High school football: Big schools get their start


Biggest game in the county is one of biggest game in the state as Camas hosts Union

It is the biggest game of this bizarre football schedule in Clark County, and it happens to be in Week 1 for the big schools.

One could make an argument that it is the biggest game in the state. After all, it features the 2019 Class 4A state champion against the 2018 Class 4A state champion.

And the schools are roughly five miles from one another.

Then there is the setting. The famous Doc Harris Stadium.

Dustin Shelby and the Prairie Falcons won the 3A GSHL league title in 2019. The Falcons are looking forward to making more memories this abbreviated season. Photo by Mike Schultz
Dustin Shelby and the Prairie Falcons won the 3A GSHL league title in 2019. The Falcons are looking forward to making more memories this abbreviated season. Photo by Mike Schultz

In every other year, the stands would fill up for this game 90 minutes before kickoff between host Camas and rival Union. The home band would welcome visitors, playing Union’s fight song before marching to the home side of the field to play the Camas fight song.

Of course, that’s not happening Friday night.

And although all involved in this rivalry are excited about the return of a night just like that one day in the future, for now, it’s OK.

“I think it’s going to be so weird to see these kinds in an empty stadium, but they won’t care,” Union coach Rory Rosenbach said. “They get to do the thing they love to do.”

The football atmosphere surely will be different, but football remains football. 

The champs are back. The Camas Papermakers, winners of the 2019 state championship, host Union, the 2018 state champion, at Doc Harris Stadium on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz
The champs are back. The Camas Papermakers, winners of the 2019 state championship, host Union, the 2018 state champion, at Doc Harris Stadium on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz

And that is true for state champions, for league champions, or teams that are just hoping to show some improvement. 

A week ago, the small schools in the region kicked off the football season. This week, the Class 4A and 3A programs begin.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” said Prairie coach Mike Peck. “We get to coach a game we love, and we get to see kids we love get to play football.”

All might not be right in the world, but all is a whole lot better in the athletic world of Clark County these days.

Here are some thoughts from the eight Clark County high school football head coaches as they get ready for Friday Night Lights.

4A Greater St. Helens League

BATTLE GROUND TIGERS

After waiting so long to play, Battle Ground coach Mike Kesler almost sounded as if he could use another week or so.

“Everybody’s been hurried,” he said, referring to the fact that it wasn’t until just a couple weeks ago when his team could hold a full practice, with everyone on the field at the same time.

That can be frustrating for a coach who wants more preparation time. But in this case, Kesler understands.

“It feels really good to be out there with the kids right now, giving them the opportunity,” he said. “We’re going to be as ready as we’re going to be. The kids are excited about being out there. We’re going to give it a go against any opponent we’ll play.”

Wins. Losses. Scores. Really, those are secondary priorities for the Tigers.

“My expectations are that we are there for our senior kids, to give them an opportunity to play their senior season,” Kesler said. “And we’re there to support the kids who need that structure and camaraderie. We’re just looking for the opportunity to be together. This gives the kids a chance to be in something organized.”

2019: 2-7 overall (1-3 4A GSHL)

All-league returner: Ricardo Lara, LB
Friday: vs. Heritage, 7 p.m. 

Rest of schedule:
March 5: at Kelso, 7 p.m.
March 12: vs. Camas, 7 p.m.
March 18: vs. Mountain View, 7 p.m.
March 23: at Union, 3 p.m.
March 27: Bye
April 2: vs. Skyview, 7 p.m. 

CAMAS PAPERMAKERS

The Camas Papermakers last played a football game on Dec. 7, 2019. You might remember it. The Papermakers finished up the Revenge Tour, completing an undefeated season to capture the program’s second state championship.

Yeah, the Papermakers are kind of a big deal.

And even in this season, with no playoffs, everybody will be out to give their best against the best.

The Papermakers are sure to be ready.

“The scoreboard is going to be on. It’s a game to us. We only know one way to coach,” Camas coach Jon Eagle said. “We’re going to coach like we’ve coached kids on the field just like every year before this.”

Still, even Eagle had to acknowledge this is strange territory.

In a traditional season, he said has a set schedule as a teacher at Camas High School, and then practice and more preparation. Camas is still doing all that, but the schedule just seems off a bit.

“We’re just making the best of it. We’re just not in the rhythm of the seasons,” he said. “You just have to adjust and make the best of where you are and understand things are not going to be perfect.”

Make no mistake, it is football. Even in February.

And if anyone thought they could just ease into this season, well, the schedule took care of that. It’s Union for the first game. Camas, the 2019 state champion, and Union, the 2018 state champion. What a start.

“It’s going to be fun to line up,” Eagle said.

2019: 14-0 (4-0 4A GSHL) Won the Class 4A state championship.

All-league returners: Robert Silva, DL: Jake Blair, QB: Jacques Badolato-Birdsell, DB (injured and out for the year.) 

Friday: vs. Union, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
March 5: Bye

March 12: at Battle Ground, 7 p.m.

March 18: at Kelso, 7 p.m. 

March 23: vs. Skyview, 7 p.m.
March 27: at Heritage, 4 p.m.

