The last time the Camas Papermakers played in a game together, they were hoisting the state championship trophy.
But now most of the starters on offense have graduated and one of the returnees — all-state running Jacques Badolato-Birdsell — won’t be playing this season after suffering a knee injury two months ago.
That leaves senior quarterback Jake Blair with a new cast of Papermakers when Camas opens the 2020-21 season on Friday against rival Union.
“With Jacques being out for the year, I think I’m the only returner on offense,” Blair said. “So there will definitely be a lot a new faces there. On defense, we have a few new starters, but most of our defense is returning there.”
Blair believes moving into game action with new starters will be seamless. That is in part because of the groundwork he helped establish last season with lifting sessions in his garage and independent workouts with teammates.
“Just keeping guys in shape, that was a big part of it,” Blair said. “And another big part of those workouts was just building that team chemistry, getting closer to our teammates. I think that’s going to help a lot this year.”
The next-man-up philosophy is a big part of coach Jon Eagle’s program. It has allowed the Papermakers to post at least nine wins in nine of the last 10 seasons.
That was evident last season when Blair suffered a knee injury in a win over Skyview. Backup Blake Asciutto stepped up and helped Camas win its final six games.
“We talk about depth all the time,” Eagle said. “We talk about building depth and having guys being ready. We’ve had so many great stories of kids who never thought they’d play, and then the next thing they know, they’re starting.
“We had a kid in the 2013 season, the first game he ever started his entire life — varsity, JV, middle school — was the state championship game. And he played great.”
For Blair, getting back on the playing field again will be especially sweet.
“It was really exciting to back out here with the team again after waiting for a very long time,” Blair said. “It’s really exciting that we get a game this weekend. And I think we’ll do pretty well because our time is looking pretty good.”
The Papermakers won’t get to defend their state title, but that doesn’t mean there anything to play for.
Considering that the 4A Greater St. Helens League has produced three of the last four 4A state champions and that league rivals Union and Skyview return a ton of talented players, it figures to be an interesting six weeks.
“We’re going to go out and compete and try to win,” said Blair, an Oregon State signee. “Obviously, there will be no fans, and fans make it a lot more fun to play those high school game. But we’re still going to try our best and win.”
Skyview, the 2019 league runner-up, boasts a lineup that includes six college signees, including lineman Brett Gray (Valparaiso), Lorenzo Lombardi-Brannon (Simon Fraser), defensive back/ receivers Xavier Owen (Western Oregon) and Michael Stromberg (George Fox) and quarterback Mason Packer (Portland State), who transferred from King’s Way Christian.
Union also brings back college-bound players like receiver/defensive backs Jake Bowen (San Diego) and Alex Wood (Pomona Pitzer) and linebacker Therman Bibens (George Fox). And the Titans boast two of the top juniors in the region in receiver Tobias Merriweather and defensive back Liam Mallory.
Merriweather has received offers from every Pac-12 program, plus schools like Notre Dame, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Mallory, a transfer from Hockinson, was a 2A all-state selections after intercepting 10 passes in 2019.
Battle Ground will try to build after going 2-7 last season with a roster full of underclassmen. Quarterback Ryan Schneider, receivers Reed Davis and Lane Landas and lineman Hunter Wooldridge are among the key returners.
Players to watch
Jake Blair, QB, sr., Camas
Jake Bowen, WR/DB, sr., Union
Brett Gray, OL, sr., Skyview
Jack Grimsted, C, sr., Union
Liam Mallory, WR/DB, jr., Union
Tobias Merriweather, WR/DB, jr., Union
Xavier Owens, WR/DB, sr., Skyview
Mason Packer, QB/LB, sr., Skyview
Robert Silva, DL, sr., Camas
Michael Stromberg, WR/DB, sr., Skyview
Feb. 26 – Union vs. Camas
March 12 – Union vs. Skyview
March 23 – Skyview vs. Camas