By Mike Wilson | Photos by Leon Neuschwander
It’s safe to assume that the thrill of scoring an offensive touchdown will never lose its appeal to Tyler Creswick.
But, as the Putnam junior said, scoring when your team starts with the ball is kind of what’s expected.
Taking it all the way when the other team starts with the ball — now that, he allowed, is different.
“When you make a big play like that,” he said, “it can totally change the game and change everyone’s energy.”
Creswick has been changing the energy this season unlike any other player in Oregon high school football in the past five years. Four games into the 2022 season, he has scored five nonoffensive touchdowns — two on interception returns, two on kickoff returns and one on a punt return.
His five defensive and special teams scores have come in two games — Weeks 2 and 3 — and are more than any other Oregon Class 5A or 6A player in the past five years has totaled in an entire season.
“You score on special teams, you have a defensive score, it really changes the vibe on the sideline,” Kingsmen coach Tim Jacobs said. “It changes the momentum in the football game, and it just makes it a really big moment within the game itself.”
Creswick has been probably the most electrifying player on a Kingsmen team off to its best start since well before the team’s players were born. Putnam of Milwaukie is 4-0 for the first time since 1986, thanks in part to a defense and a special teams unit that have rung up more points on touchdowns (42) than the Kingsmen’s opponents have scored (39) in any manner.
The seeds to this season’s success, Jacobs said, trace not only to the noteworthy ability of players such as Creswick but also to their commitment. They have made investments in themselves and the team, Jacobs said, and the results are apparent on Friday nights.
“We want it more than in other years,” senior quarterback Konnor Bickford said. “The mentality has really changed with our group. We’re getting around to changing things at Putnam, changing the mentality — wanting to win, not just to play.”
Turning it on in the offseason
Putnam’s roster on its 2021 OSAA team page lists 10 seniors. That meant relatively light losses to graduation and a 2022 roster with more varsity-seasoned players than normal.
But what those returners did after the fall 2021 season might have been as important as what they learned and experienced on the field last season.
Creswick and Bickford said offseason faithfulness to weightlifting and team workouts was greater last offseason — by an order of magnitude — than in previous years.
The Kingsmen’s starters, Creswick said, “were all there for every single lift in that weight room.”
“The leadership that the upperclassmen in general have shown, from over the summer to now, has been really impressive,” Jacobs said. “There’s been a work ethic — both in the weight room, the preparation all summer long, how they approached doubles — that you are seeing rub off on the freshman and sophomore. You’re seeing them practice better.”
The 6-foot-1 Creswick is a prime example of what dedication to the sport can produce. Through his labor in the weight room, he has added about 15 pounds since last season and now is 180. The added strength, he said, has made playing defense easier. And it has produced more speed and elusiveness in the open field.
Those are obvious assets when he’s playing receiver on offense and pleasant bonuses when he gets his hands on the ball on special teams or defense.
“I feel I don’t go down as easy,” he said, “so even if someone does get a hold of me, it’s going to take a lot more than that to tackle me.”
“I think another part of it is the kids around him, too,” Jacobs said, reflecting on Creswick’s scoring feats. “We have some pretty talented kids around him who have also been making plays.”
The Kingsmen have left no doubt in their four wins, logging an average margin of victory of 29 points. But in the interests of full transparency, it will be noted that all four of their opponents, for purposes of football, are part of OSAA’s 4A classification, one step below Putnam’s 5A level.
Their schedule might have cornered the Kingsmen into a no-win situation when outsiders evaluate their performance. Win — as they have — and it’s, “Well, you should be beating these teams.” Lose, and it would have been, “How could you have lost to these teams?”
To their credit, at least the Kingsmen are in the damned-if-they-do aisle.
“You look at every other sport, they’re 5A schools,” Jacobs said, referring to the Kingsmen’s first four opponents. “They’re all teams we’ve played year in and year out for the last eight years. … We’ve been in a league with Milwaukie forever. We’ve been in a league with La Salle forever. We’ve been in a league with Parkrose forever.”
Said Creswick: “If people want to underestimate us because we played a lot of 4A teams, they can do that. But we’re going to put it on all these other 5A teams when we get to league just like we are on the La Salles, Philomaths and Milwaukies.”
A leader and an influencer
Jacobs said the likes of Creswick and other upperclassmen make for a team that is noticeably different from what Putnam has fielded previously.
“These guys as a whole know how to work, and they’re passionate about football,” Jacobs said. “You can hear just in how they talk among themselves about things. As a coach, you can kind of go, ‘Yeah, these guys get it.’ That’s really satisfying as a coach. To hear those positive things, those leadership-type comments and ownership-type comments coming from players, is great.”
Creswick’s leadership skills aren’t confined just to football. When Putnam students returned to school after the COVID-19 quarantine, Creswick sported a new style of casual footwear.
Soon enough, the trend of wearing crocs (when not in football cleats) had spread throughout the team.
“He loves his crocs,” Bickford, who also wears them, said with a laugh. “He just loves them.”
“I was really the first person to wear crocs when we came back from our quarantine,” Creswick recalled, but he doesn’t want to take credit for initiating the footwear wave — saying he only was a factor in their becoming popular.
“They’re just comfortable,” he said. “You can wear them in the water. You can wear them during the day casually.”
One place he can’t wear them is in the Putnam weight room.
“Coach has had to ban them,” Bickford said.
Of his three pairs of crocs, Creswick said he has one that he will put up against those of any of his teammates.
“I think my tie-dye pair might be the best one on the whole team, to be honest,” he said.
Jacobs said signs of the Kingsmen’s potential emerged early in preseason practices, in the way players executed drills and picked up offensive and defensive schemes. The confidence the coaching staff felt in the late summer has been well-founded.
Although Creswick has been the team’s biggest game-changer — with four offensive touchdowns to go with the other five — he’s not the only weapon the Kingsmen have. James Bauman, Creswick’s fellow receiver/cornerback/kick returner, makes it difficult for opposing passing games and presents a dilemma for opponents in choosing which side of the field to kick off or punt to.
“I think we saw one instance where a team tried to punt away from Tyler,” Jacobs recalled, “and James took it back for a touchdown.”
Bickford was honorable mention all-conference as a junior and has been efficient in the passing game this season.
The Kingsmen’s offensive line was identified as a unit of strength in the preseason, and it has lived up to its billing. Jacobs said Putnam allowed no sacks in Weeks 2 and 3, and Bickford said he can’t even recall being touched in the Week 3 win over La Salle Prep.
But if Creswick does carry the banner for the team, as his game-breaking statistics might suggest, Jacobs said that is appropriate. Infectiously enthusiastic and full of energy, Creswick is not afraid to be “loud and proud,” Jacobs said, about his love for football.
“He plays the game like he loves it,” Jacobs said. “He can make a big play with his feet and come back on defense and isn’t afraid to hit you.
“He’s a little bit of a throwback.”
Except, perhaps, in his off-field footwear.