April 2: vs. Prairie, 7 p.m.

SKYVIEW STORM

Skyview coach Steve Kizer is not exactly a friend of technology. He is so sick of looking at screens, at monitors. Online teaching or online coaching … he can do without.

So when football practice officially resumed, he was more than ready.

“It’s the greatest thing we’ve got going,” Kizer said. “Just being on the practice field has been awesome. It’s starting to seem real now. It’s been a little cold, but the guys have been awesome. It’s been good for the coaches, too.”
The wait has been tough on everyone, and it is a little tougher on the Storm. The luck of the draw when the schedules were being produced has kept Skyview out of a Week 1 matchup. With nine teams in the 4A and 3A GSHLs to schedule, one team has to have a bye.

Kizer is OK with it.

That winter storm took away some practice days so the coach said his team could use an extra week.

The important thing: These practices are leading up to competition. The Storm aren’t just practicing in hopes of a season. There is a season.

“We’d like to win the state championship,” Kizer said.

Yes, Kizer understands there are no state playoffs and no state title will be determined. But he said he will always dream big. 

“It’s just great to be playing,” Kizer said. “We want to play as well as we can. We’ll see if we can win a league championship down here. We’re just going to compete.

2019: 8-3 overall (3-1 4A GSHL), lost in the first round of 4A state playoffs

All-league returners: Xavier Owens, DB/AP-KR; Michael Stromberg, DB (injured, out for season); Silman Farran, OL; Lorenzo Lombardi-Brannon, DL.
Friday: Bye

Rest of schedule:
March 5: at Prairie, 7 p.m.
March 12: vs. Union, 7 p.m.
March 18: vs. Evergreen, 7 p.m.
March 23: at Camas, 7 p.m.
March 27: vs. Mountain View, 4 p.m.
April 2: at Battle Ground, 7 p.m. 

UNION TITANS

Just like every high school football team in the state, the Union Titans tried to stay ready, but they were never quite sure. 

Then it was go-time.

“All of a sudden, all hands on deck,” Union coach Rory Rosenbach said. “It’s been really fun just to come out and work with our guys again in a setting that seems normal.”

Well, as normal as can be expected now.

Rosenbach would like to have said he enjoyed seeing the kids smile again. But he can’t. Not exactly, anyway.

“You can see the smile in their eyes,” he said, noting the masks each player must wear over his nose and mouth. “You can see in their eyes how happy they are.”

Rosenbach is proud of how his players — all players in the state, actually — continued working toward this goal.

“They made weight rooms in their garages. Or they did things on empty tracks, just staying in shape and being mentally prepared,” Rosenbach said. “I just want to create the best opportunity for them. These guys worked so hard to get to come back and be on a field.”

Rosenbach said all players should be celebrated, but the Class of 2021 should get a special salute. This abbreviated season is it for them.

2019: 6-5 (2-2 4A GSHL), lost in first round of 4A state playoffs

All-league returners: Tobias Merriweather, WR; Jake Bowen, WR; Marques Cantu, WR; Jack Grimsted, OL; Levi Harms, DL; Liam Mallory, DB (while at Hockinson).
Friday: at Camas, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
March 5: vs. Mountain View, 7 p.m.
March 12: at Skyview, 7 p.m.
March 18: vs. Heritage, 7 p.m.

March 23: vs. Battle Ground, 3 p.m.
March 27: at Evergreen, noon
April 2: Bye

3A Greater St. Helens League

EVERGREEN PLAINSMEN

The Evergreen Plainsmen have one crazy stretch of football this season. In 10 days, the Plainsmen take on Skyview, Mountain View, and Union.

And you know what? Evergreen coach Christian Swain is not complaining one bit.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone playing a tougher 10-day stretch than that,” Swain said.

Who cares, right? The Plainsmen are playing.

“I think the word would be thankful,” Swain said. “We’re thankful for getting the chance to play. Obviously it looked a little bleak there for a while. We want to take advantage of this time because these are precious memories. We’re just trying to seize the opportunity to have a really fun season.”

A year ago, Evergreen beat Mountain View on its run to the postseason. Swain said culturally, his program has made even greater strides. Morale is high. Evergreen is a program on the rise.

And this season?

“I want the kids to have a great experience and make some amazing memories,” Swain said. “We’re going to let the chips fall where they fall. We’re going to go out and compete every week.”

2019: 5-5 overall (2-2 3A GSHL) lost in state preliminary playoff

All-league returners: Jayle Fite, WR/DB; David Kalea, DL

Friday: vs. Prairie, 7 p.m. 

Rest of schedule:
March 5: at Heritage, 3 p.m.
March 12: Bye

March 18: at Skyview, 7 p.m.
March 23: at Mountain View, 7 p.m.
March 27: vs. Union, noon

April 2: vs. Kelso, 7 p.m. 

HERITAGE TIMBERWOLVES

Heritage coach Dennis Moody noted so many of the oddities associated with this football season, but in the end, he came to the conclusion that many can appreciate. 

No fans. No buses. No bands. No locker rooms to use at halftime. 

