It’s a new era for Warrenton football. New uniforms, new helmets, new team slogans, new league … about the only thing that’s still the same is the coach.
For the first time in five years, the Warriors have the same coach from the previous season returning for another, as Ian O’Brien is back for 2018.
After going 0-9 in 2016 and 1-8 last year (and two straight 0-3 league seasons), the Warriors were looking for a serious makeover.
One way to improve: Drop down a level, with the OSAA’s permission.
And that’s the road Warrenton has taken, as the former Class 3A Warriors will compete in the 2A Northwest League for at least two years.
“It’s not the position that we want to be in, having to drop down a level, but at the end of the day, I think it’s what’s best for our program and our community to play in the Northwest League,” O’Brien said.
“We’ve been in the Lewis & Clark League with Rainier and Clatskanie, but to be honest, I think our parents get more psyched up when we play Vernonia, Neah-Kah-Nie or Knappa,” he said. “Because for the parents who went to Warrenton, those are the teams they played when they were in high school.”
The Warriors have actually been playing Northwest League schools for the past 12 years. The only difference — now they will be league games instead of nonleague.
But just because the Warriors are now the big fish in a small pond, Warrenton can’t start thinking “league championship.”
The NWL has belonged to Knappa for much of the last 10 years. The Loggers have only had one losing season in league play since 2005, with three 4-0 league seasons over the last four years.
“They’ve owned the league,” O’Brien said of the Loggers. “They’ve been the Northwest League champion three of the last four years. They’re always good. Neah-Kah-Nie will be really tough, Vernonia has a great running back, and Portland Christian always has great athletes. Nestucca kids are always farm tough, down there working the dairy farms.
“We played all those teams last year, and only beat one of them (Nestucca),” O’Brien said. “Let’s see how hard we’ve really worked compared to these other schools, some of whom had their way with us.”
The Warriors have just three seniors on the roster. But don’t call the team “inexperienced.”
“The kids who are juniors, they have quite a bit of experience, because they’ve had to play,” O’Brien said. “With only three seniors, I need juniors to be seniors for two years.”
Warrenton will have to replace three all-league players lost to graduation, including Logan Fischer, a first-team running back and linebacker.
Junior Jake Morrow will be the prime candidate to fill those shoes, on both sides of the ball.
“When I look at our offense, you have to look at who’s going to be behind center,” O’Brien said. “That will be Jake Morrow. Jake’s a heck of an athlete, a first team all-state catcher, so he’s familiar with having to be a leader.”
Whoever is on the field, look for more yards and more points in 2018. Warrenton was only shut out once last year (41-0, at Knappa), after scoring a grand total of just 44 points in 2016.
“Last year, we were crawling,” O’Brien said. “We kind of got away from what coach (John) Mattila did, traditionally, which was the Power-I and the pro set.
“Last year was the first year for a lot of these guys, so they were also having to learn a new language. That’s what happens when you have three coaches in three years.”
Other key players will include senior Gio Martinez, who moved to wideout and will play some defensive back and linebacker, O’Brien said. “He’s a senior who’s played a lot of football. He will get some reps at quarterback, too.”
Devin Jackson “is a utility guy who will play some receiver and linebacker. Kale’o Kapua will be one of our three seniors, and Kale’o is a heck of an athlete. He will play O-line, D-line and some linebacker.
“I’m excited about our line,” said the coach. “It’s young, but they work hard.
“Sam Irwin (sophomore) is the strongest kid in our school, just a workhorse. Duane Falls is a scrapper, huge heart and loves to compete. Mark Warren (junior) is in his third year on the line. He’s a big kid with a big frame, 6-2, about 230.
“And Triston Scott is a sophomore. I’ve got two sophomores and two juniors starting on the line. We’ve got good size with those five.”
The running back position “will be a little by committee,” O’Brien said. “Devin Jackson, Ethan Green and Ahstin Culp could all see some carries. Another guy is Austin Little. He gives us a different dimension and can do some things. And Gabe Breitmeyer will be out there, at receiver and linebacker.”
The first week of practice, the Warriors had 35 players on the field.
“The bulk of our numbers are in the junior, sophomore and freshmen groups,” O’Brien said. “It’s exciting. If we have a couple decent years, I think there will be more buzz with the kids. Kids like to be a part of things that are having success, right?”
With the numbers and talent at the grade school level, Warrenton could soon be dominating whatever sport in whatever league they playing in.
“Our third-fourth grade and fifth-sixth grade coaches are doing a great job,” O’Brien said. “Our numbers are healthy.
“There’s really no excuses this year. Let’s go out, give it our best effort, and hopefully when the clock strikes zero, some of those games will be in favor of the Warriors.”
Prediction: The Warriors should certainly be good enough for a top-three finish in their new league, which means a return to the state playoffs.
Coach: Ian O’Brien, 2nd year (fifth overall)
2017: 0-9 (0-3 league)
All-league losses: Logan Fischer, Caden Hans, Preston Miller.
All-league returners: None