They have so much in common.
They are champions, they want to be champions again, and they agree that last year means absolutely nothing in regard to this season’s goals.
Oh, and everybody else wants to be just like them.
Camas, Mountain View, Hockinson, and La Center football teams all will enter the 2017 football season as defending league champions.
Camas gets the extra attention, too, as a defending state champion. The 2016 team will always have that state trophy, while the 2017 Papermakers have something to prove.
Camas senior Drake Owen has heard it, too. He knows there are those out there who think Camas will be down this year. Too many seniors on last year’s team. Not enough experience for this squad.
“It fires us up,” Owen said. “It gives us more motivation to just grind, man.”
Of course, Owen also knows what it is always like at Camas: Next class steps up. That is how Camas has not lost a league game this decade. The Papermakers won Class 3A Greater St. Helens League titles in their last two seasons at that level and have won the five 4A GSHL titles since moving up a classification.
“Every single (Camas) team is different. We have different strengths and weaknesses,” Owen said. “We have to find them, and find out what we have to do to get this team to its highest potential.”
Camas coach Jon Eagle said confidence comes from knowledge, skill, and experience. These Papermakers have the first two, and they will get game experience early in the non-league season, in preparation for 4A Greater St. Helens League action. The starting lineup will have a lot of new names this season, but the goals will remain.
“I like to work in a school district that has high expectations,” Eagle said.
At Mountain View, the Thunder are also looking forward. Mountain View cruised to a 3A GSHL title a year ago, and many expect this team to repeat.
“We can’t let our past success determine our future. We have to keep working,” said Thunder senior Mitchell Delmage.
Mountain View coach Adam Mathieson said it is “easy” for the Thunder to focus.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said of the 2016 league title. “I forgot it. Last year, Team 36 was just preparing us for Team 37.”
At Mountain View, players and coaches describe each team that way. Next year will be Team 38, then 39 and so on.
“To me, we got beat by Peninsula (in the playoffs last year). We were 0-1 the last time Team 36 was on the field. We’re 0-0 with Team 37.”
Delmage said he and his teammates cannot practice every day thinking a league title is a sure thing. Instead, they practice as if every game will be a battle for the state championship.
“Personally, I try to imagine we’re in the state championship game, in the fourth quarter, down by four points,’’ Delmage said. “I put that in my head. ‘I have to catch that ball. I have to make this play.’ So in games, I’m ready. I’ve already done it so many times.”
Hockinson is the three-time defending 2A Greater St. Helens League champion. The Hawks know from experience, though, that defending is not an easy stroll through a schedule. The 2016 Hawks lost their first league game before bouncing back with five consecutive victories for another title.
“Every game, they all want to beat you,” Hockinson senior Colton Wheeler said. “We have to come out more competitive, we have to want it more and play our hearts out.”
Wheeler said there is no extra pressure from outsiders as a league champion. There is plenty just within the team, though.
“It does push you to work harder. You want to maintain that legacy,” Wheeler said.
Hockinson coach Rick Steele said the rest of the league has improved so much there is no chance for the Hawks to go into cruise control.
“I think everybody else is gosh-darn tired of us winning,” Steele said. “We don’t get to have a down night.”
In fact, that is what happened last year when the Hawks lost to Woodland.
“Sometimes maybe we didn’t have that hunger like we should,” Steele said. “This year we have a group that when they’re up, they’re tough. We just cannot come out flat in any game.”
Of all the defending league champions in Clark County, perhaps La Center has the easiest road to repeat.
Just don’t tell La Center’s players that.
The Wildcats found themselves in one close league game a year ago. And they know from that victories are not sure-things.
“It comes down to self-discipline,” La Center senior Evan Honore said. “Learn from film and do our own stuff.”
He said the Wildcats do have a chip on their shoulders. They want to earn another league title.
“We don’t want to break the tradition of winning,” Honore said. “We’re trying to show everybody we’re the top dog and we’re not leaving anytime soon.”
La Center coach John Lambert is not concerned with this team being overconfident because this team knows better. He has the most seniors he has had in his 18 years at La Center. As sophomores, they were poised to be league champions until Kalama stunned them.
“There are a couple teams that could surprise us if we’re not ready,” Lambert said. “We have so many seniors, honestly, it’s not difficult. They know you can’t take anything for granted.”
In the next nine weeks, we will all know if the four league champions were successful in their defenses, or if new champions will emerge.