Centennials Millennium Backs

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? - The last East County team to reach the state semis was loaded with backfield talent
by: David Ball Jesse Brand, quarterback for Centennial’s 1993 squad, now tackles mortgage loans and is preparing to coach his son’s flag football team in the fall.

It's a comedy classic, Daffy Duck frantically rushing around trying to save a leaking dam by plugging holes with his fingers. Despite his harried effort, Daffy can't stop the rush of water.

Centennial opponents faced the same hopeless task in 1993 when the Eagles threw a three-headed rushing attack on the field that flooded the scoreboard with points, riding the wave all the way to the big-school state semifinals.

At fullback was Eli Pardue, a rare four-year varsity player who was introduced to the varsity team as a freshman, replacing a teammate who suffered cracked ribs.

'I was thinking, so this is what varsity is all about,' Pardue said. 'I was scared as hell to tell the truth.'

By his senior season in '93, Pardue had developed into a bruising machine capable of dishing out far worse than he received - like trying to tackle a boulder rolling downhill.

'I remember seeing film that year, and when Eli broke through you would see defensive backs suddenly 'slip' down not wanting to take him on,' chuckles Centennial coach Chris Knudsen.

Pardue finished his final season with 1,169 yards, despite often being the prime target of opposing tacklers.

Victor Hampton supplied the flair, a standout sprinter for the track team, he was able to flash down the sidelines for big gains. The only thing preventing him from joining the 1,000-yard club that season was a leg injury that kept him out for five mid-season games. He ended the year with 745 yards the bulk of which came in the playoffs.

'I like to think I was kind of like a Barry Sanders,' Hampton said. 'At least that's who I liked - it's who I chose my number after.'

Completing the trio was signal-caller Jesse Brand, who could toss up the occasional long bomb, although his main threat was his feet and his leadership.

'He just willed us to victory many times,' Knudsen said. 'He had this unbelievable determination and desire.'

He finished the season with a team-high 1,194 yards, showcasing his potency in the playoffs with four scoring runs of 50 yards or more.

'A lot of teams would try to load up and stop Eli, and that would only open things up for Victor and Jesse. The next week, they'd try to slow down Jesse and the other two would have big games,' Knudsen said. 'It was difficult to try and stop all three of those guys.'

The Eagles finished the regular season unbeaten and demolished their early playoff opponents, building early leads and never being threatened.

First to go down was Southern Oregon power Roseburg 37-24, followed by a 40-35 win over Jesuit in a fog so dense many in attendance that night couldn't see the game. Centennial continued to roll with a 34-20 win over Glencoe, carrying a shutout into the fourth quarter.

'When you think of the powerhouses in the state over the last 40 years, those teams are it,' Brand said.

That sent the Eagles into the state semifinals to face No. 1-ranked Ashland on the turf at Autzen Stadium.

Centennial made them look ordinary - most of the way.

The Eagles scored on their opening drive of the second half to take a 20-6 lead, and the state title dream that started in Jesse as a fifth grader appeared well within reach.

'We had control of the game midway through the third quarter, but then Ashland started to get rolling and we couldn't slow them down,' Knudsen said.

'It was just an avalanche - it happened pretty quickly,' Brand said. 'You still look back and see things that could have fallen differently.'

Ashland finished with a 42-26 victory, setting up a Southern showdown with North Medford for the state title. The Black Tornado won the finale by a field goal.

East County hasn't sent a team to the semifinals since.

'The first thing that strikes me is how so many in that team became such close friends,' Knudsen said. 'They would get after each other and compete every day in practice, but once it was done you'd see them with their arms around each other. They loved each other like brothers.'

All three backs are now fathers and remain in the area.

• Pardue lives in Sandy where he has developed his own granite working company, while also assisting fishing guides on the local rivers.

Not long after Centennial's playoff run, he spent nearly a year in prison on drug charges.

'I turned 19 in prison. It was scary - not a place I wanted to go back to,' Pardue said. 'The day I got arrested, I knew I had made a huge mistake. You make bad decisions in life and you have to pay for them. I regretted all the embarrassment it brought my family. Life is much simpler when you make good choices.'

The incarceration cost him a scholarship to Portland State, although he did return to play one year of junior college ball at the College of the Siskyous. Now, his only football comes each Thanksgiving with buddies in Welches.

'I'm not in the shape that I used to be, but it's still fun to get out there and run around,' Pardue said.

He spent some time at various points on the East Coast before returning to Oregon six years ago. Pardue married his wife Rebecca in June and has a 9-year-old stepson Ira and a 3-year-old son Matix.

• Brand has settled in Happy Valley where he has spent the last 10 years as a finance consultant with Mortgage Express. He played four seasons at Portland State, moving to the defensive side of the ball as a free safety.

Brand tried to get involved with flag football after college, but that experiment lasted just one game.

'I had this big guy coming at me, and I wasn't going to just go chasing after the flag,' and #8200;Brand said. 'I dropped my shoulder and chipped him a bit. I just realized that was a sport that wasn't going to provide me a lot of excitement.'

Now most of his time is spent watching football, whether its taking in college action at Portland State or the University of Oregon, or catching a Seattle Seahawks game. He was lucky enough to score tickets through a friend to the Seattle-Pittsburgh Super Bowl in 2006.

Brand returned to the Centennial sidelines as an assistant coach from 1999-2006, and has plans to coach his oldest son's flag football team in the fall.

He is closing in on his 10-year anniversary with his high school sweetheart Darcie. The couple has two children in Caden, 6, and Tanner, 3.

• Hampton attended Mt. Hood Community College for a year where he was a member of the school's track team before finding work with Tuff Shed in Portland where he has spent 15 years and is an operation's manager.

He has a 12-year-old son D'Marije.

Where are they Now? is a Saturday series running in The Outlook throughout the summer.