The Lakeridge football team has never been short on athletes. But keeping them on the field has been another matter.
In years past, the Pacers have fielded one of the smallest teams in all of 6A in terms of sheer numbers. That meant that when the injury bug struck, it could leave devastating results.
Never has staying healthy been more important to Lakeridge than it is right now. While the program is fortunate even to be fielding a team this year given that only 22 players showed up to a preseason camp, it still lacks depth virtually everywhere.
Over the past few seasons, the Pacers have been unable to keep its top players on the field, losing quarterbacks, linemen and linebackers for significant portions of the schedule.
This year, if those players can escape with only the normal bumps and bruises, the Pacers could be very competitive.
'Our top 11 is really good. Everyone's getting reps right now. There aren't a lot of guys standing around. We'll have some sophomores getting key minutes,' new coach Ian Lamont said.
Perhaps the biggest strength on this year's team is its line. And, if you're going to pick one facet to be strong in, the line's not a bad place to start.
Elliott Olson will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, playing mainly as a tackle. Zac Campbell is also expected to be a key contributor on both sides of the ball as the team's center and a starting linebacker.
With only 40 players on the varsity squad, many with very little experience, the majority of the team will play both ways meaning that conditioning will be extremely important for Lakeridge this year.
On offense, Ben Swinford will be the team's starting quarterback but he is currently recovering from a back injury and is expected to miss at least the team's opening game on Aug. 29 against Sunset.
Swinford possesses a strong arm and Lamont praised him for his intelligence on the field but knows that his lack of experience is a question mark.
'We'll try and run the ball a lot and do a lot of three-step drops to get rid of the ball quickly,' Lamont said.
Playing quarterback until Swinford returns will be Daniel Kloucek, one of the team's best all-around athletes.
Kloucek is also expected to be one of the team's top receivers when not playing quarterback.
Connor Duwelius is also expected to be a popular target at receiver.
With little experience at the quarterback position, a huge emphasis will be placed on Lakeridge's running game.
Senior James Taylor will be the team's primary tailback and could prove to be one of the more talented backs in the league.
'He's really fleet-footed and has great vision,' Lamont said.
Marcel Thibodeaux, who suffered a broken arm over the summer, is also eyeing a late-season comeback, hopefully by the team's first official home game at Lakeridge High School on Oct. 10.
The Pacers also figure to use their fullback as an offensive weapon more than they have in the past. And those duties will fall to Brett Roberts and Kevin Behbahanny, two very versatile players.
Roberts will also see time at tight end while Behbahany will play linebacker on defense. Senior Daniel Chesney will also be one of the team's primary tight ends.
Lakeridge's defense should prove to be very quick and versatile as exemplified by Phil Rogers, one of Lakeridge's top wrestlers who is expected to see time at both linebacker and cornerback.
'The one thing we know about this team is that the guys are going to play until the final whistle and they're hungry,' Lamont said.
Lamont laughs when he mentions that he has never even played in a game of organized football before but he is also quick to point out that he wasn't brought in to call the plays. His job was to get enough athletes out to field a team.
The team's offensive coordinator is Calvin Griggs who will handle the play calling while Jeff Johnson, last year's JV coach, will handle the defense. Also stepping into a consultant position is Steve Berlye, a Lake Oswego graduate who has coached at the collegiate level.
'We have some great football minds. The school did a great job surrounding me with coaches who are going to handle the X's and O's,' Lamont said.
So far in practices the team has been working on its chemistry and in making sure that no one suffers an unnecessary injury.
And it won't have much time to get into game shape.
Lakeridge plays in a Zero Week game this year on Aug. 29 at the District Stadium against Sunset. The Pacers then play Crater before opening the league schedule.
And, no matter how the rest of the year pans out, it will still be historic as, on Oct. 10, Lakeridge will play its first official home game in school history against McNary.
'That home game is reason enough to play football this year. We've told the guys that with all of the great teams that have come through Lakeridge High School, none of them have had the chance to walk out of their own locker room and onto their own field to play a game,' Lamont said.
Aug. 29 Sunset 7:00
Sept. 12 at Crater 7:00
Sept. 19 Oregon City 7:00
Sept. 26 Lake Oswego 7:00
Oct. 3 at Clackamas 7:00
Oct. 10* McNary 7:00
Oct. 17 at Rex Putnam 7:00
Oct. 24 West Linn 7:00
Oct. 31* Milwaukie 7:00
* All home games played at LO District Stadium except Oct. 10 and Oct. 31 games to be held at Lakeridge High School.