Football preview: Columbia River running over opponents

Chieftains’ backfield success benefits from athletic offensive line

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter



Columbia River Chieftains

Coach: John O’Rourke

2010: 5-4, 3-3 3A GSHL.

Key players: Andrew Morgan, sr., lg-lb; Justin Frost, sr., lt-olb; Remick Kawawaki, jr., rb-lb; Darius Raiford, sr., rb-db; Clayton Frank, jr., qb; Tanner Bogart, sr., wr-db; John Mahoney, sr., wr-lb; Thomas Jacobson, sr., wr-db; Dennis Henderson, sr., wr-db; Heath Brinkman, sr., wr-db; Kevin Sandison, sr., rb-lb; Chris Sandison, sr., ol-lb; Brytton Williams, sr., ol-dl; Spencer Thomas, sr., C; Zach Green, sr., ol-dl.

Season outlook: With second-year starters at several key positions, including QB Clayton Frank, River is poised to improve on last season’s 3-3 league record and land one of the league’s three playoff spots.


Sept. 2 Battle Ground

Sept. 9 at Kelso

Sept. 16 Camas

Sept. 23 at Hockinson

Sept. 30 Hudson’s Bay

Oct. 7 Prairie

Oct. 14 at Fort Vancouver

Oct. 21 Skyview

Oct. 28 at Mountain View

Home games played at Chieftain Stadium

With its use of ball fakes and misdirection, the spread-option offense can fool observers — and defenders — into thinking it is a finesse-based attack.

But the Columbia River Chieftains are not only about running around defenders this season.

“We love contact. We love hitting people, and we’re not going to shy away from it,” junior running back Remick Kawawaki said. “When defenses get a running back who’s going to run over them and continue to do that the whole game, then they start getting scared. They don’t like to see that.”

With several veterans on the offensive line, and with varsity-tested weapons primed to carry the ball, the Chieftains believe a mature running attack is ready to carry them directly into the postseason.

“I would say we have one of the more athletic offensive lines in the Greater St. Helens League. We’re very mobile. We can hit people,” senior tackle Justin Frost said. “I don’t think we’ll have any issues with the run game this year.”

Kawawaki made an impact as a sophomore last season, rushing for more than 900 yards in seven games. He, senior Darius Raiford, and junior quarterback Clayton Frank give the Chieftains three ball carriers who can turn a modest play into an explosive play.

Frost and senior left guard Andrew Morgan both said their favorite play is the inside zone, where their job is to knock down any defender that gets in front of them.

“I enjoy when you know you’re going to put the other guy on his back and hopefully see the back of Remick or Clayton’s helmet,” Morgan said.

“I love getting downhill and putting people on their back,” Frost said.

An effective ground game is about more than knocking down defenders. In the spread-option, plays are called from the line of scrimmage, so linemen must communicate pre-snap.

“The mental aspect is big, the visualization,” Morgan said. “There are so many different defenses in this league, mostly out of four-man fronts, but people float backers around” and do things to try to confuse offensive linemen.

And in the spread-option, there isn’t a tight end or fullback to lead a ball carrier through the hole, which puts extra responsibility on both blockers and backs to make the correct decisions.

“You don’t have a fullback blocking for you, so you have to be able to read very well,” Kawawaki said.

Not having a fullback means those carrying the ball rarely shoot past the line of scrimmage cleanly. And that’s one thing Raiford most enjoys about being a running back in the spread-option.

“There’s a lot of contact,” Raiford said. “We don’t have any fullback. It’s just us back there.”

One of those ball carriers is quarterback Frank, who, like Kawawaki, enjoyed the challenge of carrying a significant load as a sophomore in 2010.

“Clayton has become very effective at the faking portion of the zone read. He adds a dimension and is a very good runner himself,” said River coach John O’Rourke, who is in his 18th season leading the Chieftains.

“I do enjoy the running game,” Frank said. “I like to get yards on the ground as well as with my arm. I think it helps, because most quarterbacks don’t run that much. It adds another aspect to our game.”