With a big-play offense and experience on defense, the Rex Putnam Kingsmen are a legitimate darkhorse

MILWAUKIE - The Rex Putnam Kingsmen may be a legitimate darkhorse in the race for the 2006 Three Rivers League football title.

While everyone else is talking Lake Oswego and Clackamas, the Kingsmen are silently working hard - with a newfound determination - in practices. And they've got a newfound confidence that they are at the very least going to earn their first winning record and state playoff berth in football in 19 seasons.

But the Kingsmen have higher aspirations than a winning record.

'Look out for the Kingsmen!' say Putnam team co-captains Paul Stirneman, Joevonte Mayes, Akeem Olabode and Scotty Oleson.

'We want to win at least one playoff game,' said Stirneman. 'Another goal is to out-hit our opponents, and another goal is no offensive turnovers.'

The Kingsmen were certainly convincing in their first two ball games, a 32-27 come-from-behind win over Centennial, and a 56-22 drubbing of Franklin, a PIL playoff team a year ago.

Mayes rushed for 281 yards and scored three touchdowns against Centennial.

Olabode scored three times against Franklin, as the Kingsmen rolled to a 42-0 advantage before Putnam coach Johnny Cox turned the play over to reserves. Putnam's first-string defense held Franklin scoreless while it was on the field.

'I've got more confidence than I had all last year,' said Mayes, who made a name for himself as the TRL's top sprinter in track and field last spring.

Mayes, in two games, has already surpassed his total rushing yardage for all of last season.

The Kingsmen are a team to watch because they return a veteran defense, and they've got tremendous athletes in the offensive skill positions - athletes capable of breaking the big play at any time.

Olabode had a breakout game against Franklin, rushing for 112 yards.

Putnam junior Ryan Smith (6-1, 175) is the top returning quarterback in the Three Rivers League. A year ago he passed for over 1,100 yards, while sharing quarterback responsibilities with Kurt Snowley.

The Kingsmen also return one of their top receivers from last year in Stirneman (6-0, 180). With Clackamas' Ricky Cookman out injured, Stirneman is the top returning receiver in the TRL.

Snowley also returns with starting experience at wide receiver.

The Kingsmen return eight starters on defense. The only problem is that all eight defensive returnees also start on offense. So the Kingsmen can't afford to get anyone injured.

Mayes (cornerback) and Snowley (safety) lead the defense. Mayes earned first-team all-league honors a year ago, while Snowley made the league's second all-star unit for his efforts on defense.

Other returning defensive starters include: Zehrung (noseguard), Ziegler (DE), Fulgham (LB), Olabode (LB), Oleson (LB) and Stirneman (safety).

'The biggest difference over last year is we have depth, and we believe,' said Putnam coach Johnny Cox. 'We have good size, we're sound defensively, we can run, and we believe.'

Cox added, 'We've got great senior leadership! We've got 18 seniors and the leadership is the best it's been since I've been here.'

'We have a lot of devoted and committed seniors,' said Oleson. 'We believe in each other and that by working together as a team we can accomplish our goals….

'We have a lot of heart, we won't give up, and we won't look up or down to any opponent.'

Mayes explained why he had such a big game against Centennial: 'I have a really good line in front of me. They opened the holes. I just saw the holes, and went through.'

The Kingsmen will find out how they stack up with the best in the TRL in this Friday's league opener. Their opener is with 2005 state semifinalist Lake Oswego, at Lake Oswego.

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