The defending Columbia River Conference champion Hood River Valley Eagles football team is keen on following in the footsteps of last year’s squad, which gave fifth-year head coach Caleb Sperry his first CRC title, and the school’s first league title since 1989.
Although winning the conference was a proud accomplishment for the Eagles, who ended the season with a 20-14 loss against the Putnam Kingsmen in an OSAA state championship play-in round, Sperry is focused on the future, not the past, and what a fresh lineup can accomplish.
“It was a great accomplishment for our team last year, because we achieved something that we haven’t done in a long time,” said Sperry, whose assistant coaches include Bruce Burton, John Hiatt, Vinnie Schlosser, Jeremy Dyal, Hector Gonzalez and Chris Mallon. “Every year there’s a new generation of kids and I’m not concerned about what happened last season or in previous years. We’re excited about this year’s group and the potential they have to help us reach our goal of winning the league title again.”
Despite graduating a number of key players from last season, Sperry feels confident that the team’s winning ways will continue.
HRV held its traditional Blue & Gold scrimmage and community barbecue Friday to kick off the season, followed by a nonleague road game Aug. 30, 7 p.m. at the Sandy Pioneers. The first of four home games this season is Sept. 6 against Forest Grove.
“We’re excited about this year’s group and the potential they have to help us reach our goal of winning the league title again,” said Sperry, whose squad began practicing Aug. 19. “It represents an opportunity for them to step up and be the leaders of our football team this year. The group (45 total varsity/JV players) of seniors, juniors and sophomores have displayed a good attitude, mentality and focus throughout our offseason summer training program.”
The team has been practicing three days a week since June in preparation for the season. Workouts consisting of weightlifting, passing and catching have helped players stay in shape as they look forward to defending their conference championship against The Dalles-Wahtonka, Hermiston and Pendleton.
HRV will rely on junior Riley Van Hoose at quarterback to control the team’s multiple set offense. Sophomore Dallas Buckley will be available as the backup quarterback if needed and is capable of throwing the ball deep downfield. HRV’s top targets in the passing game include seniors Wyatt Webber, Alex Jimenez, Wyatt Vallejo and Adam McCaw.
The Eagles will utilize several different types of offensive schemes, such as spread options and duo running back formations to maneuver the ball downfield against opposing defensive units. The offensive strategy is similar to what Sperry and Burton have used the last five years, which aims at creating as balanced of a passing and running game as possible.
The Eagles will rely on the strength of the tandem of running backs Jeremy Fischer and junior Patrick Crompton to power what should be a strong ground attack, which will effectively set up their passing game.
A senior quartet of returning CRC All-League players should be a strong force for the Eagles, with Fischer (running back/linebacker), Trevin Franks (offensive lineman/defensive lineman), Alex Jimenez (wide receiver/defensive back) and Wyatt Webber (wide receiver). Those four and Crompton are this year’s team captains.
“We have five great captains who were chosen by their teammates and they’ll certainly provide great leadership for our team,” said Sperry, who has been on the HRV football coaching staff for the last 14 years. “The seniors have been part of the program for four years and they’re just an awesome group of guys. They’re all great ambassadors to what we’re trying to accomplish and they can help us achieve our goals.”
Seniors Jackson Hukari, Sebastian Lynch, Adam McCaw, Andres Munoz, Andros Pereira, David Vandyke and Wyatt Vallejo will also fill leadership roles as the team’s most experienced players, as will juniors Garrett Kelly, Steven Swafford, Zane Webber and John Gray.
“I definitely feel that I can help carry on the winning tradition started by the Eagles last year and be a team leader by setting an example for the younger guys with a good performance out on the field,” said McCaw, a tight end/outside linebacker. “We’re a much different team though, because we lost almost our entire starting lineup to graduation. I’m excited about my senior year and I’m looking forward to going out there and helping our team play its best football and have lots of fun too.”
Crompton, Franks, Samuel Fults, Parker Irusta, Willie Ishizaka, Jimenez and Vallejo earned All-Camp Awards as they were members of an Eagle squad that participated in the Linfield College football camp in June in McMinnville.
“We had a pretty good season last year and I’m hoping to help my team win some games by scoring some touchdowns this year,” said Vallejo, a wide receiver/defensive back. “We need to step up and fill the shoes of the graduated seniors. We’re going to give it all we’ve got and try our best to win every game. We’re focusing on achieving our goals of winning the CRC championship again and also on winning the Water Bucket Trophy again too.”
The Water Bucket is a prized trophy with the scores listed of each game between area rivals HRV and The Dalles-Wahtonka Eagle Indians. The team that wins gets to keep it in its trophy case for the following year. The Eagles have captured the prize the last two years and they’re hopeful of keeping it in Hood River for another year.
The two teams meet in the regular season finale Oct. 25 in The Dalles.