by: Vern Uyetake, The Lakeridge football team will depend heavily this fall on players like Taylor Young, far left, Zach Young, Jeff Hutchins, Sean Howley and Robbie Kool, front. This year’s Pacers team has plenty of talented players but the team’s depth could be a question mark. Lakeridge will open the season next Friday at Canby and then host Centennial the following week.

"Our motto is like the Marines this year: 'The Few, The Proud, The Pacers,' ' Lakeridge football coach Rob Kool said while watching his team earlier this week at practice.

Indeed the Pacers are small in numbers but they are big on talent and, if the team can avoid injury problems that have plagued it in the past, they should open a few eyes around the state this fall.

That should sound familiar if you're familiar with Lakeridge football. For the past two seasons the team has been crippled with injuries. Last year, the Pacers lost Steven Swinford early on to a season-ending injury and the year before, five of the team's top six players were sidelined for the duration of the year.

'We really need to stay healthy. Hopefully luck's on our side this year but that's part of the game,' Kool said.

Lakeridge is coming off of a season where it finished third in the Three Rivers League and lost in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual state champions from Jesuit.

Back for the 2006 campaign are a number of skilled players who helped lead the team through a brutal schedule.

Zach Young returns as the team's starting tailback. The junior is coming off a 1,000-yard season and should provide the Pacers with a dangerous running attack.

'He's a potent weapon. He's one of those backs who has things that you just can't teach,' Kool said.

Lakeridge's top wide receiver is back as well in Taylor Young, who Kool believes is primed for a breakout season.

'In my opinion, he's the best receiver in the state. He has size and strength and a heart like a lion,' Kool said.

Because of these weapons, the Pacers will look to feature a balanced attack on offense and will use their speed to their advantage whenever possible.

'We might throw a little more than some teams but overall we'll look to capitalize on our explosiveness. We're not a big power team that's going to shove teams around the field,' Kool said.

One of the more interesting features of this year's team lies in the player who will be taking the snaps for the Pacers. Kool's son Robbie will start as Lakeridge's quarterback. The junior has worked his way up through the program to earn the role and his father is excited for the opportunity in front of him.

'It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. (Robbie's) waited in the wings and now he gets to drive the car. He's fast and athletic and he has a lot of confidence. There's some pressure on both of us but the main thing is for him just to enjoy the experience,' Kool said.

In front of the quarterback will be a relatively small but quick line. Zach Carr and Sean Howley are returning linemen along with Luke Schindler and center David Bartman. Lakeridge has the luxury this season of only needing a limited number of players to perform on both sides of the ball.

'That's a nice luxury this year. We can get away with the majority of our guys just going one way. Last year, in a couple of games, we were right in it for the first half but then got worn out in the final quarter,' Kool said.

On defense, the Pacers look to be equally explosive. The team will rely heavily on its linebacking corps with players like Taylor Young, Tanner Janney, Anthony Marincovich and Grant Nealy all contributing heavily.

The team's secondary will also be tough to deal with. At free safety, Jeff Hutchins returns from last year's team while Cam Gerson and Zach Young are the squad's top cornerbacks.

'We have a lot of kids who can just fly,' Kool said.

Needless to say, Lakeridge is loaded with athletes this season from top to bottom. The issue now becomes how well the team can put things together before their opening game.

This year, the Pacers have the luxury of playing in a jamboree for the first time in a few years. They will travel to Gresham today (Thursday) for their first look at opposing teams.

'Not playing in Zero Week is nice because we can get some work in before the actual games,' Kool said.

Once again, the Three Rivers League appears to be one of the most competitive conferences in the state. While Lake Oswego and Clackamas are the early favorites to battle for the league title, Kool believes that, if things fall right, his team could be tough to handle as well.

'These kids come from a great tradition and I think they're going to surprise some people. It's going to be exciting,' Kool said.

The Pacers officially start the season on Sept. 8 at Canby.

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