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Pioneers hope to rally around a beefy line

Defensive learning curve will be the big key

OREGON CITY - With a veteran quarterback and a big line, the Oregon City Pioneers expect to be more competitive in Three Rivers League football than they were a year ago.

'I think we'll be one of the top teams,' said Oregon City senior quarterback Jake Nelson. 'I think that with the guys we have up front and the new guys coming up, we have the talent to win a playoff spot.'

Nelson said he got a lot better blocking than he was getting a year ago when the Pioneers gave the Sam Barlow Bruins a run for their money in Oregon City's season opener. Nelson completed 16-of-24 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

'I've been getting a lot better protection,' said Nelson.

'The offensive line should be the strength of our team,' said Oregon City coach Dane Iverson, who is in his third season at the helm. 'We should be more physical [up front]. We've got more size and the kids are stronger than they were a year ago.'

Led by third-year starter Scott Shugert, the Pioneers average 266 in the offensive line. Shugert, a 6-0, 300-pound two-way tackle, has already made a verbal commitment to play football at the University of Washington.

'He's got a Pac 10 body,' said Iverson. 'And he represented himself well at camps and combines over the summer.'

With Shugert in the offensive front are senior guard Tim Green (6-1, 270), junior center Stetson Skipton (5-11, 265), junior guard Jared Carr (6-0, 265) and junior tackle John Frost (6-0, 230). Skipton started at guard last season; Frost is a varsity letterman.

Nelson started five games at quarterback last season and passed for 582 yards, despite questionable protection.

Nelson has a veteran receiver returning in 5-10, 175-pound senior Cory Misley. Misley had five catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns against Barlow and four catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in a game with Grants Pass.

Other key targets are juniors Rayce Belmont (5-10, 165) and Devin Hohensee (6-0, 160), and sophomores Ryan Huntting (5-10, 175) and Justin Gates (6-0, 165).

Junior Mitch Wagner (5-7, 170) has earned the starting nod at running back. Wagner demonstrated his versatility against Barlow, when he hauled in five passes from Nelson.

Senior Trent Hartill (6-1, 200) will see starting action both at fullback and at tight end this fall. He was a part-time starter at tight end last fall.

Senior running back Manny Ghiselline (5-11, 185) and junior running back Chris Schumacher (5-9, 165) are also carrying the football for the Pioneers this season.

Defense is probably the biggest question mark for the Pioneers. Only one fulltime starter - Misley at defensive back - returns from last year's defensive unit, so the Pioneers are going to have to have a high learning curve on defense. The lack of experience was evident in preseason games with North Medford (48-3 loss) and Grants Pass (44-7 loss).

Among those likely to see starting action for the Pioneers on defense this season are: seniors Misley (DB), Ghiselline (LB), Shugert (DT), Shaun Snow (5-8, 135, DB), Levi Steinke (5-11, 195) and Maxx Kaplan (6-5, 215, DE); juniors Belmont (safety), Skipton (DT), Hohensee (DB), Schumacher (DB), Andrew Papworth (6-1, 230, DE) and Dustin Riedlinger (6-0, 190, LB); and sophomore Blake Verhaalen (6-3, 240).

Gates (DB) and juniors Tod DeKanter (6-5, 290, DL) and Zakk Speece (6-3, 255, DL) are also likely to see a good deal of playing time on defense.

And a talented group of sophomores will add depth.

'I think we have a special sophomore class and we're trying to get those guys five quarters a week,' said Iverson.

The sophomores went 6-3 as freshmen and two weeks ago they led Oregon City's jayvee team to a 20-7 win over Clackamas, Iverson noted.

The Pioneers have experience in their kicking game, with Belmont returning to do the kicking and punting.

'I've got more confidence [than last season],' said Nelson. 'I know we can beat people.'

Oregon City entertains Lakeridge in this Friday's league opener.