Adversity and a tough-as-nail schedule lead to a slow start

by: JOHN DENNY - Milwaukie senior co-captains (from left) Tyler Spencer, Chris Besaw and Elias Brezai say they believe that Milwaukie will have another good season in football this fall, despite a rough start.Milwaukie High School’s football team has gotten off to a rough start to the 2013 season, losing to defending Class 5A state champion and top-ranked Sherwood 68-19 in a Northwest Oregon Conference game played at Milwaukie on Aug. 30; and bowing to Franklin 38-13 last Friday.

Milwaukie coach Jeffrey Thomas says that despite the losses, he still believes his Mustangs will have their share of success in 2013.

“We’ve got enough horses (to be competitive in the Northwest Oregon Conference),” Thomas said. “We’ve got the talent. I’m not worried about that. What I am a little worried about is execution. If we execute and raise our intensity level, I think we can be near the top (in the NWOC) again.”

Besides the challenge of going head-to-head with arguably the top Class 5A team in Oregon, the Mustangs had their share of adversity in the Sherwood game.

Thomas says he learned a week before the Sherwood game that he would be without his starting quarterback — Aaron Walston — for that game, and most likely for the season.

“That was 80 percent of it right there,” said Milwaukie senior captain Chris Besaw. “We didn’t have our starting quarterback. Aaron was our varsity quarterback, our first string and our second string quarterback. Brenton Oten, who is a great athlete, stepped in and did his best, but on limited practice....”

Walston, a 5-9, 155-pound junior who started three games last season, has undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his lymph nodes.

Oten, a 5-11, 180-pound senior, had taken some snaps, as backup quarterback, this summer. But this is the first time he has played the position since youth football.

The Mustangs also learned a few days prior to the Sherwood game they would be missing one of their top receivers, 6-5 junior Garrett Zundel, who would be away on family vacation.

Understandably, the Mustangs struggled offensively in the Sherwood game. Oten attempted 14 passes, but completed only one.

Thomas says the turnout this year has been pretty decent, with 90 players donning pads for daily doubles practices.

The Mustangs have the most experience in the offensive line, where four players with starting experience return — center Elias Brezai (6-0, 247), wide receiver Tyler Spencer (6-4, 185), and down linemen Tui Tuitele (5-10, 260) and Mitchell Wilcox (5-11, 230). Brezai, a senior, and Tuitele, a sophomore, garnered conference all-star recognition last season.

The Mustangs also return an experienced running back in Besaw (5-6, 160). Senior Skylar Besaw (5-9, 160) and junior Ji’laundre Edwards (5-3, 135) will also see action in the offensive backfield, according to Thomas.

The Mustangs return four starters on defense — Brezai at noseguard, Besaw at strong safety and Oten and junior Griffin Johnson (6-0, 180) at linebacker.

Brezai and Oten were both second-team all-conference selections at linebacker last season.

River Meyer, a 5-11, 160-pound sophomore transfer from Putnam, has been starting in the defensive secondary.

Thomas said he believes that senior captains Chris Besaw, Spencer and Brezai have the talent and ability to excel at the collegiate level. Besaw was named running back MVP and Spencer was named receiver MVP at a camp held at Western Oregon University over the summer.

Chris Besaw says he is confident the Mustangs will be able to rally around their new starting quarterback and turn things around.

“He’s been coming early every practice and throwing routs,” Besaw said.

“He’s a good leader,” said Brezai. “He knows how to keep his head up if things go bad.”

Spencer said one of the biggest things he hopes his teammates have learned from the Sherwood game is “We’ve got to keep our heads in the game after a team scores, instead of dropping our heads.”

“We have to play with more intensity,” Besaw said.

Thomas says he believes that after Sherwood, the NWOC will be a very balanced league.

“All of those teams — except Sherwood, like us, lost a lot of people (from last year’s varsities),” Thomas said.

“Sherwood left a nasty taste in our mouth and we’re working hard, trying to get it out,” said Spencer.

“I think we’ll learn from Sherwood and we’ll have a good year,” said Brezai. “I think we can make it past the first round (of the state playoffs) this year. It’s our senior year, so we really want it.”

“We’re definitely going to step it up at every game and every practice from here on out,” said Besaw.

“More intensity at every practice and every game,” said Spencer. “Hard work and discipline.”

“Better communication,” said Brezai. “Talking on and off the field.”

“Making sure you know your roles,” said Spencer.

“There’s no mistakes when everyone knows what they’re doing,” said Besaw.

A year ago the Mustangs had their best season since 1991, going 7-3. But they lost in the play-in round of the state playoffs. Thomas was offensive coordinator on the team. He takes over for Don Johnson Jr., who is heading up the program at Washington’s Evergreen High School.

Milwaukie gets its final tuneup for the remainder of the conference season this Friday, when the Mustangs (0-2) take on Pendleton (2-0) on the road. They resume conference play on Friday, Sept. 20, with an away game with Liberty (1-1).

Liberty struggled last season, going 1-8 and averaging just 15 points, compared with 43 points a game by their opponents. The Falcons defeated Churchill 38-21 last Friday.

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