CAMAS — He was one of the few unknowns for the Camas Papermakers at the beginning of the 2016 football season.
Heading into 2017, he is one of the returning leaders.
Isaiah Abdul went from a non-starter to a starring role in 2016, helping produce one of the greatest high school football seasons in Southwest Washington history.
Camas completed a 14-0 season with a Class 4A state title. Abdul had an interception in the championship game, capping his remarkable climb from reserve to starter to all-league performer as a defensive back.
“I knew I had to prove myself. I didn’t pay too much mind that I wasn’t a starter. I knew if I kept my head, if I listened, if I did my job, then hopefully I’d become a starter or just get playing time,” Abdul recalled. “I didn’t let it get me down. Just kept my head up, learned as much as possible, and stayed strong.”
By Week 3, he got his first start. He would not lose that position the rest of that very special season.
Now, he and his teammates want an encore.
This fall, the team might have more in common with Abdul than recent Camas teams. This season, these Papermakers probably feel like they have to prove something.
Gone is the state’s player of the year. Gone is the two-time Class 4A Greater St. Helens League defensive player of the year. Gone are seven more all-league athletes.
“I’ve always loved being the underdog,” Abdul said. “I love having to fight to win. This year, I feel we are, in some ways, the underdog. And that’s OK.”
Good luck getting anyone else to think of Camas as an underdog. Still, his point is this: the Papermakers appreciate any more motivation to make another long playoff run. And a lot of that motivation comes from how much talent graduated from Camas.
“We did lose a lot of but we have this team,” Abdul said. “Together, we are whole. Let us prove it.”
Camas has never been in the position of defending state champion but this program is in the business of reloading with new talent every season. The Papermakers have won 50 consecutive regular-season games. The program has reached at least the state quarterfinals in seven of the past eight years.
Camas coach Jon Eagle is preaching patience with this year’s squad, but his expectations remain high. After all, he has something most programs do not have — a lot of extra practices during their long playoff runs in recent seasons. That means a lot more reps for starters and reserves.
“The thing people don’t realize is when you add five weeks on to your season at the end (the five playoff games last season), all the guys get an extra half season of football,” Eagle said.
“They practice every day against the best team in the state. Our coaches do a good job of putting our players in position … that they come back the next year with some experience under their belt.”
Abdul, who comes into this season at 5-10, 145 pounds, was even smaller last year but played so big. He earned second-team, all-league status on a vote by the rest of the coaches of the 4A GSHL.
Eagle was impressed with Abdul’s reaction to not being named a starter for Week 1 in 2016.
“He didn’t complain. He didn’t politic. He just worked hard and got better and better,” Eagle said. “Through daily hard work and perseverance, he earned a starting position.”
The Camas Story is just that, of athletes preparing, waiting, then taking advantage of an opportunity.
Abdul is solid in coverage but what might surprise some is his tackling ability, his aggressiveness. His video highlights from last season showcase quite the skill of open-field tackling.
“I was scared of tackling. I didn’t like it. I hated it,” Abdul confessed of his earlier years in the game.
“I had to put aside my fears,” he said. “I don’t know what clicked, but something came out of me. I just love proving people wrong.”
Again, that is a theme for these Papermakers. No, they can’t really be called underdogs. It’s Camas, after all.
And there are plenty of playmakers.
Drake Owen was a second-team, all-league wide receiver last year. Ryan Rushall could have been all-league on offense or defense but probably fell victim to just too many other Camas players already voted to the team. Jordan Howes will return at center. Will Schultz, who scored the go-ahead touchdown in the second half of the championship game, returns as a running back and linebacker. Luke Bruno should shine at linebacker. Senior Kyle Allen went into practice this month as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. Andrew Boyle, a junior, is right behind Allen.
By the end of the season, there will be more household names associated with Camas football.
He might not even be a starter in Week 1. But he will be one by the end of the season.
“To start was a dream come true,” Abdul said. “To start and play the whole championship game, let alone have a pick in the championship game, I still can’t contemplate it to this day. … I just felt very blessed.”