Photo by Ben Mitchell
RUNNING BACK Michael Jones, forcing his way to a gain in the recent Blue and Gold game, will be a keystone to the Hood River Valley High School football game plan in the 2016 season.
As of Tuesday, August 30, 2016
The Hood River Valley Eagles are hoping to build on the remarkable success they enjoyed a year ago, when they advanced to the Class 5A football state playoffs. The Eagles have an optimistic outlook and they’re hoping to duplicate their success in 2016.
After three weeks of practice, the Eagles are ready to take the field for their home opener Friday at 7 p.m. at Henderson Community Stadium against the St. Helens Lions (6-4 last year). The game will be broadcast by Mark Bailey on radio station KIHR beginning with a 6:30 p.m. pregame show.
For the Eagles and eighth-year Head Coach Caleb Sperry, it’s definitely a season of change as Hood River moves into a new league and they have a roster filled with numerous new players. The 2016 squad has big shoes to fill as they’ll try to replace the talented group of 17 seniors that helped lead HRV to the 2015 playoffs.
‘SPECIAL 1’: A NEW DISTRICT
The four-team Columbia River Conference doesn’t exist anymore in football. It’s been replaced by the eight-team Special District 1, which includes HRV, Pendleton, Hermiston, Bend, Mountain View, Redmond, Ridgeview and defending 5A champion Summit.
“We’re in a really good conference with some very tough teams, but I’m excited to be in a conference that has more than three games,” said Sperry. “It’s really going to be a tough battle in every game.”
“The good thing about a new year is that everyone is optimistic about the beginning of the season and we (coaching staff) have the opportunity to have a good affect upon this group of young men,” said Sperry. “We’ll work hard with that process while we try to create a great team and that’s our focus every year. We’re excited with the guys we have out there and they all have an excellent attitude in addition to having a very good work ethic. It’s a different year with a little different group of players, but that’s kind of what high school football is all about.”
HRV has a total of 76 players who comprise three squads that include the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams. Assistant coaches who will guide the Eagle varsity squad include Bruce Burton, Vinnie Schlosser, Ryan Donica, Justin Mosqueda, Eli Bello and Aaron Hildebrandt.
The Eagles had their first taste of game action Friday when they hosted a jamboree with Pendleton, Parkrose and Prairie of Vancouver. The four squads participated in a 12-play series simultaneously at each end of the field. The round robin format consisted of each team competing against each other for 12 plays while providing them with the same type of game atmosphere that they’ll experience in the regular season.
“We got to see what some guys can do and there’s some things we still need to work on, but we’re encouraged to see the strong effort they displayed in the jamboree,” said Sperry. “Our goal is to have a balanced offensive attack (rushing, passing), but sometimes you have situations during the game that will require you to make adjustments. Our opponents will likely be focusing on stopping Michael Jones, but we have some guys that we can throw the ball to. We just have to be prepared to execute well on offense in both our running game and passing game.”
HRV’s spread offense (33.8 points per game) was ranked 10th last year and Sperry is hoping that the team will have a similar point production again this season. Jones, a junior running back, will anchor HRV’s ground game as he’s expected to be the Eagles leading rusher. The tandem of either sophomore Caden Leiblein or Trenton Hough will be the starting quarterback who will be handing the ball off to Jones.
Receivers who will likely be the leading target to catch passes and score touchdowns include senior Dylan Peterson, 6-foot-2, 204 pound junior Connor Coerper, 6-1 junior Tanner Wells and Patrick Estes, a 5-11, 195 pound wide receiver/linebacker.
The Eagles will count on the leadership of seven seniors to help guide the squad too, with Derik Flora-Boyles, Georgie Torres, Wyatt Mansfield, Mikey Hall, Andrew Rinella, Justin Wilson and Dylan Peterson filling those roles. The 6-2, 217 pound Mansfield will again provide a key component to the offensive line as the Eagle center. The defense will be anchored by Wilson, a 280 pound defensive lineman, Mansfield and junior Brycen Polzel, a 5-10, 195 pound linebacker. Mansfield and Wilson both earned CRC First Team All League Awards last year.
“We really have a lot of kids that are capable of providing good leadership and they’re all looking forward to playing football on Friday and hopefully start the season with a win,” said Sperry. “We have lots of new faces and these kids have set their goals pretty high. They have high expectations and a couple of goals they have is to have a winning season and win the conference championship.”
Last year, the Eagles posted a 5-5 overall record and took second place in the Columbia River Conference at 2-1. This year, HRV has five home games and four road contest’s. Last year, the Eagles were 3-1 at home and 2-4 on the road.