And they may have the horses to do just that
GLADSTONE - It will be hard to top last year, when Gladstone High School's football team went 12-1 and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1987.
But the Gladiators have a goal to do just that.
'Our goal's a state championship,' said Gladstone senior co-captain A.J. Prom. 'We plan on going all the way.'
'Last year we had a motto, 'relentless,'' said senior co-captain Eamon Burrell. 'We were very, very physical - relentless pursuit.
'This team's very similar. We're physical, we're relentless, and we are fast. If we work hard, we can be just as good - hopefully a little better….
'Under our team picture we have the words, 'Same look. Different finish.''
The Gladiators have been tough in recent years. Under the direction of head coach Jon Wolf, they've advanced at least as far as the state quarterfinals three times in the last five seasons.
Wolf likes what he's seen from this year's edition of Gladiator football.
'I think that overall, our team speed is comparable, if not better [than last year],' Wolf said. 'This group has pretty good football IQ, and we've got good talent in the skill positions….
'Where we're lacking experience is in the offensive line and the defensive secondary. We lost three returning starters up front.'
Back to lead the offense are: Prom (5-9, 190), a third-year starter at tailback; Burrell (6-1, 200) at quarterback, Cam Sommer (6-4, 225) at tight end, Nick Hernandez (5-10, 195) at fullback, and Josh Wilson (5-10, 175) at wide receiver.
Prom rushed for 360 yards in Gladstone's first three games of the 2011 season.
Burrell, who started three games last year, has improved his passing game dramatically. He passed for just under 400 yards in Gladstone's first three games, while completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing just one interception.
'He's running the veer real well,' said Wolf. 'He's throwing the ball well. He's come unto his own since he doesn't have to share the ball with two other guys, like [he did] last year.'
Wilson rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown in Gladstone's season-opener, a 56-14 rout of Yamhill-Carlton.
Hernandez had 11 carries for 96 yards in a 37-21 loss to Roosevelt, and he's also been hauling in some passes.
Sommer had 11 receptions in the Gladiators' first three games.
Sommer and Prom last year both gained first-team all-league honors on offense.
And Sommer was named the Tri-Valley Conference's defensive player of the year for his efforts at defensive end.
'PSU's already made Cam a verbal offer,' said Wolf. 'He's got a really good motor, great hands, and he's a football coaches' kid, so he's got good knowledge of the game.'
Wolf said that Prom and Burrell and tailback/cornerback Dalton Moe (5-7, 150) have had colleges taking a look at them.
Other players with starting experience returning on offense include wide receiver Daniel Wallace (6-0, 200), Kruse Limbocker (tackle) and Willie Mitchell (center).
Mitchell started at tackle last year.
Limbocker is off to a rocky start this year, after suffering a couple of injuries.
Other returnees on defense include Prom and senior Joey Yeaman (5-10, 205) at linebacker, Wilson at free safety, and junior Oscar Sanchez (5-10, 185) at defensive end and linebacker.
'I like our speed,' said Wolf. 'I like how physical we are. I like our players. Just like last year, they're pretty good kids.'
The Gladiators have an added weapon this season in place kicker Juan Thovar.
'He's an exchange student from Spain and he plays on a semipro soccer team,' said Prom. 'His kicks are phenomenal.'
Thovar is so proficient at kicking the football that Wolf has him place kicking instead of punting on fourth down. Thovar averaged 47 yards on punt-place kicks last Friday, and there was very little return.
The Gladiators turned more than a few heads in Friday's game with Sisters. They had nine different players score touchdowns in a 63-13 rout.
Wolf said he expects Estacada and La Salle to be his Gladiators' toughest opponents in the TVC, but he said that Molalla 'could also be in the hunt.'
'Potentially we've got a high ceiling,' Wolf said. 'We've just got to put it all together. It's a matter of finding who we are and playing with great passion and energy.
'If we do that, we've got a shot to be pretty good.'
The Gladiators will find out if they've got the horses to defend their league title in a hurry. They begin league play this Friday at Estacada. Like Gladstone, the Rangers last season advanced all the way to the Class 4A semifinals, after tying La Salle for second place in the TVC.
Estacada (0-4) enters this Friday's game still in search of its first win.
'You can't judge them by their record,' said Wolf. 'They've had a very tough schedule.'
The Rangers' losses have come at the hands of Astoria (24-14), Central (27-0), Newport (46-38) and 2010 Class 4A finalist Douglas (28-20).