has been the quarterback in waiting the past two seasons, getting a series or two every game last fall — he was 22 of 42 for 380 yards passing and had 45 carries for 470 yards — while biding his time to take over full-time. He earned all-Pacific honorable mention as a kick returner and defensive back (19 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception), which coach Ian Reynoso thinks could be his college position. “Trevor has really good playmaking abilities,” Reynoso said. “He is definitely a scrambling, running quarterback, but he has developed his arm skills a lot this offseason. He feels a lot more comfortable in our program and is just starting to step into that quarterback role. It’ll be fun to see him kind of grow up and develop these next two years.”
OL/DL Ryan Berger, senior
Berger was named a Pacific Conference co-offensive lineman of the year as a junior and received second-team all-conference recognition on defense (20 tackles, three for loss). He has an offer from Southern Oregon and has drawn interest from several FCS and FBS schools. “I have no problem saying he will be one of the best linemen in Oregon this year,” coach Eric Mahlum said. “He can go toe to toe with anyone. He’s a two-way player who is tough, strong, and plays with a fire in his belly.”