VANCOUVER — That first season made Southwest Washington take notice, and not just because he was a freshman playing varsity football in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League.
He had a four-game span when he scored 14 touchdowns. He barely played in three games and still finished with around 800 yards and those 14 scores.
That first season made the expectations soar for his second season.
Only, his second season lasted less than three quarters after tearing a ligament in his left knee.
Jojo Siofele is back for Season No. 3 with the Union Titans. Healthy. Read to run. Ready, in fact, to make people take notice again.
After eight consecutive winning seasons, the Union Titans have now had back-to-back 4-5 campaigns. The Titans, with Siofele leading the ground attack, say they are done with the losing records.
Siofele, in fact, wants to set school records.
“I want 30 touchdowns. I want 2,000 yards,” Siofele said. “Especially if we go deep in the playoffs, that’s a must.”
Still, that seems like a lot. Siofele paused, then noted:
“I just set my goals high. I don’t want to set them low,” he said. “I want to push harder.”
One of the things that could hinder Siofele’s chances of reaching his goals of 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is the talent around him. The Titans are loaded with wide receivers, including the arrival of Darien Chase from Mountain View. (Chase is considered one of the top recruits in the state for the Class of 2019.) Plus, the Titans have an experienced quarterback in Lincoln Victor. Victor played a bunch as a sophomore in 2016, and if he cannot find an open receiver, he can take off running, leave defenders behind with his blazing speed.
Still, this offense gets its fuel from Siofele, a monster who can break tackles between tackles, or go outside and destroy a cornerback.
When he went down last season, it was a shock to the whole system. Even for first-year coach Rory Rosenbach.
“Even though he was only a sophomore, he was the leader,” Rosenbach said.
Siofele, who played one series in the second half of that first game, finished with 72 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns. Pretty good start. But a horrible end all the same.
Game plans had to change. So did assignments. Rosenbach said he ended up moving three players to compensate for one.
Siofele was crushed when he found out the worst news after that Week 1 injury.
“I just broke down. I actually cried,” he said. “I just thought all the hard work I put in … was for nothing.
“Sitting out for a year, that was like torture to me,” he said.
Siofele snapped out of his funk for his team, though. He was there at practice. As soon as he was cleared to begin workouts, he had the same approach that led to his dominating freshman season.
“If anything, we had to slow him down a bit,” Rosenbach said.
While Siofele was healing this offseason, the Titans started thinking big about the fall of 2017. They lost a heartbreaker to 7-2 Battle Ground and played state semifinalist Skyview tough. With their returning talent, and additions, Union hopes to be one of the two playoff teams from the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League.
Besides Chase, look for Alishawuan Taylor to see a lot of balls headed his way. A 6-foot-3 wide receiver, he’s called “The Dream” because his first names sounds like the last name of Hakeem Olajuwon.
Aiden Nellor, a senior tight end and defensive lineman, is a “Saturday kid,” Rosenbach said, referring to the potential to play college football. Braedon Ensley earned second-team all-league status as a running back, filling in for Siofele last year. Ensley can line up anywhere on the field, and he’s an automatic threat.
Defensively, Riley Miller, a team captain, will lead the linebackers. Zion Fa’aopega will help Nellor along the defensive line.
All are excited about the upcoming season. Siofele, though, has a little extra motivation.
“Playing football, it’s my passion,” he said. “I love playing with my teammates. I love working with my teammates, building the bond, trusting each other. Playing Friday night lights. I missed out. It made me more hungry.
“It’s game time, and I’m ready to go off,” Siofele said.