Jake Holmes is named MVSJ’s Athlete of the Year for West Linn for 2022-23.
It was a year like no other.
Jake Holmes, a graduated senior from West Linn, led the Lions football team to a state championship. He was a member of the West Linn basketball team that took second in the Class 6A state tournament. And he lifted the Lions baseball team to a second straight 6A title, getting the game-winning RBI in the state championship game.
For those reasons and many more, Holmes has been honored as the 2023 Athlete of the Year by Miles Vance Sports Journal. The Athlete of the Year honor goes to the top graduated senior athlete — male or female — from West Linn High School.
Next year, Holmes, 18, will play baseball at Linn-Benton College in Albany, with later plans to transfer to Oregon State University and focus on business, aiming to eventually work in commercial real estate. This summer, he’s playing baseball for NW Diamond Sports.
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The Lions rolled into the 2022 season with a new head coach (Jon Eagle), a new quarterback (Sam Leavitt) and the absolute certainty that they would win the 6A state championship.
It wasn’t easy, though, thanks to a Week 2 loss to Sheldon, a challenge from Three Rivers League foe Tualatin and return matchup against the Irish in the title contest.
But Holmes — a 6-foot-3, 235-pound defensive end and team captain — and the Lions answered every question down the stretch, winning the Three Rivers League, closing the season with 11 straight victories, finishing their year at 12-1 and avenging that early setback to Sheldon by beating the Irish 23-14 in the 6A title contest.
“It’s kind of like the Cinderella story where you lose to a team and then just keep fighting, don’t give up and come all the way back to the last game of season in the state championship,” Holmes said. “Then you get to play that team again, the only team you lost to, and beat them to win that ring. It was awesome.”
That said, the early loss to Sheldon made the Lions questions themselves, at least briefly.
“That was like a shot to the heart because we all wanted to go undefeated, have the perfect season,” Holmes said. “Maybe we had our heads a little too high, but it was kind of scary. … We knew they were a good team, but we obviously didn’t think we were gonna go in there and lose. After losing that game, I was like, ‘Crap. We’ve got Lake Stevens next, the number one team in Washington, and then we play Jesuit. We could really start the season off 1-3.’”
Needless to say, those things didn’t happen. The Lions beat Jesuit 31-20, routed Lake Stevens 45-6 and then raced through the TRL season unbeaten, their closest game a 42-30 “W” at Tualatin on Oct. 7.
“We went into league and I think our first three games, we outscored our opponents (154-44),” Holmes said. “We just decided that we can really do this. We’ve just got to stick to our game.”
That was true even in the 6A title game against the Irish, with West Linn racking up a 20-0 lead at halftime, seeing Sheldon battle back within 20-14 in the fourth quarter, then adding a late field goal to win 23-14.
“We struggled in the second half and I remember just being like, ‘Damn. They’re really coming back,’” Holmes said. “Obviously, we’re the better team, but they did beat us last time. And then, I remember it started pouring pretty hard and then I started to get a little more nervous. If it’s not pouring, I think we probably win that game by 20.”
Holmes was at his usual best in the final, making five solo tackles in the game, including two — one of them a 10-yard sack of Irish quarterback Brock Thomas — to short-circuit a Sheldon drive at the start of the fourth quarter.
“Everyone I’ve met at this school that’s an athlete is just a dog. They’ll do anything it takes to win. They’ll sacrifice their body. They’ll sacrifice anything to win, especially for the brothers in the family,” Holmes said. “And just holding up the trophy at the end of the game, celebrating with all my teammates, that was the best part.”
What his football coach said
“It’s an overused description, but he’s a playmaker,” Eagle said. “Go back in our season in the biggest games, the most important moments and he would always be the guy that would make a big play.
“Throughout the season, he would be the guy that would make the quarterback sack or tackle for loss or a big-time play. That’s what stands out to me.”
Beyond that, Eagle said he loved Holmes’ sense of humor, his athleticism and his consistent effort in every practice and team activity.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Eagle added. “Good practice player, great kid, fun to coach, fun to be around and a practical joker.”
One third of the way into his senior year, Holmes seriously considered whether or not he would play basketball.
He was coming off a long, tumultuous football season and needed time to recover. He had his senior baseball season looming ahead, where Holmes was a returning starter and key cog from the Lions’ 2022 state championship team. And he knew that his role in basketball would be a relatively minor one compared to his other two sports.
“I did have the thought of, maybe senior year I should just play two sports and use basketball season to train for baseball and also to recover from football,” Holmes said.
But the competitor, teammate and friend in Holmes wouldn’t let the baseball player in Holmes win that argument. And even though his senior-season basketball minutes and stats were modest, he chose to play and never regretted his choice.
“That basketball team is probably the strongest group I’ve (been a part of) and it was my senior year. There’s no point to quit now,” he said. “Obviously, I had the idea of being able to win a state championship in all three sports — that contributed to why I kept playing — and I’m such a big competitor. I just liked showing up at practice.”
While Holmes was not a huge in-game presence for West Linn, he still played a big role as a team leader, tough practice player and solid teammate. Over the course of his senior year, the Lions accomplished almost everything they tried to achieve, posting a 28-2 overall record, going unbeaten in the TRL, winning the Les Schwab Invitational (where they beat the nation’s top high school team), winning the Capitol City Classic and earning — at least for while — the No. 1 ranking in the country.
