Friday night lights are returning to East Clark County.
The Camas and Washougal football teams will open their 2021 campaigns this week on Friday, Sept. 3, with the Papermakers traveling to play Central Catholic (Oregon) and the Panthers taking on Prairie at Fishback Stadium. Both games start at 7 p.m.
Jack Hathaway will make his head coaching debut for Camas, which won the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s most recent 4A state championship game in 2019.
“I feel like we always have that target on our backs, and that comes with the success of the teams before,” Hathaway said. “We talk about (having) to rise to or above the bar … or else you’re thought of differently. We want to continue to set that bar high. That’s our mentality.”
Washougal, meanwhile, will try to maintain the momentum it built in 2019, when the football team advanced to the 2A state tournament quarterfinal round.
“We have a pretty solid sophomore group that reminds me a lot of that 2019 group we had,” Panthers coach Dave Hajek said. “As we get further into this season, and definitely next season and the season after, we’re going to be a pretty good team.”
New coach, same expectations for state champs
Hathaway will serve as the Papermakers’ interim head coach this season, taking over for Jon Eagle, who led Camas to a 4-1 record in 2020 before resigning to take a coaching position at Portland State University.
Hathaway, who served as Heritage High’s head football coach from 2011-13 before joining Eagle’s staff in 2014, said he isn’t planning to make any wholesale changes to the program, which Eagle led to nine league titles and two state championships during his 13 years as head coach.
“I’m going to steal everything that guy had to offer,” Hathaway said of Eagle. “He’s a tremendous teacher of the game and teacher of life, and I think those things are really important to carry on. And, most importantly for the championship culture that he built, the entire (coaching) staff is back.”
Still, Hathaway has to be true to his own coaching style, he said.
“As the interim head coach and the guy that everyone looks up to, I have to have my own twists and things that I want to do,” he said, adding that he won’t try to “fix something that’s not really broken.”
Hathaway expects the program’s recent success to continue in 2021 as it fields a squad that will prove fully capable of winning another league title and advancing in the postseason.
“We always feel like we have that (kind of) team. We have too many good kids and too many good coaches to think anything different,” Hathaway said. “We want to be the best. We want to strive for league championships and deep state tournament runs and state championships. That’s where we have our eyes every single year, so nothing’s really changed there.”
Junior Taylor Ioane takes over at quarterback this season and will be joined in the backfield by a stable of running backs led by senior John Schultz. Senior wide receiver Mark Thorkelson and senior offensive linemen Noah Christensen and Tyson Jacobson also return to the Papermakers’ offense.
“We have a good mix of experienced guys coming back that played a lot last year,” Hathaway said. “Taylor has really good command of the offense. He’s one of those guys who keeps getting better and has a good grasp of things. He can see the field real well and accurately. We’re pretty deep at running back, and we’re really excited about our offensive line.”
The Papermakers’ biggest strength might lie in their defense, though, specifically in their linebacking core, led by veterans Luke Jamison, Jairus Phillips and Logan Silva.
“Our defense is always tough. They’re coached really well, disciplined and physical,” Hathaway said. “Our linebackers are really strong, our secondary is experienced and going to be pretty good for us, and we’ve got some active, long, athletic, physical linemen coming back.”
Those players will take on a schedule that’s arguably the toughest in the state. Camas opens the season with four consecutive Oregon 6A juggernauts — Central Catholic, Clackamas, Jesuit and West Linn — and takes on in-state power Tumwater in week seven.
Washougal team looks to improve as season goes on
The Panthers, who went 3-2 in the shortened 2020 season, will be challenged to continue their ascension this fall due to the number of young players on their roster — 48 of their 75 players are freshmen and sophomores, and the Panthers will return just three starters on both sides of the ball.
Hajek, however, believes his team has the potential to keep the program moving in a positive direction. He’s hoping the squad can build for the future by winning in the present.
“We’re young, but we’re talented,” Hajek said. “I’d say it’s going to be a building year, but we’ll get better as the season goes on. We think we can compete in our league, and who knows? Maybe if we stay healthy and things go our way, we can win a league title. I think we’ll pick things up quickly because we have a lot of smart, hard-working players. I’m thinking by midseason we’ll be in pretty good form.”
Washougal’s offense will feature senior wide receiver Thomas Brown; offensive linemen Jose Alvarez and Zach Phillips; and a new starting quarterback, sophomore Holden Bea.
“We’ve got some really good skill guys and some athletic linemen. I think we’ll spread the ball around pretty well and be pretty effective,” Hajek said. “(But our potential on offense) kind of comes down to how (Bea) matures throughout the season. We’re definitely excited about the potential he has. I think he’s going to be tremendous. He’s got arm strength and size and mobility, and he’s a smart kid. He’ll have a pretty good career here.”
The Panthers’ defense will be led by a pair of returning all-league selections, junior linebacker Garrett Mansfield and senior defensive back Carson Morris.
“We’ve got some speed and athletic ability on defense,” Hajek said. “I think we’ll be able to fly around. We’re not really big, but I think we have some kids that can play. We have a pretty good inside linebacker in Mansfield and a lot of good perimeter players.”
Washougal will take on 3A Evergreen on Sept. 10, before starting its 2A Greater St. Helens slate against Woodland on Sept. 17.
“We have a pretty tough, non-league (schedule),” Hajek said. “We have no teams on our schedule who we can look at and say, ‘OK, that’s a win.’ Our league parity is pretty good. I don’t think there’s any team that’s going to run away with it, like we’ve had with Hockinson in the past. I’m not saying Hockinson is not good, but last year you saw teams close the gap on them. It’s just going to depend on who stays healthy and who matures.