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LO plans to keep successful run going

by: Vern Uyetake, 
This year, the Lake Oswego football team hopes to extend its string of six consecutive trips to the state quarterfinals. Helping make that possible will be players like (front, from right) Michael Wesner, Brandon Akerman, Jase Grable, Ryan Amacher, Sam Whiteley, (back, from right) Billy Lee, Tony Pentimonti, Sam Gerwe, Jordan Barnes and Brian Mitchell.

No longer is there a question of whether the Lake Oswego football team will qualify for the state playoffs. That's a foregone conclusion. The question now is how far will the team go?

If recent history counts for anything, the Lakers will advance at least to the quarterfinals. That's something they've done each of the last six years. In fact, only once - in 2003 - did the Lakers bow out in the quarterfinal round. The other five years, they made it to either the semis or the championship game.

So, if you're a Lake Oswego football fan, you better put your name on the reservation list for playoff tickets.

'Now it's expected to happen,' Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury said of his team's anticipated playoff run.

After watching previous LO teams do it, 'our kids' expectations are to be a playoff team and go deep,' the coach added. 'It's not arrogant. It's good (to expect that) … That's where you want your program. I'd hate to be on the other end.'

Coury's teams haven't spent much time at the other end. In fact, Coury has never had a losing season at LO, although he did have two years (in 1993 and 1996) when his teams went 5-5. Since 1999, when a Brett Elliott-led team went 8-3, the Lakers have been one of the best teams in the state. During that span, Lake Oswego has compiled an 84-18 record - an 82-percent winning percentage.

There's no reason to think that this year's team won't continue those winning ways. The only drawback might be a relative lack of experience among some of the starters.

Plus, the Lakers play a brutal preseason schedule that includes West Salem, Southridge and Jesuit.

'We play a really tough schedule. It's got to be as good as anybody plays,' Coury said. 'We have kind of an inexperienced group to be playing that type of a schedule … But, by the end (of the season), I think we'll have a chance to be pretty good.'

A lot will probably depend on junior Jack Lomax, the team's new starting quarterback. He certainly has the right genes, being the son of former NFL quarterback Neil Lomax. And he might be further along in his development than his older brother, Nick, was at this stage.

'Jack is going to be a good one,' Coury said. 'It's just going to be a matter of time and patience …

'But he's got such a tremendous up-side. I hope you see it eventually because he's got a lot of God-given ability.'

Conceivably, Coury could have gone with the speedy senior Anthony Culver, last year's back-up quarterback, as this year's starter. But Lomax looked so good during summer workouts that Coury decided to go with the younger QB.

Culver, meanwhile, will become the team's most important handyman. He'll occasionally see some time at quarterback, to give opponents a change of pace. But most of his time on offense will be spent at wide receiver. He saw limited time at that position last year and he showed a lot of promise, especially on long fly patterns where the receiver has to outrun the coverage.

The receiving corps will be one of the strongest aspects of the Lakers' game. Joining Culver on the flanks will be two of Lake Oswego's most athletic players - Jay Matthews and Nick Halberg. At tight end, the Lakers will have Michael Wesner, who is an inviting target at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.

The passing game alone might be enough for Lake Oswego to light up the scoreboard against some teams. But the Lakers also have possibly the best running back in the league in Zach Young, who transferred from Lakeridge.

Young is extremely fast and his quick cuts often leave would-be tacklers grasping at air. And when the 5-8 Young is behind a wall of blockers, he can be hard to see as well.

'It's like inheriting an all-star player,' Coury said of Young's arrival. 'He's very impressive running the ball.'

Leading the way on those blocks will be fullback Garrett Cook. Not only is he a solid blocker, but he also proved last year that he can be a dependable ball carrier when needed.

As is the case every year, the offensive line will be one of the keys to success for this year's team. The line will be led by a pair of returning starters - right tackle Jordan Barnes (6-1, 250) and center Sam Gerwe (5-10, 210). Also featured will be right guard Ryan Amacher (6-2, 285), left guard Jase Grable (5-10, 270) and left tackle Brendan Lake (6-2, 225).

As good as the Lakers will be on offense, they might be even better on defense.

The strength of that unit could be the backfield, where Culver was an all-league cornerback last year and Matthews was an all-league free safety. The other corner position will be occupied by the speedy Kyle Hayes.

As they have in the past, the Lakers will utilize a 3-5 defensive front, where two of the linebackers can easily drop back and play safety. Those two swing positions will be occupied by Wesner and Ross Ehren.

The three remaining linebacker positions will be filled by Billy Lee, Cook and Matt Tellam. Lee could wind up being one of the better linebackers in the state.

'He had a great off-season,' Coury said of Lee. 'He's just a hard worker … I have great expectations for him.'

The defensive line will feature Danny Lu (6-2, 210) and Ian Storey (6-4, 250) and returning all-leaguer Nate Morse (5-10, 190) at nose guard.

Because of Lake Oswego's inexperience this year, a number of people have questioned whether the Lakers will be a top-10 team. It hardly matters at this point, but you can almost count on the Lakers being there by the end of the season.

'I don't think it matters either way,' Coury said. '(In the past), we've been picked anywhere from second in state to out of it. None of it means anything, anyway … I don't even know how good or bad we are, so how do they know?'

One thing is for sure, though. Lake Oswego will not fly under anyone's radar, regardless of how young the new crop of talent is.

'Not this program,' Coury said in agreement. 'Now when you've been as successful as we've been.

'We've been a real good program, and I think that carries a lot of weight with the people you play and with your peers.'