Every coach in the 2A Greater St. Helens League echoed the sentiment: the league is tough.
Buoyed by two-time state champion Hockinson, the 2A GSHL may be top-heavy but in a year of change and turnover — three teams have new head coaches and five teams have new quarterbacks — the league is undoubtedly competitive. With four playoff spots coming from the league this year, everyone feels Week 10 is in reach.
“We like the idea that no matter what, you’re in it,” Washougal coach Dave Hajek said.
Woodland, which finished second last season, graduated do-it-all quarterback Tyler Flanagan and a bevy of seniors. They turn to junior-varsity coach Garrett Lutgen to take over the reins as head coach and Isaiah Flanagan, Tyler’s cousin, to helm the QB spot.
Columbia River, now with defensive coordinator Brett Smedley at head coach, brings in undersized junior quarterback Mason Priddy and an eight-year postseason run.
Washougal, which had injuries derail a promising season, returns its top pieces including quarterback Dalton Payne, tight end Jakob Davis and linebacker Brevan Bea. The Panthers are loaded with talent and feel the gap between them and Hockinson is smaller than most believe.
Ridgefield, too, has a new face as head coach. Scott Rice takes over the program after serving as a Skyview assistant the past five years. The Spudders have intriguing skill players, including track and field star Trey Knight — who is playing high school football for the first time — and bruising runner Hunter Abrams. The Spudders are a sleeper playoff pick after winning just one league game the past two years.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t battle for one of the top three spots,” Rice said. “They want to be good, and I’ve been impressed with their hunger and excitement.”
In Cowlitz County, Mark Morris turns to senior Cole Busch at quarterback. He’ll have plenty of weapons behind him and a big target in senior receiver Jack Shipley. R.A. Long graduated nearly its entire roster, including four-year starting quarterback Owen Enriquez. Second-year Lumberjacks coach Dave McDaniel will tinker with predominantly freshmen and sophomores in a quest to avoid another winless season.
And of course, Hockinson is the unquestioned favorite, even with the absence of Washington commit Sawyer Racanelli, who will miss the year with a knee injury. The Hawks are still loaded and 2A title contenders.
1. Hockinson: Two-time champs are much more than just Racanelli.
2. Washougal: Savvy, senior-led bunch is hungry for postseason.
3. Columbia River: Players have bought in to familiar coach.
4. Ridgefield: New coach, new offense give Spudders new life.
5. Mark Morris: Monarchs will sneak up on teams this season.
6. Woodland: New Beavers are an unknown under first-year coach.
7. R.A. Long: The Lumberjacks are thin on numbers, experience.
Sept. 20 – Ridgefield vs. Columbia River, 7 p.m. Chieftain Stadium
Oct. 10 – Columbia River vs. Washougal, 7 p.m. Fishback Stadium
Oct. 25 – Washougal vs. Hockinson, 7 p.m. Nautilus Stadium