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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Senior Jacob Champine emerges as go-to leader in Battle Ground football team’s turnaround

Tigers are off to 3-0 start behind rushing attack led by Champine's 7 touchdowns, stingy defense

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 22, 2023, 6:01am
2 Photos
Battle Ground senior Jacob Champine carries the ball against Todd Beamer on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023 at District Stadium in Battle Ground.
Battle Ground senior Jacob Champine carries the ball against Todd Beamer on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023 at District Stadium in Battle Ground. (Micah Rice/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

BATTLE GROUND — Jacob Champine and the Battle Ground football team were faced with an important decision this offseason.

For several months, Tigers head coach Mike Woodward and offensive coordinator Corey Buckner deliberated over who the team’s starting quarterback should be.

They had Champine, who stepped into the role midway through the 2022 season when injuries thinned out the depth chart. They also had Ethan Adams, a talented incoming sophomore who coaches knew the team would be in good hands with him starting.

Both were good choices, but Woodward was also intrigued with the idea of unleashing Champine as the featured ball carrier in Battle Ground’s new run-heavy, Gun-T offense.

“I think he knew deep down that we wanted to get him the ball and pound people,” Woodward said, “and I think he was excited about that, because he’s such an aggressive player that absolutely loves contact.”

When the head coach approached the rising senior with the idea, Champine was on board.

“I just like being on the field, whether it’s barely doing anything, or being the star, it doesn’t bother me … as long as we’re winning,” Champine said.

Winning was all Champine cared about. It was an unselfish choice, and it’s one of the reasons Woodward speaks so highly of his captain, a two-way standout at running back and outside linebacker, and the contributions he’s made in the Tigers’ turnaround season.

Battle Ground won three straight games to open the season, including last week’s 42-7 win over district rival Prairie, to give the Tigers more wins than they’ve had in the previous three seasons combined.

Champine, at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, has rushed for a team-high 307 yards and seven total touchdowns, while starring alongside linebackers Cody Clarke, Cody Huntsinger and Noah Currie as part of a stingy defense that has allowed just one touchdown in three weeks.

“This is the kind of group that just has fun together. They hold each other accountable. Jacob is a huge part of that,” Woodward said. “When they get out on the field, it doesn’t matter (if it’s a) practice, game, they are locked in. I think he’s obviously, as a captain and leader of the team, a big part of that because of his leadership qualities.”

Champine was the first player Woodward met after he took over as head coach at Battle Ground, his alma mater, ahead of the 2022 season.

Woodward saw a hard-nosed, tough player and natural leader in Champine, who reminded Woodward of another player he coached at Mountain View 20 some years ago, Jack Hathaway, the current head coach at Camas, one of the Tigers’ rivals in the 4A Greater St. Helens League.

From coaching Hathaway, Woodward learned a valuable lesson he’s carried with him during his career: “Finding who those true leaders and competitors are and putting them in position to really lead the program, as opposed to relying on just coaches to do it.”

Toward the end of last season, Woodward knew the Tigers needed to capitalize on similar qualities Champine brought to the table. He was named a captain, and became the team’s go-to leader in the weight room and on the field.

Champine took it upon himself to be more vocal and hold players accountable. He also modeled behavior for younger players to follow, doing little things like holding the door open for others, saying thank you when people serve them and leaving team facilities clean after a workout or practice.

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On the field, he plays with a toughness and joy for the game that teammates rally behind. And, he’s shown a willingness to play anywhere, no matter how big or small the role is.

“This is probably the best compliment I can give him: we could put him at guard, and he’d be a first-team, all-league guard,” Woodward said. “And, he would do it, whereas most kids are like, ‘coach, I just scored three touchdowns. Leave me at running back.’ ”

Champine’s affinity for football wasn’t always there. While growing up in Alaska, he didn’t play any organized sports aside from a brief stint in soccer.

“Sports (are) not a very big thing up there besides hockey,” he said.

Hockey never caught on. Champine’s first exposure to football was watching the “Legion of Boom” era Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on television.

After Champine moved with his family to Clark County in 2016, he gave football a try the following year as a sixth grader at the urging of his mom. At first, playing for Battle Ground’s Clark County Youth Football team, he “hated” the sport and wanted to quit.

Gradually, he spent more time on the field. He began to understand all the rules. By the second half of his sixth grade season, he was hooked.

“After that, I never wanted to stop playing,” Champine said.

Many of Champine’s teammates in middle school are now part of the Tigers’ senior class of 23 players. They’re having a dream start in their final high school season with three wins. In a few weeks, they’ll see just how far they’ve come when 4A GSHL play begins and they contend for one of three playoff spots against the trio they refer to as “USC” — Union, Skyview and Camas.

Winning in itself is fun, sure, but Woodward said he sensed an overwhelmingly positive vibe with this year’s group from day one. When coaches and players step foot on the practice field, there’s a giddiness that permeates throughout the team. Few personify that mindset more than Champine, who’s simply happy to be here, playing football for the Tigers.

“It’s just you and all your best friends playing the sport that you love,” Champine said. “And you’re winning, so it’s just a mixture of all great things.”