“I always feel like I’m just running around, trying to make sure everything is taken care of,” he said, referring to things outside of planning for a game. “I feel like I’m doing more of that lately than anything else.”

By Friday night, none of that will matter.

“I’m excited. How could you not be? We get to play some football,” Moody said. “I’m glad our guys are going to experience it, even if it’s just a little bit.”

A little bit for Heritage is a seven-game season. That’s right, the Timberwolves are one of two teams scheduled for seven games in this pandemic schedule. The 4A and 3A GSHLs have a total of nine teams, so there is a bye for most teams. Not for Heritage, though. 

The Timberwolves, by luck of a draw, play every week (or week-ish, if you will) of the schedule. Remember, there is one stretch of three games in 10 days.

The Timberwolves are embracing the opportunity.

“We’re so young that this actually works out well for us, from a standpoint of getting our kids playing at a varsity level, at varsity speed, but not overwhelming them with pressure. For us, it’s OK,” Moody said. 

This seven-game stretch should bode well for the future, the coach added. Heritage, if you recall, moved to Class 3A during reclassification. So in the future, the Timberwolves won’t be battling Camas, Skyview, or Union for a playoff spot.

“We should be fairly competitive after this season,” Moody said. “We get our young guys some experience. They just want to play. They’re itching to play, whatever that looks like.”

2019: 2-7 (0-4 in 4A GSHL) 

All-league returner: Drew Gray, LB (injured, out for season)

Friday: at Battle Ground, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
March 5: vs. Evergreen, 3 p.m.
March 12: vs. Kelso, 7 p.m.
March 18: at Union, 7 p.m. 

March 23: at Prairie, 7 p.m.
March 27: vs. Camas, 4 p.m.

April 2: at Mountain View, 3 p.m.

MOUNTAIN VIEW THUNDER

“I don’t know.”

Adam Mathieson’s initial response to what all of this means, to be so close to actually playing a game after all that the athletes and coaches have endured in the past year.

Of course, Mathieson gave a little bit more of an answer after giving it some thought. But, like so many football coaches, nobody really knows what to expect of a shortened season that starts in February.

Except, Mathieson does know one thing for sure.

“It’s fun to see the kids,” he said. “It’s fun to see them, and you hope that they have a positive experience. Lots of different things. It’s different, no doubt about it. But it’s fun to see the kids.”

But here’s more of that uncertainty. Mathieson said he usually knows his entire schedule long before the first game is played. No, he isn’t looking ahead. It’s just as head coach, and athletic director, he has always known his schedule and had it memorized.

“I know my Week 1 opponent and our Week 2 opponent,” Mathieson said. “After that, I don’t know.”

He promises to get around to it, of course.

For now, he is just thrilled his players get a chance to play the game.

“When you get out there with the kids, between the lines, it’s fun. I’m so thankful the kids are going to get to engage in it.”

From a pure football standpoint, Mathieson said not much will be different for the Thunder.

“We’re always about us, and weekly improvement, and getting better,” he said. 

That won’t change whether it’s a nine-game regular season and possible playoffs or this year’s seven-game, no-playoff, season. 

“We’ll be super thankful we’re playing, enjoying the kids, and really living the week-to-week of it,” Mathieson said.

2019: 5-3 overall, (2-2 3A GSHL)

All-league returners: Jude Mullette, K; Kyle Chen, DB
Friday: at Kelso, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
March 5: at Union, 7 p.m.
March 12: vs. Prairie, 3 p.m.
March 18: at Battle Ground, 7 p.m.
March 23: vs. Evergreen, 7 p.m.
March 27: at Skyview, 4 p.m.
April 2: vs. Heritage, 3 p.m. 

PRAIRIE FALCONS

The Prairie Falcons are coming off one of their best seasons in decades. Yes, decades. They won the 3A GSHL title and made it to the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.

Coach Mike Peck would normally be thinking about running it back, competing, and looking for another playoff run. The program, after all, has arrived.

Let’s forget normal for a minute. Even before a game has been played this season, the Prairie Falcons are already winners. 

“Obviously we want to win. We’re going to compete like crazy,” Peck said. “But the big victory is our kids get to have a season, and that’s the most important thing.”

It’s been an exciting time since practice started on Feb. 1, and then, a week later, the 4A and 3A teams in Clark County found out they could actually have games.

“Like I told my players, a month ago we didn’t know if this was going to happen or not. And Friday, we get to play a real football game. Just enjoy it and have fun,” Peck said.

The advice to his players is the same advice to himself and his assistant coaches. 

“I’m just going to soak it all in and enjoy every moment because this was never guaranteed,” Peck said.

2019: 9-2 (3-1 3A GSHL); lost in overtime in first round of 3A state playoffs

All-league returners: Dustin Shelby, RB/DB; Brody Schlaefli, OL; Easton Lane, DL.
Friday: at Evergreen, 7 p.m.

Rest of schedule:
March 5: vs. Skyview, 7 p.m.
March 12: at Mountain View, 3 p.m.
March 18: Bye
March 23: vs. Heritage, 7 p.m.
March 27: vs. Kelso, 7 p.m.
April 2: at Camas, 7 p.m.

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