1A/B football preview: La Center player a quarterback at last

After playing all over the field at La Center, Johnson under center

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Jake Johnson always dreamed of being the quarterback for the La Center Wildcats. That’s what he wanted to play when he arrived as a freshman in the fall of 2008.

Some 20 positions or so later, he got there.

Class 1A/B teams

La Center Wildcats

Coach: John Lambert

2010: 6-4, 5-2 1A Trico.

Key players: Jake Johnson, sr., qb-db; Gunnar Lowery, sr., rb-db; Justin Van Tol, sr., ol-dl; Mike Hantho, sr., ol-dl; Patrick Mayolo, sr., rb-lb; Austin Heldt, sr., te-lb; Mike Polyakov, sr., rb-lb; Darien Robertson, sr., te-dl; Justin Feldman, sr., rb-dl; Dan Evans, sr., ol-dl; Max Howard, sr., ol-dl.

Season outlook: This is no rebuilding project. This is not a struggling team just looking for improvement. This is

La Center. “Our goal is to win the league title every year,” John Lambert said. “No different this year.”

The Wildcats expect to own the fourth quarter this year after excelling in a new conditioning program this training camp.

2011 SCHEDULE

Sept. 2 at Hockinson

Sept. 9 Rochester

Sept. 16 at Toledo

Sept. 23 at Ridgefield

Sept. 30 Ilwaco

Oct. 7 at Castle Rock

Oct. 14 Stevenson

Oct. 21 at White Salmon

Oct. 28 Kalama

Home games played at La Center Middle School

Ridgefield Spudders

Coach: Matt Martin

2010: 7-3, 5-2 1A Trico.

Key players: Ian McClure, sr., ol-lb; Justin McClure, sr., ol-lb; Eli Anderson, sr., ol-dl; Talon Cough, so., ol-dl; John White, jr., te-dl; Clayton Farr, jr., wr-db; Ian Williams, jr., rb-lb; Tyson Wright, sr., rb-lb; Ryan Croston, jr., ol-dl; Seth Williams, jr., ol-dl.

Season outlook: Matt Martin, who was an assistant at Ridgefield from 2002-2005, returns as the head coach.

“I came out here to win,” he said.

He said the biggest change since he was last at Ridgefield is the depth. There are more talented athletes these days.

Which is why his goal is to win a league championship and make a long run in the playoffs.

2011 SCHEDULE

Sept. 2 at Fort Vancouver

Sept. 9 Woodland

Sept. 16 at White Salmon

Sept. 23 La Center

Sept. 30 at Stevenson

Oct. 7 at Kalama

Oct. 14 Castle Rock

Oct. 21 Toledo

Oct. 28 at Ilwaco

Home games played at Ridgefield High School

Stevenson Bulldogs

Coach: David Waymire

2010: 9-2, 6-1 1A Trico.

Key players: Alex McCrum, sr., qb-db; Karl Bell, sr., rb-lb; Marcus Carter, sr., ol-dl; Matt Maddux, sr., ol-lb; Chase Lacombe, sr., ol-dl; Casey Smith, sr., wr-db.

Season outlook: The new coach isn’t that new. David Waymire has been with the Bulldogs for the past 11 years as an assistant.

Stevenson lost 14 seniors from last year’s state playoff team — the first state playoff team in the program’s history.

Younger players must step into featured roles.

“I think we have some really talented men out there,” Waymire said. “I’m pretty optimistic about how our team will be this year.

2011 SCHEDULE

Sept. 2 at Tenino

Sept. 9 at Corbett

Sept. 16 Ilwaco

Sept. 23 at Castle Rock

Sept. 30 Ridgefield

Oct. 7 Toledo

Oct. 14 at La Center

Oct. 21 at Kalama

Oct. 28 White Salmon

Home games played at Stevenson High School

Rest of the Trico League

League overview: At least one coach believes Toledo is the team to beat in the Trico this season. Kalama looks tough, too. Castle Rock, White Salmon, and Ilwaco will be looking to improve. Those three teams combined for three league wins last year.

Class B Teams

King’s Way Christian Knights

Key players: Jay Becker, so., qb-db; Chris Crenshaw, jr., wr-dl; Hayden York, jr., rb-lb; J.R. Ehline, jr., rb-db; Brad Benton, so., ol-dl; David Veltkamp, sr., wr-lb; Tanner Coval, sr., ol-lb; Carter Coval, so., wr-dl.

Season outlook: The Knights have fewer players out for football this season, but still believe they will be competitive.

Other Class B News

No more V.C. Light: The Vancouver Christian Light dropped football from his athletic program.

Seton Catholic kicks off: Seton Catholic will be playing football for the first time, opting for an independent, junior varsity schedule. The Columbian will have more on the new program in the future.

Johnson, a do-anything-the-team-needs kind of a guy, is the signal caller for La Center as he prepares for his senior season. But he took a long, long way to get behind the center.

In fact, he played a little center first. As well as tackle. Guard. Tight end.

Oh, this is a Class 1A program, too, so you best believe he logs time on defense. The line, at times. Other games, he was a linebacker. Defensive back, too.

“If you name it, I probably did it,” Johnson said of the positions he has played.

He is also the team’s long snapper on special teams. Of course.

“Whatever the team needs. It’s all about winning. I can’t just make it all about myself,” he said.

While Johnson is settling in at quarterback for the offense this season, there is nothing settling about his entire workload.

“In practice, he’s already played seven of the 11 positions on defense in just the past two weeks,” La Center coach John Lambert said. “He’s Mr. Flexible. We can put him anywhere.”

Johnson wears No. 2 these days, just like he did as a freshman and a junior. But as a sophomore, he sported No. 62.

These days, he is 5-foot-8, 160 pounds. But when he was wearing No. 62, he was 130 pounds, standing his ground in the trenches.

“It wasn’t too bad. You have to go hard. There is no slowing down,” he said. “It’s all about a mindset. If you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can, you can. It’s that type of deal.”

“Jake’s always been a leader for the team,” Lambert said. “People follow him.”

Injuries in 2009 led to opportunities for younger players to get in the game. Johnson was more than willing to try the new positions. He started at guard. He found some time at tackle. Then at center, what he called the most difficult of the line positions.

“Snapping the ball and blocking someone right after that,” Jackson recalled. “It was fun, though, seeing them bring guys who are trying to destroy you and you find a way to outsmart them.”

Johnson said he is a smarter player because of his experience, and that experience should help him with his new role this season.

“I have a lot more respect for our linemen,” Johnson said. “I know what they go through every day. I understand the whole offense so much.”

With that knowledge, with the talent the Wildcats have on the practice field, Johnson said he sees no reason why expectations cannot be high.

“The goal is to go undefeated, win league, and go deep in the playoffs,” he said.

He will do anything in his power to make it happen. Even give up his dream of playing quarterback — if needed.

“I’m willing to play the line right now if I have to,” Johnson said. “I’m living the dream, enjoying this last season for sure.”