The one thing the Lions didn’t win, however, was the Class 6A state title. After beating 2022 state champion Tualatin three straight times over the course of the year, the Timberwolves came back to upset top-ranked West Linn 60-47 in the 6A title contest.
“Respect to Tualatin — they earned that. We beat them three times in the regular season, but once it gets down to the state championship, none of that matters,” Holmes said. “We wanted it really badly, but it’s basketball. Anything can happen.”
Despite the Lions’ setback in the championship, Holmes never regretted his choice to play basketball as a senior.
“Sam (Leavitt) playing basketball, Jackson (Shelstad) playing basketball, Mark (Hamper) playing basketball — those are my three best friends,” Holmes said. “I decided to play because those are my best friends and I’m never gonna get this opportunity to show up to the gym again with these guys.”
What his basketball coach said
“He was always that guy that rallied us around in such a positive direction,” said West Linn coach Robert Key. “He’s the most inspirational player. He led by example, got everybody engaged during games on our bench. Just a tremendous leader. I have the utmost respect for that young man.”
Key was quick to emphasize that Holmes’ limited playing time was not reflective of the significant impact he had on the Lions over the course of the 2022-23 season.
“He’s a huge part of why practices were very intense every day,” Key said. “He was just the life of our team. Any photo with Jake Holmes in it, you say ‘That’s a rally guy. That’s an inspirational guy. That’s a born leader.’ You can see it.”
Holmes then put a cap on his high school career that will cement his place in WLHS history for a long, long time.
Facing Jesuit in the Class 6A state championship baseball game — a Crusader team led by pitcher Noble Meyer (the right-hander with the 100-mph fastball was just selected 10th overall in the 2023 Major League Baseball amateur draft) — Holmes lobbed a soft single into center field in the bottom of the first inning to collect the game-winning RBI in the Lions’ 2-0 victory.
“Delivering that base knock in the first inning with the RBI — the feeling after doing that on first base, I was so amped up and it was crazy,” Holmes said. “Just looking over at the dugout and seeing all of them getting hyped with me, that was definitely my favorite memory.”
Scoring first, and proving they could score at all against Meyer, was a major key to the Lions’ eventual victory, Holmes said.
“The game plan was that we’ve just got to come out and punch them in the mouth. We have to deliver the first punch,” he said. “After I got that hit and scored the run, I was hyped because … it kind of woke up all the Jesuit guys. They were like, ‘Oh, crap. West Linn could actually win this game.’ And I think that was the biggest reason they started throwing balls over the first baseman’s head and kicking balls and missing balls they normally wouldn’t miss.”
With the win, West Linn became the first Oregon Class 6A baseball team to win back-to-back championships and the first big school to win back-to-back crowns since Madison did it in 1969-70. The top-ranked Lions closed the year on a 10-game winning streak and ended their season with a 26-6 overall record after taking the Three Rivers League title.
None of the Lions’ success, however, came as a surprise to Holmes, despite West Linn graduating eight seniors from its 2022 title team, four of them all-leaguers.
“I remember being on the bus after beating Canby in the (2022) state championship and thinking ‘Dang. We really could go back-to-back,’” Holmes said. “I’m pretty sure all the underclassmen that year thought ‘We’re going to be better next year.’ That’s what I told people — we want it this year.”
The Lions lived up to all of Holmes’ predictions, too, winning the TRL (after finishing second in ‘22), posting a better won-loss record than a year before, and most importantly, going back-to-back in the state championship game.
“Don’t get me wrong — we were a very solid group (in ‘22) — but yeah, I just I knew that this year’s team was going to be better,” Holmes said. “We lost (eight seniors), but we also had a lot of the same guys in the dugout … so we’ve been able to build that trust over the years. Once we got toward the end of the season this year, we were solid.”
Holmes himself was better as a senior, too. After being selected to the Three Rivers League honorable mention team after his junior year, Holmes was a first-team all-TRL pick in 2023, and later, was named to the all-state honorable mention team.
For the ’23 spring season, Holmes hit .303 with four homers, one triple and five doubles, while driving in 26 runs and scoring another 20.
But none of that — not the “Ws,” not the stats, not the notoriety — mattered as much to Holmes as getting another season together with his best friends.
“(The best part is) just being able to come to this field every single day and spend three hours with (the team),” Holmes added. “I would really do anything for any of these guys. The number one thing I remember is just the relationships I made with all of my teammates (and) my coaches. We were such a special group. Out of all three sports I played, I would definitely say that our baseball team was the strongest.”
What his baseball coach said
“As a teammate, he was always a leader,” said Lions coach Joe Monahan. “He was always supportive of what the mission was as a program. And when he saw guys were letting up, he picked them up and encouraged them and challenged them. And he was always the first guy to make sure all the players followed the program.”
Like his other coaches, however, Monahan said he’d probably remember Holmes most for his positive personality, his sense of humor and his maturity.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Jake since he was eight or nine years old … and he always just had this huge personality,” Monahan said. “And after getting to know him in high school, the relationship just got even better. He was always, even in the offseason, the first guy to reach out to check in and see how things were going. … He was all smiles and always the first guy to look you in the eye and talk to you.
“He’s a big-time gamer. He’s a clutch guy who always comes through … and picks his teammates up when they need it the most.”