Even though the Camas and Washougal high school football teams won’t get the chance to replicate or improve upon their special 2019 campaigns this winter, players say they’re elated to return to the field for competitive play after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed their 2020 seasons by five months.
Local football coaches said Papermakers and Panthers players simply want to play, no matter how short the schedule is or what kind of safety protocols they’ll be required to follow.
“Really, at this point, it’s all about just getting the players on the field and giving them a chance to play football,” Camas coach Jon Eagle said. “The seniors will be able to say, ‘Even though COVID-19 hit, I got one more chance to play.’ They’re going to miss out on some special experiences, though. Playing in front of the hometown fans at Doc Harris Stadium when it’s packed? There’s nothing else like it. Games will feel like a scrimmage. But it’s better than nothing.”
With the Southwest Region advancing to the second phase of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Roadmap to Recovery” plan earlier this month, Greater St. Helens League football teams are moving ahead with their condensed 2020-21 seasons.
Washougal began its five-game campaign with a 33-19 win over Mark Morris on Saturday, Feb. 20, at Fishback Stadium. Camas will play the first of its six contests on Friday, Feb. 26, against Union at Doc Harris Stadium.
“We’ve been through a rollercoaster of emotions, so when we got the go-ahead, (there was) a feeling of relief more than anything else,” Hajek said. “We just wanted to give the kids a season. I’m excited and the kids are excited. I was always pretty optimistic that we’d have a season; it was just a question of when and how long. We’ll take what we can get.”
Papermakers led by star QB, RB
Camas won’t get the chance to defend the 4A state title it won in 2019.
As one of the state’s traditionally dominant programs, the Papermakers usually set lofty goals that revolve around a deep postseason run. But with no state tournament, they’ll try to motivate themselves in other ways this winter.
“It’s totally different,” Eagle said. “We don’t have the answers yet as to what we want to accomplish. Is this season for the seniors? Is it to get the juniors ready for this fall? It’ll probably be both. We can’t go for a state title, but we can go for a league title. I guess that’s going to be the goal. We’re competitive, and as long as the scoreboard is on, we’re going to play to win. But getting the kids back on the field, that’s the (primary) goal.”
The Papermakers lost eight seniors named to the all-4A GSHL first team in 2019, but returned enough talent and experience to put them in a position to win the league title once again.
“We graduated a pretty good group,” Eagle said. “Most state champion teams are senior dominated, and we were (in 2019). But we had a lot of kids who backed up seniors and got a lot of playing time and experience. We’re talented and athletic. I’d say our defensive front is very strong, our receivers and defensive backs are talented but inexperienced and our offensive line is developing. We have a great quarterback and running back, and our kicking game is all brand new.”
The Papermakers’ offense will be led by two seniors who will continue their careers at the college level. Quarterback Jake Blair, regarded as one of the best high school football players in Washington, has recovered from a collarbone injury that prematurely ended his 2019 campaign. Blair recently signed on as a preferred walk-on at Oregon State University.
Another senior who has garnered high praise for his football skills, Camas running back Jacques Badolato-Birdsell, ran for 1,559 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2019 and recently accepted a scholarship to the University of Nevada.
The strength of Camas’ defense will reside in the front seven, led by senior lineman Robert Silva, a 2019 all-4A GSHL first-team selection, and a group of linebackers, including Luke Jamison, Jairis Phillips and Logan Silva, “who are going to make a name for themselves,” Eagle said.
Eagle also expects tight end/defensive end Quade Milhollin, offensive lineman Noah Christensen, safety/wide receiver Bryce Dewey, wide receiver/safety Mark Thorkelson and running back Gabe Guo to make positive contributions this season.
“(Guo) has been in the shadow of Jacques, but on any other team he could be a starter,” Eagle said.
Young Panthers rely on skill players
Like Camas, Washougal is coming off a season to remember in 2019, when it advanced to the 2A state tournament quarterfinal round. But with no state tournament to play for this season, Hajek will focus more on the short term while also keeping the big-picture perspective in mind.
“We’ll build (a series) of weekly goals,” he said. “We want to continue the overall growth of the program. We’ve talked about wanting to tie Hockinson for the most wins (in the league) and things like that. But it’s not really about wins and losses. We want to have a great season, give the seniors something to be proud of and develop the younger kids to get them ready to go for next fall.”
The Panthers graduated a talented group of seniors in 2020 and are returning only three starters on both sides of the ball. Still, the Washougal team has a core group of experienced players, including seniors Shawn Harris (offensive tackle), Peter Boylan (running back/linebacker), Gavin Multer (running back/wide receiver) and Theodosy Berry (safety).
“We have a younger team, especially up front,” Hajek said. “We have some sophomores who are going to be pretty good. We also have some seniors and juniors who don’t really have a lot of varsity experience. Whether we can sustain a full effort for five games, I’m not sure, because most of the guys haven’t been tested over the long term. But we’re comfortable with what we have.”
Hajek has high hopes for starting quarterback Tristan Farrell, who threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns Feb. 20 against the Monarchs, and senior wide receivers Michael Egger and Brig Griffin.
“We’ve got some speed,” Hajek said. “Our skill guys are as good as anyone we will play.”