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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”