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Cougars place six on all-conference team

by: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais junior Nikita Kalugin led the Cougars all-conference selections with a First Team nod at running back.The Gervais football team lived and died by its power run game this season, so it’s no surprise to see the majority of the team’s all-conference awards go to the Cougars’ core of offensive linemen.

Four of Gervais’ five starters in the trenches received attention in the West Valley Conference all-league awards. Seniors Adam Jaramillo and Roberto Hernandez led the way with Second Team honors, while senior Ricky Diaz and junior Henry Fleener were on the Honorable Mention team.

We had great linemen, and I know that if we would have done better win-wise, we would have had even more (awards),” said Gervais coach Duane Riddell. “But that’s just the way it works and I’m really proud of them.”

The primary beneficiary of the Cougars’ quartet of power run blockers was speedy running back Nikita Kalugin. The junior back took advantage of every hole his linemen opened for him on his way toward First Team honors. Kalugin and fellow junior running back Jordan Milkovich were the two primary ball carriers for the Cougars this year, but Kalugin’s late-season performances in a pair of wins against Willamina and Amity cemented his name as one of the best backs in the conference this season.

Kalugin scored eight touchdowns in that two-week stretch, including a four-touchdown performance against Amity on Nov. 1 in which he rushed for more than 200 yards and helped the Cougars punch their ticket to the state playoffs.

“He’s very powerful, but he’s got a little shake and bake in him,” said Riddell, who also was given the West Valley Coach of the Year award. “He’s very tough.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the team’s linemen were just as good as stopping opposing runners as they were at carving a path for Kalugin and Milkovich. Jaramillo and Diaz were both Second Team defensive linemen, and Hernandez made the Honorable Mention team as a defensive end.

Rounding out the Gervais honorees was senior Daniel LaFollette, who was voted as the league’s top kicker on the West Valley First Team.

“He’s just a really tough competitor,” said Riddell. “He competed hard, and earlier in the year he didn’t get as many chances to kick because we weren’t moving the ball.”

LaFollette was particularly skilled at kickoffs, where Riddell said his pinpoint accuracy allowed the Cougars to dictate where opposing teams received the ball.

“He had a great year,” said Riddell. “He did a superb job.”

LaFollette, Diaz, Hernandez and Jaramillo lead a talented class of nine seniors who played their final games with Gervais this month.

“It’s going to be extremely hard to replace them, but we’ve got good kids who will play hard next year,” said Riddell. “We’ll do the best to replace them, but that’s a really good group. That’s awfully hard to replace.”