The Lions bring back a ton of talent for first-year coach Jon Eagle.
Big. Strong. Fast. Deep.
Despite his team’s many obvious strengths, new head coach Jon Eagle — before coaching last year at Portland State, he led Camas High School in Washington for 13 years (including two big-school state championships) — is not about to preemptively crown his Lions.
“I know the league from afar. I know the coaches from afar, but I don’t really know the (TRL) … so I don’t have any idea,” Eagle said of the coming league race. “I have heard nothing but great things about the coaches (in the Three Rivers League), but I don’t have any idea.”
That said, the Lions bring back all-league players at nine positions, with six of those returning as first-team selections, including senior outside linebacker Earl Ingle, the reigning Three Rivers League Defensive Player of the Year.
“We always have a shot as long as the ball is shaped the way it is,” Eagle said, adding a tip of the hat to Tualatin in the coming TRL race. “But I think anybody that plays for the state title and brings back a good group of kids would be the favorite.”
The Lions’ offense will feature a handful of returning all-TRL players, led by first-teamers Mark Hamper (a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior wide receiver) and Gage Hurych (a 6-1, 175 junior kicker), along with junior wide receiver Wiley Donnerberg (6-4, 200 and a second-teamer) and junior tight end Gus Donnerberg (6-4, 205 and an honorable mention pick).
Up front, the Lions’ line will include sophomore Jake Normoyle (6-3, 270) at left tackle, junior Hunter Harding (6-0, 260) at left guard, junior Ridge Huot (6-2, 265) at center, senior Eric Murtaugh (6-2, 215) at right guard and junior Steven Del Giudice (6-4, 250) at right tackle, while sophomore Ryan Holmes (6-2, 220) and junior Jack Benninger (5-11, 205) will also see playing time.
“We went into this (season with the line) being a question mark, because they are so young and not much experienced,” Eagle said. “But we’ve been very pleased with their progress since June so I think it’s gonna be a strength.”
At quarterback, the Lions welcome newcomer Sam Leavitt (6-2, 200), a senior transfer from Westview, to the starting lineup, while junior Nick Sakys (6-2, 205) returns after getting significant playing time in 2021.
“Sam Leavitt is … exceptional,” Eagle said. “He has an excellent football mind, he processes information quickly — which is important for a quarterback — he’s got a strong arm and a very quick release, and he’s a heck of a runner. He’s known for his arm, but he can run — he’s got great feet.”
In West Linn’s one-back set, the Lions will call on senior Koffi Kouame (5-9, 200), senior Ben Winjum (6-0, 200) and Ingle (6-1, 210) to provide a combination of speed and strength.
Leavitt’s targets will include Hamper, Wiley Donnerberg, senior Hudson Staats (6-0, 175), sophomore Baron Naone (6-4, 220), junior Gabe Howard (6-2, 180), junior Hunter Haines (6-1, 180), sophomore Danny Wideman (5-10, 170) and sophomore Wyatt Smiley (6-3, 175) at wide receiver, while Gus Donnerberg (6-4, 205) and senior Jake Holmes (6-3, 230) will go at tight end.
“Hamper (is) very good,” Eagle said. “What’s unique about him is he’s got great hands (and) he’s a great route runner, but he’s a make you miss kind of guy. That’s unusual for a guy his size.”
Regarding his tight ends, Eagle said “they both catch very well and they can both block, so that’s what you want.”
Looking at his offense as a whole, Eagle said the Lions will be able to attack defenses in a wide variety of ways.
“We play fast. We’re uptempo. We strive for balance, run and pass. We try to spread the ball around (and) make everyone a threat,” he said. “We run a little bit of power, we run a little bit of finesse, we run some quick pass, we screen a lot, we throw the ball down the field. We’re a big (run-pass option) team.
“I think we’re very multiple. We can do lots of things and we have lots of people that keep the ball in their hands.”
The Lions’ defense is also highlighted by a number of proven stars, including returning first-teamers Holmes (defensive line), Winjum (inside linebacker), Ingle (outside linebacker) and Hamper (safety), while Staats, returns after being named honorable mention at safety.
Along the “D” line, West Linn will look to Holmes and Naone at defensive end, while senior Calvin Reynolds (6-0, 225), Benninger, Ryan Holmes and junior Jay West (6-3, 220) will see time at noseguard.
The linebacking corps should be a strength, with Ingle and Hamper leading the way on the outside, along with sophomore Hudson Hardy (6-3, 195) and senior Noah Harcek (6-0, 185). On the inside, West Linn will use Gus Donnerberg, Winjum, junior Evan Davis (5-10, 190) and senior Evan Weber (6-0, 200).
“Our front is very good,” Eagle said.
And in the backfield, West Linn will call on cornerbacks Staats, Hurych, Howard, junior Caleb Gonzales-Allen (5-10, 170) and Kouame, while junior Bo Dickson (5-10, 170), Haines, Wideman and junior Hudson Reink (5-11, 175) will see time at safety.
“They’re fast physical and athletic,” Eagle said of his defense. “I think a word that I’ve been using with these guys is they’re ‘sudden.’ … Our defensive coordinator, (Anthony Newman) has really instilled that in them. First of all, he’s a very good teacher and he gets kids in the right position. And they understand how to get better, and they get there — suddenly.”
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